In today’s New York Daily News (2/17), there is a story that begins: “Don’t disrespect Malcolm.” The article goes on to say that is the message that Malcom’s daughter, Ilyash Shabazz is directing at Nicki Minaj. And, Shabazz added, “Ms. Minaj’s artwork for her single does not depict the truth of Malcolm X’s legacy, is completely disrespectful, and in no way is endorsed by my family. It is our family’s hope that the true legacy and context of Malcolm X’s life continues to be shared with people from all walks of life in a positive manner that helps promote the goals and ideals for which Malcolm X so passionately advocated.”
Why the message? Well… Seems Minaj posted a pic from Ebony magazine for her online piece, “Lookin Ass Nigga”, of Malcolm X standing at a window in his home holding a rifle. At the time the pic was taken he was receiving death threats from anonymous sources (they are always anonymous… why is that?) and he was showing he would do whatever needed to be done to protect himself and his own… his family and home.
Well that upset a lot of folks… not only Ms. Shabazz but some other peeps too. Seems “local leaders” in Harlem were also… in a word… pissed.
Iesha Sekou, a Harlem community organizer who conducts student workshops out of Harlem Renaissance High School, said “I think it’s horrible. Look at all of the work that Malcolm X did. For her to use his image and the language that she used, it’s major disrespect.”
She also told the Daily News that some of her students didn’t think what Minaj did was offensive.
Chris Moore, a historian at the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture in Harlem said that Minaj was “… more ignorant than disrespectful… She should pick up a book (about Malcom X)…”
Jacob Morris, head of the Harlem Historical Society said, “I’m angry because that’s not what he stood for… For his image to be misused this way, it’s despicable.” Morris also referenced the fact that at the time Malcolm feared for his safety and he has a weapon for self-defense. Morris also said “Put up some money (i.e. donate to a cause Malcom X would approve) instead of some phony words It’s disgraceful to attach the n-word to him — flat out.”
Okay… at face value, my reaction was that I agreed with Morris… fuck that just apologizing crap, and, it isn’t enough… If… she is sincerely sorry for using Malcom’s image in a so-called disrespectful way. I mean peeps do shit, and, then say “oh, sorry”… and, the kicker that really gets me is when they say “If I offended anyone… I’m sorry.” Obviously you offended someone because you’re getting backlash and you’re apologizing.
But, then, I thought: What was the disrespect? Associating him with the word nigga? Or, the use of what some peeps is saying about her glorification of weapons… i.e., guns.
So, I thought I need to check the actual lyrics out… so, I went online and I did exactly that.
Read them once, twice, thrice… and then pondered them for a bit and went back on line and checked out what some of that shit actually meant. Took a little while… not real long… but a little time invested… and ya know what? What the fuck is all the hubbub, bub?
Seems to me she just telling the folks in the hood to stop the bullshit; stop being phonies and get real… And, that she is a force to be reckoned with.
That’s the simplification of the situation as I sees it and some might want to get more analytical about what she is saying but, hell, sometimes simple is all that’s needed, and, from what I read… that’s the message… So, now… again, why all the noise?
Now… I know a little bit about Malcom and what I know about the man is I think he was killed by a certain faction of the Muslims because he was about to become a force that they did not want to reckon with.. and… I believe he was about to, at least on some level, unite with MLK Jr. and together they would certainly be a most powerful voice for civil rights and the advancement of the so-called minority folks in the good old U S of A.
Whether I agree with all of, or even any of, Malcom’s tactics and/or philosophies is not the issue but the issue is what I think of him as a man of principle… personally, I think that as far as being a Muslim he did not take what was being force-fed into his brain at face value and had the balls, and the presence of mind, to question what the Muslims in the 1960s were doing for Black society and went so far as to go over to the Mideast to see what the Muslim religion was really about. And, for that I give him my respect…
So, did Minaj disrespect Malcom’s history and what he did for Black society by using his image? Not my call… it is Malcom’s family’s call and they did not like it but I think for the wrong reasons.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way… immediately… this entire gun thing… guns is not the issue here, in my opinion… so, I don’t even care about those peeps and their noise… BUT, Shabazz, and others, are in uproar because they feel Minaj is being disrespectful by using Malcom’s image and certain language… essentially the word, and any variation on the word, nigga…
So… what’s Malcom’s take on the word?
A little background…
In the 1960s, Malcom is growing disenchanted with the Black Muslims inaction, and, in particular is becoming estranged from the leadership of Elijah Muhammad. On March 8, 1964, Malcolm X announces he is breaking from the Nation of Islam. He also announces that he is going to organize a Black Nationalist movement to “heighten the political consciousness” of African Americans. And, in a major change for him, he adds he wants to work with other civil rights leaders… and maybe as an excuse for his previous words against civil rights leaders in the past and their strategies… such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violent crusade… he also adds that the Nation of Islam, i.e., Elijah Muhammad, had prevented him from doing so in the past.
In April 1964, Malcolm X goes to the Middle East in a pilgrimage to Mecca, and, later travels to Africa. While there, he sees Muslims of “all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans”.
Malcom concludes that hate and ignorance… not white people… is the enemy. He is now more open to the strategy that a nonviolent approach to overcoming racism could actually work.
