Malcolm X in Africa
“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it”–Frantz Fanon
Today we will commemorate the 90th birthday of the iconic global leader Malcolm X.
What does this day mean for some of us Black Francophones?
My journey to black conscientiousness started, along that of other individuals, while viewing Spike Lee’s film “Do The Right Thing.”
We were around 15 years of age at that time of its premier in France, and the French media gave ample coverage about the U.S. Black filmmaker at the 42nd Cannes Festival. Like Jackie Robinson, Spike Lee had broken a new barrier in the film industry. Wow, we were all proud to become acquainted with the young filmmaker, actor, and activist with his swag and straight talk. For us, the film triggered the awakened of said consciousness and activism in France. We have never seen a black man being portrayed so positively in an industry, which is predominantly White.
A few months ago, I sat down with some friends in Paris; we are all in our early 40’s, and all from different cities in France: Paris, Marseille, and Nantes; I am from Lyon. Our objective was to reminisce upon our youth and recall what music films had had an impact in our lives. “Do The Right Thing” came to mind to all us as we laughed at some of the scenes; we recognized ourselves in the characters of Radio Raheem and that of Buggin’out. As far as music we grew up learning “Black studies” lessons by listening to , Professor Griff, KRS1, Public Enemy, N.W.A and because or thank to these pioneers, rap was history of the Black experience for us. We were young Africans from the diaspora living in France but were so proud to call to our black brothers from the U.S. who taught us what history book in France didn’t.
During our get-together, yet another very important film also came to mind, it was that of “Malcolm X” and interestingly enough, the day of it’s premier here in France. In hindsight, how I wish that we had been able to capture the ensuing moments on camera.
Before going to see the film, we saw the trailers, and believe me after its debut, we were all wearing the symbol “X” in on our caps, and even on the front page of our school notebooks. Due to our relevant enthusiasm at school, the White teachers became afraid of us. We couldn’t and didn’t understand why.
Malcolm X never taught violence, but rather, self defense, therefore we were cool with our swag. Since the film “Malcolm X” was directed by Spike Lee, since he should have received the “Golden Palm,” and since he was already acclaimed by his peers in France, exhibiting our inspirational, our appreciation, and our connection as children of the African Diaspora, our expression was legit, uplifting, and an identifying one as well. While in high school, I did a presentation on Malcolm X in my Philosophy class, to my dismay my teacher became embarrassed by some of the parts that I had quoted from Malcolm X’s speeches against White people.
I clarified and explained to him that, not all White people are racist, and that when I say “White supremacists” that that does not mean all White people are such; that indeed many Whites are also victims of the white supremacy, although they also benefits from it.
While recalling the “Malcolm X” film premiere in France, it was the first time in my life I that I had witnessed such a massive security force at a movie theater. Four White friends and I attended the event. These Whites friends wanted to see the film but were afraid to go by themselves. I imagined that somehow my presence served as some sort of security for them, but I did state, that I have never been afraid to view a Tarzan film though its subject being that of a White man and “king of the jungle in Africa.”
At any rate, upon arrival at the movie theater it was perplexing to note the amount of security guards with their canine units that were at the scene. Even inside the halls, one could see the massive security that was a force with which to be reckoned. Though I understood that a measure of security was needed at that time, what we had experienced then was, nevertheless, an excessive police detail way out of our wildest of imaginations. Lo and behold those, in Paris, Marseille, and Nantes had also witnessed the very same scenario at their respective movie theaters.
At that time my friends and I did not know each other, but the same display of excessive security were omnipresent in our minds; and though were agreed that the film wasn’t about the subject of violence, we could all noticed and felt the tension in the air at the end of the film when Malcolm X was assassinated. We could also feel the anger of his demise in the air amongst the spectators.
Aside from bringing to life on film the legend that was Malcolm X, we undoubtedly had to commend Mr. Spike Lee far his vision of inserting, close to the final chapter of the film, a cameo of the towering figure of the statesman that was, Mr. Nelson Mandela. It was quite an exhilarating moment to hear the following words uttered by the former South African president: “We declare our right on this earth…to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence.”
We emerged from the movie theatre that day, very quiet but very proud; we also understood that “by any means necessary” doesn’t mean only by violence. In France, We have been taught a lot about Martin Luther King, but absolutely noting about Malcolm X. In Lyon, during the 1990’s, it was so virtually impossible to find a book on Malcolm X that I had to order mine from London, along with an English-French dictionary just to be able to read and understand the context of his writings. And yes that’s how I learned English.
As an African from the Diaspora, let’s not forget that Malcolm X was also a Pan-Africanist, and as Tata Madiba did, he fought for freedom and equality not only for Blacks in a specific country but for Blacks worldwide.
During his trip to Cairo in July 1964 to address African leaders a memorandum asking for their support to the struggle of African-Americans he contributed to restore our pride and sense of unity. He contributed immensely of the reality that Black Lives Matter.
Being an African from the Diaspora, and being aware of the legacy of our martyr Omowale El-Shabbaz, the messiah that most of us fear to admit that he came on earth for a purpose: to fulfill his creator’s mission of awakening our mind and being proud of being black wherever we live. Indeed many of our people fear to admit the huge positive impact of Malcolm X because they are still conditioned by how white supremacy sees and considers him.
Today, in an era where White supremacy refined itself, we need to understand that the whole world benefit from our lack of unity but ourselves. I also believe from my humble position that we should bring to the agenda of Pan-african organizations such as the Africa Union dates like May 19th, July 18th, July 20th, February 6th, January 15th, December 21st, July 2nd, December 5th, December 18th, August 17th, February 23rd, April 27th, all the birthdate of Black heroes as national holidays.
Today, we must teach and explain our children that racism is a global system that evolves with its time. Youth today should and must study Malcolm X. Our youth today, should understand that we have simply earned the right to be free, now we must “ Emancipate ourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds”.
The struggle continues and let’s keep faith in our people and trust that “A change gonna come.”