LIVING FOR CHANGE
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, March 28, 2010
Scribes of Redemption: Letters from an Incarcerated Father 2 His Incarcerated Son
Urban Guerrilla Publishing,
5740 Grand River, Detroit 48208
These scribes to Yusef Shakur from his father are a reminder that Malcolm X’s struggle to overcome his mental and spiritual backwardness began through his relationship with Elijah Muhammed and the Nation of Islam.
Through this relationship Malcolm became “our own black shining prince,” an inspiring example of how a petty hustler can become a force to change society by transforming himself.
“Until I change, society will not change. When I change, society can change.”
Revolutions involve two-sided transformation. They are not just struggles for power. That’s a very macho view. Revolutions are evolution.
The American revolution is not only a struggle for Rights or for Power. It’s a continuing struggle to become more human, more caring in our relationships with one another, with all living things and with the Earth.
Most people don’t know that Malcolm’s early meetings in Detroit were relatively small because he made his listeners uncomfortable. He challenged blacks to look in the mirror, to be proud of being black, to stop thinking like a minority. His audiences began to grow only after the media began portraying him as a dangerous and violent militant.
Because transforming himself was so central to Malcolm’s leadership, he continued to develop after he split from Mr. Muhammad and the Nation.
For example, at the November 1963 Grass Roots Leadership Conference he shared his new ideas on revolutionary internationalism and distinguished between “House Negroes” and “Field Negroes.” This distinction ended the black nationalist myth that everything black is beautiful.
The speech was so different from Malcolm’s previous speeches that I whispered to Rev. Cleage, “Malcolm’s going to split with Mr. Muhammad.” We didn’t know then that Malcolm had already split with Mr. Muhammad over the latter’s personal conduct. It was also two weeks before Mr. Muhammad very publicly suspended Malcolm for his “chickens come home to roost” comment on President Kennedy’s assassination.
Once Malcolm had distinguished between House and Field Negroes, it is not surprising that after the hajj, he recognized that revolutionaries come in all colors.
Also after the hajj, Malcolm went to Selma to tell Martin Luther King Jr. that he was ready to work with him. Martin was in jail, but Malcolm was able to meet with Coretta Scott King.
In a conversation recorded by Jan Carew in Ghosts in our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, London and the Caribbean, Malcolm explained how being a revolutionary means being a work in progress.
“I’m a Muslim and a revolutionary, and I’m learning more about political theories as the months go by. The only Marxist group in America that offered me a platform was the Socialist Workers Party. I respect them and they respect me. The Communists have nixed me, gone out of their way to attack me, that is, with the exception of the Cuban Communists. If a mixture of nationalism and Marxism makes the Cubans fight the way they do and makes the Vietnamese stand up so resolutely to America and its other lapdogs, then there must be something to it. But my Organization of African American Unity is based in Harlem and we’ve got to learn to creep before we walk and walk before we run. But the chances are they will get me the way they got Lumumba before he reached the running stage.”
Yusef Shakur is carrying on Malcolm’s legacy of constantly transforming himself so that he can transform his neighborhood. He is an example of how young black men and women in Detroit and other cities are creating an alternative vision and practice of what it means to be a human being in the 21st century. In the process they are rebuilding communities and giving us all permission to become the leaders we’ve been looking for by engaging in the two-sided struggles to transform both ourselves and our institutions.
Scribes of Redemption can be purchased at the Boggs Center. $14.99 plus $5 S&H.