Friday, December 11, 2009

Malcolm X's Speech at Oxford University (1964)

I've spent the last couple of hours listening to Malcolm X's speeches and interviews posted on YouTube. There is something exquisitely poignant about getting the opportunity to see this man and hear him speak at length, as I am accustomed to simply reading his words.  Since my teenage years I've read his autobiography countless times; it is surely the book I've re-read the most over the course of my life (except for, perhaps, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle).   When I first visited New York City in my early twenties, the thing I wanted to do above all others was to walk down Malcolm X Blvd. in Harlem (and I did and it was wonderful!). The influence of his work and of his words and of what he stood for is probably why I have a tendency to move toward the radical in my own thinking (and rightly so, as he states at the end of the video posted here).

Besides my outright idolization of Malcolm X, I also relate to him on a personal level. We have somewhat similar histories. We both flirted with foolish and self-destructive behavior as young people, but then came to realize the importance of education. We both spent an inordinate amount of time self-educating ourselves. We both came from nothing, but still summoned the wherewithal to fight for something better.  We both are more concerned with systemic issues than individual ones.

Obviously, my experiences as a white woman in the early 21st century are ones of far more privilege than were his experiences as a black man in the mid 20th. Still, I believe the mutual experience of oppression (albeit, not to the same degree) renders us particularly accordant.  His thought truly inspires me. I particularly like to apply his thinking about racism to contemporary issues regarding sexism.* I would have liked nothing more than to have seen him live to a ripe old age and have witnessed his philosophy and approach come to full fruition. Who knows what our world would be like today had that happened?  Fortunately, some of his words have been preserved for posterity, words which remain utterly relevant in our time.

Some points I appreciate most in his above Oxford speech are, as follows:
1)  the problems inherent with a committee approach to governance;
2)  issues regarding the seniority system with regard to moving the historically oppressed into positions of power;
3)  the divorce of practice and enforcement from rhetoric and laws;
4)  how it is incumbent upon citizens to bring about justice when the system fails to; and
5)  how a moderate approach does not apply to the fight for freedom and equality.

Om shanti.

* Which isn't to imply that I think racism isn't a contemporary issue b/c minorities are still being discriminated against today and they hardly have equal opportunities available to them (take a walk in North St. Louis or East St. Louis and read Gladwell's Outliers, if you don't believe this is true).