Last Friday May 19th, 2012 marked the 87th birthday of Malcolm X, the man Ossie Davis eulogized as, “our manhood, our living, black manhood!” I am always touched and softened by the love Ossie Davis blanketed Malcolm X with when he adamantly stated that Malcolm X was “a prince—our own black shining prince!” How endearing is that! Even when the media and individuals had castigated Malcolm X from the same communities to whom he had been betrothed, Ossie Davis spoke up for him. To Mr. Davis, Malcolm wasn’t too “militant” or too “Black” or too much of a “separatist” or a “Moslem,” he was just a man–heckled by a vicious world too blinded in racism and violence to understand the jewel that had now been forced to speak from a coffin even as he lay in silence.
From one man to the next, Ossie Davis and Brother Malcolm spoke the same language and knew the same struggle as Black men in America. They had fought the same fights for human and civil rights. Who better to humanize the man who had almost outgrown and transcended the consideration of humanity than another “Brother?” Although Malcolm X was in plain sight for the entire world to see, as far as humanity was concerned he was an invisible man. He was an angry Black person stepping out of line and there was no tolerance for that sort of behavior in the 1960s. He died as a man, but he wasn’t allowed to live as one unless he conformed to the masking of his own humanity. Ossie Davis reminded us of this man when he asked, “Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him.”
For each of his posthumous birthdays, I only wish that he had smiled at me. When I’m walking down the streets in my new home of Harlem, I feel the winds of Brother Malcolm’s spirit wisp past me, and I only wish that I could have listened to him from a Harlem street corner.
My favorite thoughts remind me that he was a husband and a father. He was a son and a brother. How many times must the trepidation of anxiety have crept into his body feeling concerned that he would never have another home-cooked meal, hear the pitter-patter of his daughters’ feet, or see the doting eyes of his siblings while seeking approval at the good news of having a new crush or getting a promotion? Every time I see a picture or watch a video of Brother Malcolm smiling and jovial, the leitmotif of him only being the angry militant dissipates further from my mind; after all, he was only human.
I shared my celebration of Brother Malcolm’s life at the Brooklyn Museum in a discussion about Black men by Black men organized by Question Bridge: Black Males Blueprint Roundtable. To listen to the conversation was enlightening and hopeful most times, but it was also hurtful and contemplative at other times. To think that Black men live trapped in a dichotomy that either embraces or misunderstands them is tiring to me! I can only imagine what it must be like to live it. The discussion made me think of the throngs of Black men I know and the ways they cling to other Black men out of necessity because to not have a “crew” would place them in a world alone. Indeed, each of them would become that Invisible Man that Ralph Ellison had written about.
From what I witnessed on the stage at the Brooklyn Museum, and from what Question Bridge has assembled says that Black men are not invisible—we just have not been listening. We have not been paying attention. For so long, Black men have been role models, even when they deny that they are. There isn’t a creature on Earth that can resist stopping in his, her or its track when a this man enters the room. Invisible is a state of mind that too many of us have grown comfortable with, but when we shirk the veils of complacency and comfort we realize the best of each of us is unclad–stark naked for all to see.
“However we may have differed with him—or with each other about him and his value as a man—let his going from us serve only to bring us together, now. Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man—but a seed—which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us (Malcolm X’s Eulogy, Ossie Davis).”
For Malcolm X to have died in the manner in which he did was to open the door for the spirit of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz to continue to live and celebrate another day on this earth, on every birthday, for everybody to finally see…invisible no more.
Please enjoy the recording, courtesy of Democracy Now, that I have provided for your listening pleasure: http://www.democracynow.org/2005/2/7/ossie_davis_eulogizes_malcolm_x_i
Full text of Ossie Davis’ Eulogy here: http://www.malcolmx.com/about/eulogy.html