Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Malcolm X Day

In Berkeley the public schools and libraries are closed on "Malcolm X Day" in celebration of his birthday. In the past I've not questioned it. This is Ber(zer)keley and the city likes to make a statement. But this year I decided to refresh my memory about his life and and words, it's been more than 20 years since college and my "Afro-American History" courses.

My admittedly brief study led me to YouTube - with video and audio of his speeches, interviews, discussions. The first one I listened to talked about loving oneself; celebrating ones skin, hair, features as African and beautiful.

Nice. I AGREE with what he says. AND people NEED to hear what he's saying. It's the beginning of black pride. Is it worth getting the day off? Not in my opinion. So I search on.

I discover an interview in which a bunch of old white guys rudely ask Malcolm X to explain the "X" in his name. He does this beautifully. The first three minutes are gold.

Then I found this:

and this:

and I felt a little ill.

I'm not arguing that Malcolm X is an extremely important figure in American history. He was a dynamic speaker who knew what the people needed to hear. Brilliant in his own way. I should, as a friend on facebook pointed out, read his autobiography and put myself in his shoes.

In the meantime, it makes me uncomfortable that the kids got the day off of school in celebration of this guy. Surely there are other African American heroes that can be celebrated with a day off.... Rosa Parks? Markus Garvey?



  1. I was hoping my "stay at home husband" would take our son out for a history lesson, but no go. They saw two movies instead. I had to work. I do like that Berkeley has this as a holiday. As with Martin Luther King Jr.'s bday, it is a day "on" not "off". Meaning - go celebrate these fearless leaders!

  2. I must confess I was a little surprised when I first saw your tweets about it being a holiday within Berkeley. But I was watching The View (a guilty pleasure of mine) the other day and while they were talking about 'rewriting' history textbooks in Texas Whoopi Goldberg made a point about re-evaluating American history within a context that reflects the diversity of the whole nation, not just the (predominantly white) powers at the top of that particular food chain.

    And I think too about Nina Simone. I had read about African-American history and I think I understood it intellectually on some level, but I never truly understood it until I listened to Nina Simone. And within my collection I have one particular live recording of Nina performing 'Mississippi Goddam' and at one point during the song she says, "The king is dead, the king of love is dead - I ain't 'bout to be non-violent, honey." And you can really hear it in her voice, how raw and how anguished it is. Peaceful protesting resulted in the death of its champion. It's difficult to imagine not being completely disillusioned. Malcolm X is an important figure in this movement.

  3. Sarah - unfortunately last week was state testing so the kids aren't learning about Malcolm X until this week (at least in my son's third grade class.) I'm trying to sauce out if Malcolm X warrants the holiday ...

    John - I really like your your points. Remember too, that Malcolm X was also assassinated. Neither approach was wholly successful. But I think it is the HATE and ANGER that make me uncomfortable. The singling out of a specific faith based on stereotype.

    If the school district insists on honoring Malcolm X why not combine the holiday/day off with Martin Luther King as a tribute to African American Leadership. We do that with Lincoln/Washington birthdays-calling it President's day...

  4. I own every piece of writing he did plus countless speeches. Read and listen to his post-Nation speeches. Also, recognize that he lived in a time when blacks were routinely killed for the most basic "transgression." Without X, there is no MLK, Jr. He is a flawed man, certainly, but when you read him in his entirety -- which is the only fair thing to do -- he takes on something much more than just a few clips.

  5. Brad - I agree that going directly to the source is the best way to study an individual. Since I didn't have time to actually read his writing I thought I'd listen to a few speeches. He's an amazing dynamic speaker and clearly said things that the community, at that time, needed to hear. He should be studied in school. I think my concern is that if the school district is going to take the day off then the city needs to celebrate and commemorate (as they do for MLK.) Our local blog posted this http://www.berkeleyside.com/2010/05/17/malcolm-x-day-more-than-a-day-off/ and a week later found ONE assembly at ONE of our district school that is, by the way, named Malcolm X Elementary School.
    I propose a day off in celebration of ALL the African American Leaders/Heroes, not unlike "Presidents' Day" which celebrates all the PRESIDENTS.

  6. Is anyone acknowledging these later interviews were before his trip to Mecca and his separation from the Nation after which he publicly announced "i was a zombie then...told to march".

  7. Sooo presidents that were rapists, murderers and slave owners should get a holiday,....but you don't know if Malcolm X warrants a holiday? Are you crazy?

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  9. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were on two completely different ends of the spectrum in their day. I think it would be very foolish to combine their holidays and thus diminish their separate movements. Also I think people make way too big a deal about Rosa Parks. There are probably plenty of African Americans who were arrested for refusing to give up their seats, she's just the one we know about. Also Malcolm X did so much more to contribute to the movement than Rosa Parks and to say that Rosa Parks is more deserving of a day off than Malcolm X is really insulting especially considering all the time, effort, and stress he went through to do what he did. He literally dedicated his life to this movement. I'm sorry but refusing to give up a seat is not nearly on the same scale as the struggles Malcolm X endured.


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