Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Malcom X (May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965): Black Self-Determination & Black Solidarity [revised ed.]

Painting by Trevor Jenkins

[This is a slightly revised version of a post from a couple of years ago.] 

 On this date in 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City.

“… [T]oward the end of his life [Malcolm X] argued that blacks should put aside religious and philosophical differences and recognize they had a common oppressor. Antiblack racism, he argued, negatively affects all blacks, regardless of faith or party affiliation, and thus blacks should unify to resist racial oppression on nonsectarian and non-ideological grounds. Although he continued to believe in the necessity of autonomous black institutions, he did come to relax his opposition to alliance with progressive whites.

Malcolm X’s ideas of internal colonization, black communal self-determination, skepticism toward the black elite and the Democratic Party, and racially autonomous political organizations influenced a generation of black activists and have had a significant impact on the contemporary political culture of African Americans. As Manning Marable remarked, ‘Dead at the age of 39, Malcolm quickly became the fountainhead of the modern renaissance of black nationalism in the late 1960s.’ Indeed, shortly after his assassination in 1965, many of Malcolm X’s ideas were developed and promoted by several black leaders under the slogan ‘Black Power,’ a phrase popularized by Stokely Carmichael.”—Tommie Shelby.

With analytical acuity, Shelby proceeds to examine the “philosophical content and social-theoretic underpinnings” of Black Power nationalism so as to ascertain its contributions to, hence its contemporary relevance for, a “pragmatic black solidarity” in which “there must be room…for disagreement over the precise content of political action and policy initiatives.” On this account, neither black self-determination nor black nationalism preclude the extension of “solidarity to other racially stigmatized groups and even to committed nonracist whites.” And the ideal of black self-determination, “at least with respect to blacks in America, requires a sharply delimited trans-institutional and decentralized form of black political solidarity.” Shelby insists that “black political solidarity must be noncorporatist,” meaning “[n]o black party, association, or institution can legitimately claim to speak for black people as a whole. Instead, there should be multiple and independent black organizations and advocacy groups that take up particular issues that affect black interests.”

This political solidarity nonetheless has principled grounding insofar as it entails joint commitment to particular values and goals, “understood as the faithful adherence to certain political principles, including antiracism, equal educational and employment opportunity, and tolerance for group differences and individuality, and to emancipatory goals, such as achieving substantial racial equality—especially in employment, education, and wealth—and ending ghetto poverty.” Finally, pragmatic black nationalism “is a form of black solidarity that aims, ultimately, to transcend itself.” Please see Shelby’s We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity (2005).

As Zaheer Ali writes in his contribution, Malcolm X in Brooklyn,” to the “Remembering Malcolm” (Feb. 20, 2017) forum at Black Perspectives, Malcolm himself contributed to the “transcendence” (in the Hegelian sense of Aufhebung or ‘sublation’) of black nationalism: “one of Malcolm X’s enduring legacies is his effort to internationalize the Black freedom struggle by linking it to Third World anti-colonial movements.

Suggested Reading:

  • Breitman, George. The Last Year of Malcolm X: The Evolution of a Revolutionary. Ney York: Pathfinder Press, 1967.
  • Breitman, George, ed. Malcolm X Speaks. New York: Grove Press, 1966.
  • Breitman, George, ed. By Any Means Necessary: Speeches, Interviews, and a Letter by Malcolm X. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970.
  • Carson, Clayborne. Malcolm X: The FBI File. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1991.
  • Clark, Steve, ed. Malcolm X Talks to Young People: Speeches in the United States, Britain, and Africa. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1991 ed. (1965).
  • Malcolm X (Clark, Steve, ed.) February 1965: The Final Speeches. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1992. 
  • Cone, James H. Martin & Malcom & America: A Dream or A Nightmare. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991.
  • DeCaro Jr., Louis A. On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X. New York: New York University Press, 1996.
  • Dyson, Michael Eric. Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Epps, Archie. The Speeches of Malcolm X at Harvard. New York: William Morrow, 1968.
  • Goldman, Peter. The Death and Life of Malcolm X. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.
  • Johnson, Cedric. Revolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
  • Karim, Imam Benjamin, ed. The End of White World Supremacy: Four Speeches by Malcolm X. New York: Merlin House/Monthly Review Press, 1971.
  • Malcolm X (with the assistance of Alex Haley) The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Grove Press, 1964.
  • Malcolm X. Malcolm X on Afro-American History. New York: Merit Publishers, 1967.
  • Malcolm X (Bruce Perry, ed.) Malcolm X: The Last Speeches. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1989.
  • Marable, Manning. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. New York: Viking, 2011.
  • Sales, William W., Jr. Malcolm X and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1994.
  • Shelby, Tommie. We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.
  • Terrill, Robert E., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Malcolm X. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • Wolfenstein, Eugene Victor. The Victims of Democracy: Malcolm X and the Black Revolution. London: Free Association Books, 1989.
  • Wood, Joe, ed. Malcolm X: In Our Own Image. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1992.

* See too this “reading list” at Black Perspectives.


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