Remembering Malcolm X
By Yusef Bunchy Shakur
Formerly-incarcerated Community Organizer & Author
The life of Malcolm X, who was born on May 19, 1925, has become the topic of conversations across the country, partly because Manning Marable’s book “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” is being celebrated.
Missing in many of these conversations are the foul social conditions that gave birth to “Detroit Red” in the first place. They fail to acknowledge and address the institutional and open racism that destroyed his family and contributed to his criminal behavior.
Unfortunately, these foul social conditions exist today and have given birth to millions of “Detroit Reds/”.
I have stated publicly that I wonder how my life would have turned out if I had read The Autobiography of Malcolm X in my youth. I’m not saying I would have become the next Malcolm X, but I’m pretty certain I would not have become a gang member and ultimately a criminal.
By default I became “Detroit Red” with the rest of the young men in my neighborhood who grew up in households plagued by absentee fathers. We determined our manhood based upon our street credibility because our mothers were left with the double duty of being a mother and father, raising us in socially decaying circumstances with limited resources. They were dying inside from watching their sons become social monsters and renegades, committing social suicide by either imprisonment or early death.
Marable’s book is a disservice to the millions of Black families who are still suffering from the social ills that created “Detroit Red”, a drug user, pusher, womanizer, petty criminal and worthless human being who had to be incarcerated, although those who incarcerated him did not have the goal of cultivating a redeemed human being!
In the 21st century, this country leads the world in incarceration with over 2.5 million people in prison, half of whom are Black, even though Black people still only make up 14% of the total population.
The majority of Black men enter prison as a result of growing up in broken homes in broken neighborhoods, surviving through broken dreams, which produce broken human beings. These broken human beings see criminal behavior as their only means of survival in their hellish reality. They find themselves in prison, leaving their sons to be raised in the same “brokenness” that they grew up in to become empty and heartless like their fathers. Some meet up with their fathers in the streets or in prisons and are ready to devour their fathers, whom they despise.
These Black males who grow up in urban environments know more Black males who are in prison than Black males in college, which is why they accept their fate of going to prison as an urban rite of passage, an opportunity to reunite with homies they haven’t seen in years. People outside the Black community fail to overstand that Black males are exposed to more drug dealers than lawyers, judges, doctors or others with a profession. This is a major factor contributing to why Black males make up 50% of our prison population. Mass incarceration has led to the stagnation and often demise of Black and Brown communities, through the genocide of Black and Brown families and at the expense of Black and Brown youth.
In prison many Black men have taken the initiative to transform and redeem themselves from being “broken men” into productive human beings, as Malcolm X did. They leave prison with the purpose of returning back into their communities as protectors and providers, instead of as underdeveloped predators preying on their communities through criminal behavior. This is because they have used their prison time as an opportunity to begin to go within themselves to heal themselves of the pain and hurt that plagued them to be hurtful human beings, because as the saying goes, “hurt people hurt people”.
I have often been asked by young Black males, “Why do Black men have to go to prison to change their lives?” We should be discussing this as we evaluate the life of Malcolm X, because it is through his life that we can find the answer. We can begin the process of raising healthy Black youth, in healthy Black households and communities, by producing healthy human beings armed with knowledge of self. We can also begin by encouraging them to be committed to being a healthy and contributing member of their community.
Through Malcolm X’s life we are confronted with the reality of children growing up in households without their fathers, mothers being overwhelmed with raising children by themselves, and children being co-parented by the streets. This social nightmare is a common theme in the lives of notable Black and Brown men, who have survived to write their stories: Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown, Convicted in the Womb by Carl Upchurch, Makes Me Wanna Holler by Nathan McCall, Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member by Sanyika Shakur, Always Running by Luis Rodriquez, my two books The Window 2 My Soul: My Transformation from a Zone 8 Thug to a Father & Freedom Fighter and My Soul Looks Back: Life After Incarceration.
These and many other books written by surviving souls tell stories of pain, neglect, abuse, miseducation, confusion, abandonment, anger and incarceration. Each story reveals the same ugly truth of growing up in in a subculture of third world conditions which are manufacturing genocidal soldiers hellbent on destroying their communities and themselves. In the process they find themselves incarcerated, the government’s solution to correcting inhuman behavior.
The real solution is to redefine Black and Brown families by creating healthy households/environments, which will in turn produce healthier Black and Brown men, determined to live out healthier lives.
Yusef Shakur is s Community Organizer for All of Us or None
Urban Network 5740 Grand River, Detroit MI 48208 313-459-6008