TODAY, THE U.S. Postal Service officially issues its Malcolm X stamp. You have to figure the X-man is twirling in his grave.
Just who is being honored here? The Malcolm who excoriated America for its anti-black racism, who frequently opposed his federal government's policies in Third World countries, who was the most powerful black nationalist spokesman since Marcus Garvey and who, even a month before he died, continued to wear that label.
Or is it the watered-down Malcolm X portrayed by the 1990s media? This is the Malcolm whose life is reduced to a simplistic morality tale: Black man joins racist, separatist sect (Nation of Islam) and preaches that all whites are racist. Black man splits from sect, goes to Mecca, converts to orthodox Islam and returns home believing in integration and the brotherhood of all.
That's the Malcolm we got from the insipid drivel Spike Lee had the nerve to pass off as the X-man's film biography in 1992. Malcolm's widow, the late Betty Shabazz, said her husband believed the media had made too much of her husband's evolving views on racial matters.
"Malcolm said the white man had a lot of nerve expecting him to change when he [the white man] didn't change."
Malcolm's sister, Ella Collins, who died in 1996, said people leave out three key words her brother used when he told the world of his acceptance of whites as brothers and sisters. Collins, according to a just-released book written by her son Rodnell Collins entitled "Seventh Son: A Family Memoir of Malcolm X," said Malcolm was prepared to accept as brothers and sisters whites "who accept Islam." Ella Collins added that those critical three words didn't include the vast majority of white Americans, whom her brother continued to chastise for their racism.
And Malcolm's politics have been as distorted as his views on race. He was far left on the political spectrum, hobnobbing with the likes of the Socialist Workers' Party at home, cozying up to radical African and Arab leaders such as Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah and Egypt's Gamal Abdul Nasser abroad. In 1964, he opposed United States involvement in Vietnam -- three years before Martin Luther King Jr. came out against the war. Malcolm was not only scathingly critical of President Lyndon Johnson's escalation of the war, he was downright prophetic in response to a questioner who asked him to "address the Vietnam situation for two minutes."
"Address myself to Vietnam for two minutes? It's a shame. That's two seconds. [The Johnson administration] is trapped; it can't get out. If it pours more men in, it'll get deeper. If it pulls men out, it's a defeat. And they should have known it in the first place. ... They put [Ngo Dinh] Diem over there. Diem took all their money, all their war equipment and everything else and got them trapped. Then they killed him. Yes, they killed him, murdered him in cold blood ... because they were embarrassed. They found out that they had made him strong and he was turning against them. So they killed him and put big Minh in his place. You know, the fat one. ... And then he wouldn't act right. .. You know, when the puppet starts talking back to the puppeteer, the puppeteer is in bad shape."
Malcolm was equally candid when the Johnson administration and Western powers propped up Moise Tshombe as the Congo's leader in 1964. Tshombe was an African "leader" who made Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas look like, well, like a Malcolm X.
"[The American government] put Tshombe in power," Malcolm said. "They put him there because Tshombe was the only African who was criminal enough to participate in the scheme that the Western powers had of sending in Western troops after the so-called legal head of government would ask for them."
Now it's 35 years later, and Malcolm X is being honored by the U.S. Postal Service. How did an orthodox Muslim, left-wing radical black nationalist get himself in such a post?
Truth is, he deserves it. The Malcolm X stamp is the 22nd in the U.S. Postal Service's Black Heritage series. Malcolm Little, who became Malcolm X, who became El Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, is as much a part of that heritage as the stamp honorees who have preceded him. Somehow, though, I get the feeling his spirit is watching from somewhere, slightly embarrassed by it all.
Pub Date: 1/20/99