On the expansive meaning of Malcolm X

Malcolm X’s ideas contributed greatly to the formation of cultural and territorial nationalism among Africans in the US. He famously stated, “Revolution is based on land. Land is the basis for all independence. Land is the basis of freedom, justice, and equality.” This idea greatly informed the New African Independence Movement that called for the formation of an independent Black nation in the US states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.

He also was a proponent of revolutionary struggle. He spoke at length about the myopia of Black leaders.

Revolution is bloody, revolution is hostile, revolution knows no compromise, revolution overturns and destroys everything that gets in its way. And you, sitting around here like a knot on the way, saying, “I’m going to love these folks no matter how much they hate me,” No, you need a revolution. Whoever heard of a revolution where they lock arms….singing “We Shall Overcome?” You don’t do that in a revolution. You don’t do any singing, you’re too busy swinging. It’s based on land. A revolutionary wants land so he can set up his own nation, an independent nation. These Negroes aren’t asking for any nation — they’re trying to crawl back on the plantation.

Thus, he had a profound influence on the revolutionary discourses in the 60s and beyond, as well as on the Black Power formations that advocated revolutionary struggle.

Further, Malcolm’s Pan-Africanism made his message resonate with African peoples the world over. He would often remark on the impact of anti-colonial leaders on the African continent, such as Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Nkrumah. He remarked on the exploitation of Congo as a consequence of US imperialism, noting that the same settler colonial state responsible for the oppression of Africans in the US, was responsible for the oppression of Africans abroad.

His anti-colonialism continues to be drawn upon as an example of international solidarity between oppressed peoples. Whether it was Africa, Asia, or Latin America, he recognized the folly of subdividing the struggle against western domination, instead emphasizing that “We have a common oppressor.” His remarks on the Bandung Conference expressed focused on the coming together of revolutionary forces to forge a future for themselves de-linked from the hegemony of the West. In a related vein, socialists have emphasized Malcolm’s anti-capitalism, emphasizing that Malcolm recognized that capitalism lay at the foundation of Western imperialism.

Malcolm X’s icon has been used variously to promote Islam in the Black community, as some have sought to link Malcolm’s faith with his politics, and in so doing have promoted Islam as a vehicle of both political consciousness and spiritual awakening. Further, his thinking doubtlessly contributed to religious nationalism among Africans/Blacks in the US across the theological spectrum.

Finally, he provides an ideal of African/Black manhood, whose righteous character and convictions were the driving forces in his life.

In short, the meaning of Malcolm X is rich and varied. His life is replete with lessons that have informed the consciousness of African/Black peoples and many others in the decades since his assassination. He lives on as an exemplary ancestor, whose good character and commitment to African freedom and social transformation endure as an example worthy of both study and emulation.

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