My grandfather was a devoted father, a brilliant and underrated black visionary and an adamant racist. I’m not quite sure “racist” is the most politically correct term here — considering racism has more to do with power than personal bias — but, nevertheless, Grandpa Bobby openly and proudly loathed white folk. And, let’s be honest, who could blame him? As a product of the Jim Crow south, one can imagine that his political beliefs were rationally motivated by a fair share of cruel and even violent interactions with white people. While I never adopted his disdain for whites en masse, my grandfather and his uncanny ability to insert the words “cracker” and “honkey” in casual conversation left a lasting impression on me. He passed away when I was 5-years-old, but before he did he instilled in me a keen awareness of the concept of race, the perceived differences between the races, and the unfortunate reality that those differences mattered.
So, naturally, as my education matured and my curiosity about black history piqued, I found myself particularly drawn to the separatist ideology of Malcolm X. Much like Grandpa Bobby, Malcolm’s impassioned words of wisdom inspired me to think critically about race, to recognize the duality of being both Black and American, and to reconcile what implications that had in my life. 50 years to the day after Malcolm was shot dead at the Audubon Ballroom, there is no denying that he has and will continue to inspire generations of thinkers to come. But, even more remarkable than Malcolm’s audacity to call America out on it’s flaws, was his incomparable ability to get folks — both black and white — riled up. Through his fiery oratory, Malcolm brought America’s “race problem” to the mainstage, taking the lead in convincing the world to finally address racism, for better or for worse.
When I think of phenomenal black leadership, I think of Malcolm. Unlike many of today’s appointed race leaders, he had no political agendas, no sports or music contracts, and no fear of negative press diluting his message. He was the real thing. He had absolutely nothing to lose except, of course, his life — a sacrifice he was willing to make since, as he put it,
“If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.”
50 years ago today, a wife lost her husband, four children lost their father and the world lost one of its most brilliant revolutionary thinkers. It is no secret that since the mass assassinations of some of the most active race leaders of the civil rights era, America has struggled to produce a single and consistent voice to galvanize the masses around race issues. While social media is proving itself s a viable tool for a new generation of activism, there is still much confusion around where or, rather, to whom activists turn once the hashtags stop trending, the media moves on, and the protests dwindle.
A new generation of black leadership is long overdue. That fact became crystal clear last October when a group of young protesters and religious leaders turned their backs on NAACP president Cornell Williams Brooks during one of many mass demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo. following the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.
“We got revolutionaries out here [on the streets] starving!”
“We got revolutionaries out here on [the streets] starving!” one protester reportedly shouted at Brooks, which begs the question: What exactly is this metaphorical “we” starving for?
I won’t pretend to have the answers here but I will say that “we” certainly seem starved for justice. “We” seem starved for strategy. “We” seem starved for someone — anyone really — willing to step up and propose an escape from this ideological prison that kills our sons and tells our daughters they’re ugly. But most of all, “we” seem starved for freedom but “we” must ask ourselves: Are “we” willing to die for it?