June 22, 2015 By Ali Ahsan

Malcolm X: Between Symbolic Exercises and Reality Check

Malcolm X

“A 21 year old white man, police suspect, shot dead nine people at a historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina yesterday. The officials refer to it as a hate crime. The gunman is supposed to have sat in on a bible study meeting for up to an hour before opening fire, killing six women and three women including the Church pastor.”

Months after the Philadelphia shooting, which the media the world over reported as the grisliest racist event, news report above cited shows how racial crimes still thrive in the United States, haunting it’;s much publicised image under a Black president.  That might be the stark backdrop again which the country observed the Malcolm X day on Thursday (19-6-2015). It is against this backdrop that the legendary leader is recalled in this space.

The 50 years of the civil rights movement is observed in various ways across the world. The initiative called 50 Voices for Malcolm X in Bristol, South West England provides a platform for community members, artists and groups to share their stories on civil rights. It is a gathering that allows people to bear witness to what Malcolm achieved. Back in Detroit, King Solomon Baptist Church is added to the National Register of Historic Places. This was the Church where Malcolm X had delivered his “Message to the Grass Roots” address and had played a prominent role in the civil rights movement. The second annual MN Malcolm X conference is on at Minneapolis, Minnesota. The conference aims to look at social, economic and political system through the lens of Malcolm X’s teachings. It carries much significance this year after the police violence and systematic racism dominating the headlines across the world.

Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X, led the commemoration of the 50 years of his assassination in February, month that is referred to as the “Black History Month”. Shabazz urged the audience to take responsibility for future generations. Relating her father’s death to that of the hundreds who have died as slaves or fighting for civil rights, Shabazz said: “It is important that we ensure that their lives were not taken in vain.”

Symbolic events like these are observed in different parts of the world where the legendary words of Malcolm X has left an indelible mark. The students in Universities were out in numbers standing in solidarity during Ferguson, Philadelphia and now Charleston. There are a lot of symbolic protests and marches around the globe but is there any substance to these slogans? Hash tag activism has reached unrivalled heights. How many of the people online does the message truly reach? The selective process of terming and addressing oppressors and victims is another case in point. For example, one of the significant responses post Charleston was that of Amina Wadud, a black American Islamic scholar and leading theorist of Islamic feminism. Why are the shooters of the Charleston called in the media as merely agents of colour hatred (hatred does have the significance of mutuality) rather than heavily loaded words like terrorist, which they have reserved for Muslims? Since Malcolm himself was called a terrorist, the select media practices that reflect the middle class sentiments in the state throw sharp questions on the day we remember his legacies.

It gives us the feeling that the more relevant message is lost somewhere out there. It is important that we learn and find ways to counter institutionalized racism rather than be embroiled in history lessons about Malcolm X’s life. These token gestures of observing a day in remembrance does not change the ground reality significantly. It is another step towards the vision of a man who was relentless in his pursuit for a just world.

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