Have We Forgotten About Malcolm X?
May 19, 2010 would have been Malcolm X‘s 85th birthday. El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz is one of the most significant figures in the history of African-Americans, yet he still doesn’t have a national holiday nor is he recognized for his contributions to the civil-rights movement as much as Martin Luther King Jr. by American history books. Although his place in mainstream America is always up for debate, his significance to the hip-hop generation should never, ever be in question. However, I find it rather disappointing that Malcolm X’s birthday is overshadowed by rappers and their death days.
I love hip-hop, really I do. Growing up, hip-hop was my history book. If it wasn’t for Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions, I may not have picked up books on Marcus Garvey, The Black Panther Party and Malcolm X at 11 years old. Products of the hip-hop generation kept Malcolm X’s spirit alive in music and in film during the 80′s and early 90′s. But in 2010, it appears that Malcolm is almost forgotten by the hip-hop community in favor of hip-hop artists who have not done nearly as much as the man who is often considered one of the greatest and most influential African-Americans in history.
This is not to say that Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., Jam Master Jay, Big L and others shouldn’t be recognized, as they are all very important individuals to the movement of hip-hop. But to see Twitter explode with Happy Birthday *insert rapper name here* on their born days and RIP *insert rapper name here* on their death day is rather disheartening, as it appears the memory of the legendary Malcolm X is slowly being erased. He already doesn’t receive much attention from our educational institutions and many attempt to exclude him for their history books. But it is our responsibility to keep his memory alive—and, as a community, we are failing him.
It’s not too far-fetched to believe the next generation of hip-hop kids may known little to nothing about the man born Malcolm Little. Hell, I’ll go as far to say there are people in this generation that don’t have a clue who Malcolm is outside of his name, or will only liken his image to Denzel Washington in Spike Lee‘s 1992 film Malcolm X. I always said we would have an African-American president before this country would give Malcolm X his own national holiday. Friends called me crazy then. Now who’s really out of their mind?
It’s our responsibility to recognize Malcolm X’s efforts as a humanitarian, civil and human rights activist, public speaker, Muslim minister and courageous crusader for African-American rights. If it wasn’t for Malcolm, many of us wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing today—whether it be writing, listening or making hip-hop music. There are artists who strive to keep Malcolm’s dream alive. Immortal Technique, dead prez, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and others will never let his memory slip away. Unfortunately, the more mainstream names in hip-hop allow his birthday and his memory to fall by the wayside. It may not be intentional, but it is what it is. These are the same artists that will drop tons of mixtapes to commemorate the loss of Biggie and Tupac. I just ask that a fraction of that energy be spent on recognizing Malcolm X.
There’s a difference between rappers and heroes. Rappers are entertainment (although some are also activists); heroes put their life on the line to make the world a better place for you and me. You can love both, just don’t forget who helped us get to where we are today.
Long live Malcolm X aka Malcolm Little aka Detroit Red aka El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1964
You will always be missed.