In a conversation with Gordon Parks just two days before his assassination, Malcolm said that after he spoke with Middle East and African leaders he was “… awakened… to the dangers of racism. I realized racism isn’t just a black and white problem. It’s brought bloodbaths to about every nation on earth at one time or another. Brother, remember the time that white college girl came into the restaurant… the one who wanted to help the Muslims and the whites get together… and I told her there wasn’t a ghost of a chance and she went away crying? Well, I’ve lived to regret that incident. In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping black people. Something like (that) kills a lot of argument. I did many things as a Muslim that I’m sorry for now. I was a zombie then… like all Muslims (under Elijah Muhammad’s leadership)… I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march. Well, I guess a man’s entitled to make a fool of himself if he’s ready to pay the cost. It cost me 12 years. That was a bad scene, brother. The sickness and madness of those days—I’m glad to be free of them.”
On, February 14, 1965, he scheduled a major policy statement concerning his newly created Organization of Afro-American Unity but, the night before that day, in an apparent assassination attempt, his house was firebombed.
The announcement is moved to February 21… the day he was assassinated… the document he was to have presented that day outlined his Basic Unity Program and contains his exact feelings on the word…
“Persons who recognize the emotional thrust and plain show of disrespect in the Southerner’s use of ‘nigra’ and the general use of ‘nigger’ must also realize that all three words are essentially the same. The other two… ‘nigra’ and ‘nigger’ are blunt and undeceptive. The one representing respectability, ‘negro’, is merely the same substance in a polished package and spelled with a capital letter. This refinement is added so that a degrading terminology can be legitimately used in general literature and ‘polite’ conversation without embarrassment… Afro-Americans must re-analyze and particularly question our own use of this term, keeping in mind all the facts. In light of the historical meanings and current implications, all intelligent and informed Afro-Americans and Africans continue to reject its use in the noun form as well as a proper adjective. Its usage shall continue to be considered as unenlightened and objectionable or deliberately offensive whether in speech or writing.
We accept the use of Afro-American, African, and Black man in reference to persons of African heritage. To every other part of mankind goes this measure of just respect. We do not desire more nor shall we accept less.”
Malcom’s point of view is clear and concise… he don’t like the word, or any of its variations, at all. He also wrote his opinion in the 1960’s a different time and different climate of turmoil. Me? I think we put to much import on certain words and forget to listen on how the words are used…
But ya wanna know what? Minaj herself nailed it in her “apology” to Shabazz and Malcom’s estate… because when I went back and read it and reread it, I understood exactly where she was coming from… or, at least, I believe I do…
She said “What seems to be the issue now? Do you have a problem with me referring to the people Malcolm X was ready to pull his gun out on as Lookin Ass Niggaz? Well, I apologize. That was never the official artwork nor is this an official single. This is a conversation. Not a single. I am in the video shooting at Lookin Ass Niggaz and there happened to be an iconic photo of Malcolm X ready to do the same thing for what he believed in!!!! It is in no way to undermine his efforts and legacy. I apologize to the Malcolm X estate if the meaning of the photo was misconstrued. The word “nigga” causes so much debate in our community while the “nigga” behavior gets praised and worship. (My emphasis.) Let’s not. Apologies again to his family. I have nothing but respect an adoration for u. The photo was removed hours ago. Thank you.”
She also said in a radio interview that she wrote the song to empower women because there are too many songs that attack women…
“It was almost parallel in my opinion because he has this big gun ready to shoot at a lookin ass bleep, and that’s how I looked at it… I looked at it as this is one of the most memorable people in our history, in black history, who voiced his opinion no matter what, and I understand how my intent was overlooked and I definitely didn’t want to offend his family or his legacy.”
Bottom line… I don’t think Minaj was being disrespectful to Malcom X’s legacy or memory… I think that the context that she used his image was appropriate… if, she made an error, it was in judgment.
Malcom tried to disassociate himself, his family and his “people” from using the word nigger and any of its variations and it must be understood in the era that he lived… it was a different time and different values were needed… He was trying to change how black people… African Americans… thought of themselves… Malcom taught that black people should be proud of who they are… and how they looked… in a sense, he may have started the whole idea behind “Black and Proud”… He taught his children according to those values and I doubt they look kindly on any usage of the so-called N-word as appropriate in any way shape or from. And, that is their choice and their prerogative… Minaj should have thought of that before using Malcom’s image but I understand why she did use it. I think I do any way. And, I believe she is correct in her analogy. She was not attaching the word to Malcolm… she was saying he fought against slick assed folks, including niggas, and, she is doing the same in her own way. I don’t think Malcolm would approve of black men acting the way they do with the same old sidewalk acts that they, as well as he himself, did back when he was roaming the streets before he was incarcerated and before his conversion to being a Muslim… unfortunately, in some ways, not enough has changed as far as that goes.
Believe me, I came into this with my eyes sort of closed… I had preconceived notions about Minaj and what she was saying and doing… I guess I needed to change that view… I guess, I have… but, right now, I think peeps need to lighten up and read her words… or… view and listen to what she did with her video and her words… it has a message that should be heeded. Maybe peeps can agree with how it is delivered and maybe they can’t… but, with, or without, Malcom’s image it is the context of the words that matter and somehow in the context the picture was used Malcom may, or may not, have approved…
Regardless… I like to think Malcom X would have continued to grow as a voice for blacks, as well as for all people who struggle for equality, and that as he continued his struggle against hate, and hateful actions, he might have seen how words could be used to show how certain behaviors cannot and should not be tolerated any more.
Too bad I won’t live to see it either, though. The end game when color is no longer an issue… but some day it will be reality when it really isn’t an issue.
February 21 is the anniversary of the day Malcom X (aka El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) was murdered. Remember it however you choose… I been doing some reading myself.
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