Today is Malcolm X’s 90th birthday, and I am forever grateful for what he’s done for me and my pro-Black political identity.
Happy 90th Birthday to the man that taught me it’s okay to be Black, angry, and justified. pic.twitter.com/rTDRMRhZBC
— Black Millennials (@BlkMillennials) May 19, 2015
I was in college, surrounded by upper middle-class white kids who were raised in American suburbs. Having been born, raised, and nourished in NYC, I was almost colorblind. I recognized racism, knew that it existed, but having gone to some dope NYC public schools, I also knew the power of diversity and racial coexistence. In retrospect, my adolescent years were full of microaggressions, but — at the time — I would write them off as individual incidents uncharacteristic of a post-racial America.
But when I went to university that catered to well-to-do white kids who lacked experience in racial diversity and sensitivity, I felt out of place. My mere presence — my Blackness — invited both suspicion and fetishization. I felt claustrophobic, especially when these white kids were drunk and too comfortable. With no hesitation or shame, their racism came out in pride and fervor, and I was on the receiving end of it.
And then I picked up The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley. On the surface, I read the book because throughout the years, it came to me as a highly recommended must-read. Maybe subconsciously, I was searching for answers. And I found them within those pages.
Malcolm X scared me. Not his unapologetic pro-Blackness. No, that was the comfort. His words scared me because, having been written decades ago, his observations of white and Black race relations mirrored my contemporary lived experiences. His insights on media, white paternalism, and sexual fetishization and exoticism hit me particularly hard.
Malcolm X cured my colorblindness.
After reading his autobiography, I saw in color. I saw my color — my Black color — and the secrets, heritage, resilience, and stories it held.
And I saw whiteness. Not as a skin color, but as a system. I saw whiteness for what it was (and still is) — a network of institutions, entities, policies, and values woven together to embolden white supremacy, and subjugate people of color — Black folk, especially — in a global underclass.
Malcolm X and his radiating spirit, gave me space to recognize my trauma, to revisit my childhood, to affirm myself and my right to live as a Black woman. And I am forever grateful to him.