I’d never heard Malcolm X speak. If I had, I certainly had no memory of it. I was excited, therefore when I came across a real, live, video of the man and the legend. His words and his life have always been steeped in controversy, but at this point, I was less interested in the content of what he was saying than the opportunity to actually hear him say it; to see the man in motion.
Malcolm’s in the Middle
Most of what he was talking about didn’t surprise me- Our ancestors were stripped of their history upon entry to this country, and given last names that connoted ownership. Ok. My father was a huge fan of Malcolm X, and did his best to educate me about his life and his beliefs, especially as they pertained to my place in the world as an African American female. El Hajj Malik El Shabazz was a mantra I’d repeated on numerous occasions . I wasn’t looking for revelations, and I found none (except the confirmation that yes- he is as well spoken and direct and fine as I’d always imagined him to be).
It wasn’t until near the end of the video (~13:40) that my jaw hit the floor. “It is better for us to go to our own schools, and after we have a thorough knowledge of ourselves, of our own kind; and racial dignity has been instilled within us, then we can go to anyone’s school, and we’ll still retain our race pride, our racial dignity, and we will be able to avoid the subservient, inferiority complex that most Negroes have, or that is instilled within most Negroes who receive this sort of integrated education.”
I thought quickly through my educational history- Two years at Philadelphia Christian Academy (learning about God). Two years at Lotus Academy (learning about Black People). Eight years at J.R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School (learning about how to sound “smart” by calling it “intelligent” instead). What was this? Had my parents actually followed these instructions to the very letter? Sending me to schools in my youth that would bolster me against the mind-numbing assimilation I’d be forced to embrace for the rest of my life?
I remember having conversations with the few of my classmates at Masterman who’d also attended Lotus. Talking about how privileged we’d felt to have been given a foundation of truth and clarity when it came to the history of Black people in this country, and our responsibility to ourselves and each other in that regard. We were fifth grade militants. We didn’t hate others, but we loved Black people HARD. In retrospect, the image of these little soldiers standing proud in front of a red, black, and green flag is astounding to me, not to mention comical.
I’ve mellowed of course. I think we all have. That doesn’t change the fact though, that years ago, we unconsciously internalized those early teachings, and carried them with us through the rest of our schooling experience. It doesn’t change the fact that I continue to feel beholden to my people- most of whom would be happy to remind me that no matter the amount of ivy twining around my degree, my future son can’t push a nice whip through the South Bronx without incident.
So in the end, the question in my mind is: What does it mean to be the product of parenting with purpose? I’ve spent the last two years trying to succeed for me; my piece of mind. I moved to San Francisco and lost the this-is-not-theoretical-these-
kids-are-right-in-front-of-me connection to the Black community that I’d once felt. What a waste would it be if I didn’t put all that serious, deliberate child-rearing thought into action?
My racial dignity is strong. I’m proud of that, but I had nothing to do it. It’s high time that I put my community-loving money where my Ivy-toting mouth is. I’m taking suggestions, and I’m on the move.