Ferruccio Gambino provides another way of thinking about the emergence and importance of a figure like Malcolm X.
The transgression of a laborer: Malcolm X in the wilderness of America
by Ferruccio Gambino
What led a group of young black convicts in the late 1940s and early 1950s and particularly one of them, Malcolm X, to see the U.S. as an imperial power? In a time of lonely crowds, retreat into domesticity, and feverish patriotism, the emergence of a group of young blacks debating in the corner of a Massachusetts penitentiary courtyard the issue of a world out of joint must have appeared to authorities as a curious aberration. In retrospect, it was the birth of a movement that would shift from a chiliastic condemnation of the white world to a more pointed withdrawal from specific aspects of European and American civilizations.
How the generation of African Americans who came of age in the 1940s shaped its cultural identity is now beginning to become a subject of inquiry. (1) This essay looks at some events in the development of one young man– Malcolm X-who shaped that identity as much as any single individual. It suggests how Malcolm X came to occupy the double political space of “the immigrant” transgressively and how that self-location in relation to the American state violated the written and unwritten codes of legitimate political behavior. It also suggests how Malcolm X’s transgression increasingly became a source of radicalization from the early 1950s on.
By “double political space” I mean the creation of a new allegiance to the country in which immigrants have settled, in conjunction with the often more tenuous devotion to the links with the country of origin. In general, the modern state tolerates immigrants’ attempts to keep their double political space, its attitude being one of cautious patience, swinging towards intolerance during periods of international tension or war. The maintenance of immigrants’ links to both their country of origin and country of resettlement has provided the state with informal means of influencing the political course of both. But sometimes the state demands a more exclusive allegiance and reduces the immigrant’s choice to leaving or breaking ties to a “foreign” symbolic and material universe.
The following speech by Malcolm, Message to the Grassroots, was delivered on November 10, 1963, at the Northern Negro Grass Roots Leadership Conference. This conference was organized by Reverend Albert Cleage as a response to the Negro Summit Leadership Conference put on by the Detroit Council for Human Rights (DCHR), which Cleage, along with Rev. C. L. Franklin, initially started. The split between Franklin and Cleage reflected the differing visions and tactics between the Negro revolution and the black revolution, a point Malcolm foregrounds in this speech. The Negro revolution, as Malcolm laid out, was nonviolent, seeing the ends as only to “sit down [next] to white folks.” In contrast, the black revolution was uncompromising in tactics and with the end goal not simply being desegregation, but control of land, “the basis of freedom, justice, and equality.” As black revolution seemed impending in America in 1963, President Kennedy publicly acknowledged the “Negro revolution” on June 11th and called on black national civil rights leaders to reign in the militancy and self-activity of the black population. Bought off with Kennedy’s money, the Big Six civil rights leadership-which included Martin Luther King, Jr. and A. Philip Randolph- along with white progressive leaders, took over the March on Washington of August 28, 1963. As Malcolm described in this speech, “As they took it over, [the march] lost its militancy. It ceased to be angry, it ceased to be hot, it ceased to be uncompromising. Why, it even ceased to be a march.” It was in this context that, Cleage organized the Northern Negro Grass Roots Leadership Conference on the same weekend and asked Malcolm to headline it with his Message to the Grassroots. Continue reading Message to the Grassroots→
For the moment, no one can say for sure that they understand the dynamics behind the events at Ft. Hood involving Nidal Hasan. What is clear is that he attacked military personnel whose sole purpose is to kill Arabs and Muslims. This should not be forgotten. He was humiliated and attacked for being Arab and Muslim, he desperately wanted to avoid deployment in a war that was directed against him and our people, and he believed that it is our duty as brown, black, Muslim, Asian, Arab, South Asian and many more to stand up and fight our oppressors. This rage that we feel swelling up in our hearts, weighing heavy in our chests, that rises up to choke us and bring tears to our eyes can only be held back for so long.
This rage cannot be controlled. Liberals and Conservatives get upset when we don’t express that rage in ways they are comfortable with. They send troops to put bullets in our peoples’ heads, and then council patience and moderation to us. This lets them offer the solution of dialogue to everyone who has their necks under the boot of Empire. When they disband the U.S. military, then dialogue can be considered with these hypocrites. There is no hope of explaining this rage to them. They will never understand.
At the same time, many liberal and conservative Muslims are afraid of this rage as well because they profit from their role as our prison guards. It is clear that the Muslim community is not united and can never be under these conditions. There are some who want to join the club of American Empire. They just want American Empire to kill less Muslims and to interrogate them with less electricity. They are just as afraid of the Black people, poor people, and queer people as the racists, the homophobes, and the rich.