The other day, I was watching researcher Zaheer Ali‘s lecture on Livestream, cleverly dubbed X(CLUDED)—you can see it here—about how and why Malcolm X was disinvited to give a lecture at The New School in 1964, intended to “broaden understanding of the struggle for racial equality” during the Civil Rights Movement. The talk was arresting, spot on, and applicable to polarizing figures and events today. (This doesn’t apply to those white and conservatives overrated media figures who say the most outrageous things in the media under the veil of fervent patriotism: they are just expressing their love for Americanism.)
Zaheer, in a nutshell, spoke about four main issues monkey-wrenching Malcolm X that are still pervasive today:
- Misreading: Malcolm X was taken out of context by, in my words, those critics who, as we see today, are still being rewarded for assimilating to the idea of Americanism by not being muzzled or having their voices muted in the media. Today, when we see our nation’s cultural critics take the stage, you may notice that there is still no gender/biological/political/racial/ethnic diversity among them. Many are recycling the same archaic and carefully packaged conversations that we can almost sing-along to rather than taking those moments in the national spotlight to push the conversation any further. We aren’t putting things into its proper context when speaking about the American Race Crisis of today unless it’s filtered through a rigid Black-and-white lens. And when it comes to our Identity Crisis, well—don’t get me started on that front (more on that later).
- Piecing Apart: Taking a little bit of this and that without looking at the person and what s/he represents in totality continues to happen today. We are, in essence, dehumanizing our leaders and public figures, turning them into objects of worship rather than looking at them as fallible and complex human beings. I believe that if we accepted the humanity of these figures they would start to become accessible, and we may have accept responsibility for our own actions or apathy. So, for example, when we see a figure like hip-pop artist Nicky Minaj using an iconic image of an armed Malcolm X looking out the window, protecting his family from death threats, for her profoundly uncreative jingle in where she spits 1% values like an 85-percenter (hip-hop heads and Jimmy Fallon, ya’ll get it), we shouldn’t rush to judgement. We should take a moment and step back, think about the broader context of what this says about our educational system and our collective Identity Crisis as people of color, and maybe accept some of the responsibility. We created her, many have exalted her as a cultural leader, and have sent her out into the world ill-prepared. (Still, I’m crazy-disgusted by the stunt but am trying to approach the situation differently.)
- Mischaracterization still happens today. People look at our activists and cultural leaders, often confusing the two, like they do race and ethnicity, and even popular culture and rap music today, through a binary lens. There are good activists and bad ones. There are so-called socially conscious rappers and then, what I call dandy rappers, who, by definition, are unduly devoted to style, neatness and fashion in dress and appearance. (To use “gangsta” as a definer of rap music today seems a little outdated.) You’re either conservative or militant in your political views. We look at each other the way we look at culture, our society, and race, etc., today: a Black-and-white lens. The world is a little bit more colorful than that. AND IF YOU REP THE MIDDLE, then—
- Marginalization is what will likely happen to you and the Other voices, those figures that are often misread.
Just as I was really getting into Ali’s lecture, someone sent me an article about Brooklynite film director Spike Lee going on a “rant” at Pratt Institute for a lecture in honor of African American History Month. Let me translate: New York magazine dismissed Lee’s valid and colorful approach at voicing his frustration at seeing his ‘hood gentrified as being a rant. I and countless native New Yorkers feel Spike Lee to the fullest and are vexed by the “motherf*ckin’ Christopher Columbus Syndrome” many gentrifiers are moving into the city with. It’s septic. And to see him marginalized and dismissed was, well, was a side effect of this syndrome. (I won’t even get into the shallow piece the magazine ran about gentrification in my Inwood ‘hood right now.)
Same shit, different decade.