On what would’ve been Malcolm X’s 91st birthday, Vibe honors the honest, powerful, determined and loving leader in his own words.
So many times Malcolm is eulogized by those who summarize his 39 years as best they can. We here at Vibe decided that would be too lofty to take on. As humans, we’re multidimensional and complex and Malcolm–despite his love and commitment to see black people thrive–was no different. He was a father, a husband, a brother a believer and friend. A man who smiled, laughed and cracked jokes. But most importantly, he cared which is evident in the fact that he didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.
Happy Birthday, Malcolm X.
Who Taught You To Hate Yourself? (Los Angeles, 1962)
Standing before a packed Los Angeles crowd, Malcolm asked a simple question that has echoed throughout the African-American community long after his death. Who taught you to hate yourself? The powerful speech–a snippet of which was sampled on Beyonce’s Lemonade—encapsulates all that Malcolm stood for: brutal self-reflection, ownership of mistakes made, white supremacy’s intentional destruction of the black community, and humor to drive the point home.
Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the color of your skin to such extent that you bleach it to get like the white man? Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips? Who taught you to hate yourselves from the top of your head to the soles of your feet?
Malcolm X On Education (Harlem, 1960s)
While speaking at a rally in Harlem, Malcolm touched on the harsh living conditions of the community. He began his speech by addressing the negative effects of a dilapidated neighborhood and how it creates a vicious cycle for people of color. A key aspect to why Malcolm was (and still is) revered as such a powerful historical figure is because for all of Malcolm’s intellect and wisdom, Malcolm also took a simplistic approach in his speeches, which allowed for his messages to penetrate.
It doesn’t make any difference what else you have, if you don’t have a place to rest your head, you’re in bad shape. Here in Harlem, the reason we say housing is such a key problem, when you live in a poor neighborhood, you’re living in an area where you have to have poor schools. When you have poor schools, you have poor teachers, when you have poor teachers you get a poor education and when you get a poor education you are destined to be a poor man and a poor woman.
Oxford University Debate (Oxford, England, 1964)
A little more than two months before his assassination, Malcolm X held court at Oxford University for a robust debate on the state of the black man in America. Malcolm, unafraid, unwilling (and maybe unable) to hold his tongue, spoke on the blaring hypocrisy that plagues black Americans. In front of a packed crowd, Malcolm’s baritone echoed throughout the grand room as he spoke of his desire to see his people live a better life. But what is oftentimes overlooked by history books was Malcolm’s humanity. Although brief, Malcolm’s charm slipped through along with his smile as he used his intellect–like he’s done many times before–to outwit those attempting to trip him up with his words.
As long as a white man does it, it’s alright. A black man is suppose to have no feelings. But when a black man strikes back, he’s an extremist. He’s suppose to sit back passively and have no feelings, be non violent and love his enemy no matter what kind of attack–albeit verbal or otherwise–he’s suppose to take it. But if he stands up in anyway, and tries to defend himself, then he’s an extremist.
By Any Means Necessary (Harlem, 1964)
Almost as reductive as Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream,” Malcolm X’s most famous four words “by any means necessary” have become a brand statement of sorts to describe his zeal and willingness to see black people rise and treated as equals and not second-class citizens in America. Sporting a thick beard, Malcolm–as he’s done before–made his petition known that whatever it took to gain the rights, respect and liberties for African-Americans, he would do.
“To bring about the complete independence of people of African descent here in the Western Hemisphere, and first here in the United States, and bring about the freedom of these people by any means necessary.”