Malcom & Martin: Implications of Their Legacies for the Future with Dr. Cornel West & Imam Zaid Shakir CD
$5.00

It would be difficult to assemble any narrative of America during the 1960s without mentioning both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.; crucial figures for their pivotal roles in the black freedom struggle. Today even, they often seem larger than life - especially after having reached the mythical status of martyrdom following their ominous assassinations. At the same time, it is easy to divorce Malcolm and King from the much larger movements that they were a part of and the social realities they fought to change. It was with hesitation, then, that Imam Zaid Shakir - an accomplished Muslim scholar from Zaytuna Institute in California - began a recent discussion of the two at a public talk in Oakland last December. Shakir prefaced his remarks by avoiding a definitive talk on the subject of these two, deferring to others more qualified than he to handle their historical significance. Instead he tried to focus on the impact of the two figures from an ecumenical (and quite present-minded) point of view focusing on what lessons could be understood from the internationalist legacies they left behind for Christians and Muslims alike. Shakir mentioned how each did not see their religion outside of the context of the struggle against racism, and more poignantly, how each found the strength to transcend what America made him. Shakir touched on the remarkable political transformations that both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. underwent near the end of their lives. He emphasized the way in which each figure put the knowledge they had gained through their political and intellectual experiences to the service of others. In their personal lives, it is certainly no small feat to have gone, as Malcom did, from a pimp and thief to a revered Muslim minister who spoke back to the white power structure and inspired millions of African American youth. Nor was it necessary for Martin Luther King to abandon his comfortable career trajectory as a well-healed middle-class minister in Atlanta to become a major national figure and advocate of the downtrodden. Moreover, such transcendence was a lifelong endeavor for these figures: as Malcolm X shifted to a Third World internationalism by 1965 so did King come to oppose the war in Vietnam as much as he did poverty in America, inextricably linking the two issues as central concerns for the freedom struggle at the end of the 1960s. The distinguished Princeton professor of philosophy Cornel West took a slightly different tact with the discussion. While West may have been over-the-top when he indicated that he leaves the country every January (effectively belittling the important work that the now late Coretta Scott King did to have her husband memorialized for a National holiday in that month), he did hit on something when he expressed his desire to de-Santa-Clausify both Malcolm and King. Speaking in light of a trip to South Africa he had made to meet Mandela, West bemoaned how the popular legacies of many major Black figures have been too easily depoliticized and stripped of their radical political trajectories and made into digestible sound bites more suitable for G-rated, short attention span audiences. Thus, today we have the preponderance of Malcolm X t-shirts and paraphernalia at the shopping mall, jet plane salutes on Martin Luther King Day, and liberal political leaders posing for photo-ops with Mandela and U2 s Bono. West wanted to set Malcolm and King apart from the liberal mythology that has encapsulated them in a past that purportedly left racism back in the 1960s. In great philosophical fashion, West suggested that the two were Socratic to the core, never quenching their lifelong critique of themselves or their society and that they were not bearers of optimism but prisoners of hope for a future that had not yet arrived. --Seven Oaks Magazine - by Ian Rocksborough-Smith