The late, great Malcolm X would have been 95 years old today.
So, what has changed in the time since he left this world?
Quite a lot, and sadly, not all that much also. The ultimate paradox.
In a way, he is almost THE most relevant figure for the modern day. Tough, streetwise and intelligent, he spoke truth to power and faced extremely difficult challenges that are not too dissimilar with what we see today.
What lessons can we take from Malcolm’s life?
- Learning, done properly is absolutely transformative. His intense study whilst in jail transformed him from a petty criminal to a world class academic, orator and scholar.
- There is no greater driving force than injustice. When you see injustice all around you — it simply compels you to act. He had seen injustice his entire life. Instead of accepting it as an immovable, impregnable force, he saw it as his duty to fight it until his dying breath.
- Communication is king. Imagine if Malcolm X was still the same person he was — but wasn’t a great communicator? Would he have had the same impact? It is through his speech and oratory skills he was able to influence hearts and minds and send fear through the powers that be.
- He remained calm under the severest of pressure. Whether it was death threats, his house being firebombed, constant FBI scrutiny or media manipulation, he is a clear example for continuing to turn up, do your job and fulfil your mission, no matter the circumstances.
- Sometimes those you expect to be the biggest cheerleaders become the biggest haters when your star burns brightly. Don’t be surprised — jealousy is from satan and it can penetrate the hearts of men, easily.
- He recognised the importance of strategic priority. Knowledge of self was the most important — then after that, financial independence. You get economic independence through owning your own business. You will never obtain freedom without these two aspects being under your own control, your mindset and your wealth.
- He also recognised to elevate yourself and lift yourself out of the doldrums when you’ve been oppressed for so long, it is way more difficult to do it within the Western social construct where the influence would be damaging, early on. Hence he advocated for segregation, until such time the oppressed were at a certain level to be able to handle the pressures. Sometimes there is wisdom to be alone with those suffering from the same ills, so you can get through it together. Why else has Alcoholics Anonymous and WeightWatchers had so much success in battling against the problems they are tackling?
- Through applying discipline and a strict moral code — you can literally rid a people of habits and ills that have supposedly hampered them for decades. Drugs, violence, prostitution all dropped significantly amongst the black communities where Malcolm X and the NOI were prevalent.
- Violence or at least the threat of it, is sometimes a necessary evil, as leverage. What other leverage do you have when the odds are stacked against you? Particularly in an unjust world which is weighed against your success and progress.
- Know your place and role within the mission you are fighting for. Don’t do it for the glory alone. He eventually knew that white America would never accept him freely, as long as his association was with ‘violent’ Muslims. He was fine with that, as he knew Martin Luther King was the lesser of two evils. He told King’s wife that his own radical rhetoric was serving its overall purpose for the civil rights struggle well, as it was making Martin Luther King’s approach a more acceptable alternative. He was committed to the overall mission of freedom for his people itself, ‘by any means necessary’ — not just of ‘his’ version of it or to obtain fame for himself.
- When united, any group of people are a serious force to be reckoned with. It is always through divide and conquer, infiltration and greed that even the most powerful groups are weakened, subjugated and eventually crumble from within.
- The power of a mentor — he recognised the importance of Elijah Muhammad’s guidance and mentorship and would always credit him.
- Humility and staying humble. Power can corrupt. To stay down to earth, doing it for the love of the mission and to truly fight for a cause may not always get you riches, but it most certainly gets you love, respect and a legacy which lives on in history.
- The ability to recognise truth when you see it — and even more to separate from your past. This is hard to do especially when you’ve invested so much into it and have built up your reputation from it. But when visiting Hajj and seeing the truth about orthodox Islam, he embraced it — even if it meant he would upset people back home and maybe even tarnish the reputation he had forged for himself.
- Stand up for what you believe in and know what you’re talking about. Even though he was chastised by the media, they were still fascinated by him and how articulate he was. He remained open to communicate and was very clear in his approach, not allowing himself to belittle or dilute his beliefs even if questioned or put under pressure on camera. At the same time he was streetwise, highly aware of who he could trust, who he could be open with and who he would need to keep his cards close to his chest with, if the situation called for it.
What would Malcolm think of the world today?
Well, the world is still racist — that’s for damn sure — what has just changed is its subtlety. It’s no longer as overt — that is due to societal norms but we are seeing a revival in behaviours we thought we had finally cast aside into the annals of history where it belongs.
So, with racism still a problem, did he fail? Was his fight and ultimately his life in vain? Of course not.
The biggest lesson to take from him, in my opinion, is what it looks like to be absolutely FEARLESS. With complete trust in God, sincerity and unshakeable belief, he would stand up even in the face of the staunchest oppression. He would tell it like it is. He would think for himself.
Now look at us. Stuck at home, donning our face masks whilst hoarding our toilet roll and applying hand sanitizer for the 35th time in the past hour. Locked down, left to rot and losing liberties with every passing day. Fearful and fully compliant with whatever lies and half truths we’re sold and told.
Could you see him ever doing this?
The racism is bad enough. But the sheer gutlessness? That’s the REAL tragedy.
The world is in need of another Malcolm X more than ever.
A lifelong learner, avid reader and passionate writer, I am the founder of KNOW and a serial entrepreneur.
I am a huge believer in personal development and am also the co-founder of Muslim CEO.