tear rolled down the face of Attallah Shabazz, Malcolm Xs oldest daughter,
as she spoke in Harlem, N.Y., at the unveiling of a U.S. postage stamp with the image of
her father. Also present at the Jan. 20 ceremony at the Apollo Theatre were Shabazzs
five sisters; Ossie Davis, who eulogized Malcolm in 1965; and many other well-known
While Attallah Shabazz shed a tear, I wonder if her father was shaking his head at the
turn of events.
I wonder if Malcolm was saying, "If you stand up to this society, it will crush
you or co-opt you. And with this stamp, they now have done both to me."
The government issued a stamp, but it has not issued all of its secret files on
Malcolm. The issuing of a stamp draws attention away from the same federal
governments still-hidden role in illegal spying on Malcolm, the disruption of his
activities, the hounding of his followers, and its role in his death. Scholar Clayborne
Carson writes in his book "MalcolmX: The FBI Files" that the spying started in
1953, and "the FBIs interest in Malcolm did not end with his death."
I say, give us the fileskeep the stamp. Malcolm, in my opinion, would have wanted
us to focus on the files, not on seeing his face on a stamp.
CRUSHING AND CO-OPTING
Crushing and co-opting are two of the weapons that American culture uses against
powerful voices of dissent. A classic example is Malcolms own transformation in the
Right after Malcolm was assassinated in 1965, major newspapersthe New York Times
and the Washington Post among manydenounced him in editorials as a "preacher of
hate" who got what he deserved.
But when the film "Malcolm X" hit the screens in 1992, these same media
outlets printed another set of editorials, this time praising Malcolm almost as a saint.
Why were the editorials so different? Did Malcolm change his politics from beyond the
The reason: Malcolm would not die. His words and power continued to stir many of us,
and his message continued to spread. So after some years, the strategy in the media and in
the culture in general changed: "We have crushed his body, and that did not stop his
influence, so now let us co-opt his words and image."
LIES AND MANIPULATION
I actually prefer the lying words that the media told about Malcolm in 1965 to the
manipulating words they told about him in 1992 and since. Why? The lies are easy to see.
But the manipulation? Its like those chemical flavors they put in food: They taste
good, and you wont notice the harm they are doing to your insides.
But the manipulating words that spewed out when the Malcolm X stamp was unveiled in New
York are enough to burn a hole in your stomach. The Postal Services S. David Fineman
called Malcolm "a modern-day revolutionary who openly fought for the end of
oppression and injustice. He was a visionary, a man who dreamed of a better world and
dared to do something about it.
Let me stop before I throw up. I am upset not with the words, mind you, but with the
context around them. Do you believe this society has changed, transformed, overturned,
revolutionized, so much, that Malcolm would smile down on it? I dont think so.
Which Malcolm X was Fineman praising?
Surely not the earlier Malcolm who called white people "devils by nature" with
such convincing arguments.
So was Fineman talking about Malcolms later years? Lets see.
Fineman was repeating the popular idea that Malcolm had "grown" in his last
But if the Postal Service, the federal government or this culture in general, were
really interested in the "growth" of our leaders, why is there no focus on
Martin Luther Kings "growth" in HIS last year? We hear almost nothing
about Kings Poor Peoples Campaign, about his opposition to the federal
governments war in Vietnam, about his critique of capitalism and exploitation in his
last year, of his calling the American mainstream "polluted."
MALCOLM STOOD APART
Malcolm resisted co-optation into this society. He saw past all the flash and cash, all
the way to the racist, corrupt, exploitive, aggressive, manipulative, violent heart of
this society. He was able to see that because he was an independent voice. He was able to
shoot darts or bullets at this society, as the situation demanded. So this stamp is not
just for mailing letters. It is an attempt to bring Malcolm "in." It is a
cultural symbol, a conferring of status, a mark of acceptance.
"Come in, Malcolm," American society is saying. "Stop looking out that
window and put down that rifle. Take off your shoes and have a seat. Make yourself
If Malcolm was alive, could you see him getting comfortable enough to get up on that
stage to accept some kind of award? No. So a stamp aint gettin it. And only
when we defend this righteous legacy of Malcolm as an outsider, as someone separate and
apart, can he remain strong and valuable to us. ...
I will stand back and let Malcolm speak for himself:
"No, Im not an American. Im one of the 22 million Black people who are
the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million Black people who are the victims of
democracynothing but disguised hypocrisy I dont see any American dream; I see
an American nightmare."
Nobody quoted that from the Apollo stage.
And this was not the "old" Malcolm, during his Nation of Islam years. This
was part of a speech on April 3, 1964. "People involved in revolution dont
become part of the system," Malcolm said to A.B. Spellman in an interview in May
1964. "They destroy the system; they change the system."
Nobody quoted that from the stage.
"Im for the freedom of ... Afro-Americans BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY! BY ANY
MEANS NECESSARY! Im for freedom. Im for a society in which our people are
recognized and respected as human beings, and I believe we have the right to resort to ANY
MEANS NECESSARY to bring that about." This is Malcolm in an interview with Claude
Lewis in December, 1964. (Emphasis is in the original.)
Nobody quoted that from the stage.
Do you think Malcolm would want his face on a stamp when he knows that in Riverside,
Calif., Tyisha Miller, 19, was killed in a hail of 27 bullets by cops who are as brutal as
Do you think Malcolm would want his face on a stamp when he knows that in New York,
N.Y., Amadou Diallo, 22, was killed in a hail of 41 bullets by cops who are as brutal as
Do you think Malcolm would want his face on a stamp when he knows that parts of the
Voting Rights Act, which protected some Black peoples right to vote, may expire in a
Do you think Malcolm would want his face on a stamp when he knows that this is a
culture so racist that Black people even need a Voting Rights Act in the first place, when
other people dont?
Do you think Malcolm would want his face on a stamp when he knows that the conditions
that produced the Black uprisings of 1965, 1967 and 1992 still exist?
Or would Malcolm most likely say, in that rich voice of his, forceful as thunder and
bright as lightning, "As long as my people are not free, dont identify me with
ANYTHING having to do with this government."
I still hear that voice. I still feel that presence. The least we can do, out of
respect for Malcolm and his enduring legacy, is not buy any such stamp.
(Yemi Toure is editor of HYPE Information Service and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 770-322-6653. His
web site is http://www.afrikan.net/hype/)