By: Barbara Allen Ph.D
Malcolm X on a Bloodless Revolution and the Personal Revolution of Taking a Name
“Say my name. Say my name.” It is the invocation to a march and a petition to the listener to take account of Black lives—and all lives—in striving for human rights. In 1963, it was the demand that Malcolm X made on WMAQ, the Chicago NBC affiliate, when journalist Len O’Connor hectored him, “What is your real name? What is your legal name? What was your father’s name?” Malcolm X insisted on that name, “X.” All other names had been stolen by slavery, he told O’Connor, and he refused to acknowledge the name given to his forebears by a slaver owner. “Say my name,” not only demands recognition but also signifies the power that comes in giving and taking a name.
To signify his conversion to Islam, Malcolm replaced the placeholder “X” with “el-Shabazz.” To this, he was able to add the honorific el-Hajj, celebrating his hajj to Mecca, to become el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz—a name he held for less than a year before his assassination in 1965. “Say my name,” was, for Malcolm a step along a path of personal and political revolution.
“America today is at a time or in a day or at an hour where she is the first country on this earth who can actually have a bloodless revolution. In the past, revolutions have been bloody. Historically you just don’t have a peaceful revolution. Revolutions are bloody, revolutions are violent, revolutions cause bloodshed and death follows in their paths. America is the only country in history in a position to bring about a revolution without violence and bloodshed. But America is not morally equipped to do so.”
—Malcolm X 8 April 1964
These words, spoken a half-century ago, resonate in the present climate of America’s continuing struggle for comprehensive civil and human rights. Malcolm X calls for revolution. For him, the first revolution is internal, personal. He had traveled to Egypt, Iran, Syria, Ghana, and the United Arab Republic on behalf of the Nation of Islam to meet with revolutionary leaders bringing an end European imperialism. In 1964 undertook the hajj on his own behalf. The sojourn to Mecca marked a final stage in a journey that had begun as “Malcolm Little,” a child born in Omaha who saw his Garveyite father murdered by White Supremacists and his mother succumb to a mental breakdown that left her institutionalized and Malcolm a ward of the white “welfare” system. He began life on his own as shoeshine boy and a railroad dining car porter, and in the glitter of Harlem found himself as a hustler and pimp. He spent his 21st birthday and the next seven years serving a prison sentence for armed robbery.
It was at Charleston Prison that Malcolm took up his study of Islam and the Black Muslim Movement, known as the Nation of Islam. For him, the Nation represented a revolutionary step on a quest for dignity in a disciplined, righteous life.
The personal revolution drove every thought, speech, and choice thereafter. Malcolm was a life-long learner. He adopted attitudes that would be labeled “separatist,” as he encouraged his brothers to wake up to the actual workings of oppressive “white devils.” His held attitudes about women that most would call sexist, even misogynist; women, were “tricky, deceitful, unworthy flesh,” he preached. Travels to Mecca brought revelation to both views. He met blue-eyed, fair skinned Muslims who showed that Islam embodied the Prophet’s teaching, godly words that transcend all human construction, including our narrow understanding of race. He saw that everyone had a stake in transcending the chain linking colonized and colonizer, victim and victimizer. Throughout Africa and West Asia women fought alongside men for liberation; indeed, he said, “In my travels recently through Africa and the Middle East, in every country you go to, usually the degree of progress cannot be separated from the woman. If you’re in a country that’s progressive, the woman is progressive.”
Malcolm’s personal revolution drove his actions in the world. And he met with bloody resistance: violence and death at the hands of assassins who feared a the terms of right-minded revolutionary action that absorbed him for the final year of his life.
So, how could America bring about a bloodless revolution? In his 1964 speech, Malcolm explained it could be done simply by giving “the Negro in this country…what the Constitution says he’s supposed to have.” Through political participation people of color could “sweep all of the racist and segregationists out of office …and…change the entire political structure of the country.” Most importantly, Malcolm said, a real democracy—one that is not an hypocrisy—would open the way for the individual and a people to control resources that would end the colonization of our minds—in which we are beggars: beggars politically, beggars socially, and beggars for an education. A revolution in the mind takes off from actions taken with open eyes as were those of Malcolm X.
released November 19, 2015
Produced by: Ganzobean
Mixed by: M. Willenbring
Forward by: Barbara Allen Ph.D
all rights reserved