BY ANDREW BARKER
I chose to cover Malcolm X’s interview given on a Chicago television show called “City Desk” on March 17, 1963. This artifact covers a discussion that Malcolm X has with a white interviewer about his name, as well as the
name of Elijah Muhammad. To start the interview the man asks him what his ‘real name’ is. Malcolm X insists that his name is, in fact, Malcolm X. The man follows up to ask if he had gone to court to change his name to that, to which Malcolm X insisted that he did not need to do that, because there was no process to determine last names when Africans were brought to America in the Middle Passage. Malcolm X speaks on slave names and defends his right to denounce his slave name as well as other African Americans to do so. He also points our hypocrisy from media with regards to how they react to things he says vs how they react to things a white man says.
I wanted to choose something by Malcolm X specifically because, lately, I’ve been really intrigued by him. I have been speaking about him often because of the state of racial tension we have in America right now where protestors are demanding fair treatment from the police. At points in these protests there has been some violence: Windows being broken and businesses even being looted. I think that in our education system we are taught that Malcolm X is bad because he was not against violence and Martin Luther King Jr. was good because he advocated for peaceful protest even in the face of violence. I believe that both are important to any civil rights movement. Our education system tries to teach us that you can only demand fair rights if you demand them in an establishment approved way. I say that it’s misleading to denounce protests where some windows get broken and people get a little rowdy and loud. If people feel like they aren’t being heard, then they are going to get a little loud about it.
I chose this particular piece because I thought that it connected well to what we have talked about in class. Taking names away from slaves and erasing their history is a way that slave owners disenfranchised slaves. He also talks a little bit at the end about the construction of race and how religious blacks are racialized.
Malcolm X was a Muslim minister and a civil rights activist. He advocated for blacks during the Civil Rights Movement. He spoke the truth always, never mincing words he indicted white America on their crimes against humanity and called on African Americans to do the same. His voice was to demand equality, as he said, “by any means necessary.” He advocated to meet violence with violence if it took that. One misconception is that he preached hatred and violence against whites; what he actually preached was closer to ‘treat them how they treat you.’ A quote of his says, “Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.” He is one of the most influential people in history.
The interview took place in 1963, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. It is self explanatory why an interview with a civil rights leader would be important during a civil rights movement. Here he explained that slave names have no bearing on a person’s true name. In fact, he won’t even acknowledge his slave name because it has no agency over him. By doing this he encourages other African Americans not be defined by white America and what has been imposed on them and their ancestors.
Five years ago I would have said that Malcolm X’s message changed over time because the civil rights movement is over. While I always knew it was far from equal, I didn’t realize how real it still. In just the past few years it has really become a civil rights movement in the truest form as African Americans across the nation demand equality. Specifically demanding that our police officers would stop shooting unarmed people, especially minority men. I think Malcolm X’s message here is a message to empower African Americans, something which is, to this day, very relevant as they are racialized for and demonized for demanding equality in the justice system.
In class we talked about racialization of blacks before, during and after slavery. In the interview Malcolm must explain a quote that was attributed to him which said that he was happy about a plane crash; that it gave him “satisfaction.” He explains that what he had actually said was that the plane crash was an “act of God.? Malcolm X mentioned that a white christian pastor, Billy Graham, called the same plane crash an act of God as well, yet it wasn’t an issue at all (Malcolm X). Malcolm X, though, woke up to newspaper headlines which claim he said that it made him happy. This is the difference when you are a black Muslim instead of white Christian. They depicted him as a savage in the newspaper; as someone with no regard for the lives of whites. It had enough traction, too; enough that they were here talking about it again on the television.
We also spoke about disenfranchisement of slaves. We went over things that slaves kept and lost in the middle passage. Names and ethnic ties were one of them as Malcolm X describes that his ancestors’ slave holder’s name is not his. He explains it like this:
“My father didn’t know his last name. My father got his last name from his grandfather and his grandfather got it from his grandfather who got it from the slavemaster. The real names of our people were destroyed during slavery. The last name of my forefathers was taken from them when they were brought to America and made slaves, and then the name of the slavemaster was given, which we refuse, we reject that name today and refuse it. I never acknowledge it whatsoever” (Malcolm x).
I think this is a powerful concept that he puts forth here because it demands that he not be affiliated with his ancestors slave holders any longer. We saw in the movie 12 Years A Slave the way that, in racialized slavery, the slaves were considered property and that a man can do what he chooses with his property (12 Years A Slave). As Malcolm X says, the inheritance of slave master’s last names is an expression of that property. Used reclaim their lost property and differentiate theirs from others.
12 Years a Slave. Dir. Steve McQueen. Perf. Chewetel Ejiofor. 20th Century Fox Film Company, 2013. DVD.
Malcolm X: Our History Was Destroyed By Slavery. Perf. Malcolm X. 2006. Youtube.