On February 21st people across America mourned the loss of one of black America’s political giants, Malcolm X.
Malcolm X came to prominence as the spokesman for Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad in the late 50’s and early 1960’s before being viciously murdered in front of his wife and children in 1965, at the tender age of 39.
Malcolm came onto the world scene as a thundering voice of black nationalism. He preached to black Americans across the nation on the importance of self-reliance, self-defence, personal development and racial pride. He recruited thousands of new recruits into the Nation of Islam, including the then future heavyweight champion of the world, Muhammad Ali; before leaving the Nation of Islam to form his own organisations, the Organisation for Afro-American Unity and Muslim Mosque Inc.
At the time of his death Malcolm was becoming a world-renowned intellectual, speaking at Oxford University and making regular TV appearances discussing American race-relations. He left behind one book that has been given status akin to the Bible amongst millions of people across the US and the world. Unfortunately, Malcolm X was stopped from becoming what he could have been; he never lived to the old age of European western philosophers. He was ruthlessly gunned down in his prime so he never produced the amount of work associated with intellectuals across the world.
Like Jesus, Malcolm was part of an oral tradition, a tradition of public orators that never produced intellectual work in the limited academic sense but nevertheless showed significant intellectual abilities in their oral presentation.
In many ways the intellectual promise of Malcolm X was unfulfilled and it is imagining what he could have been that adds greater effect to the mourning of Malcolm X that takes place across social media and the internet on his birthday or the anniversary of his death.
Whilst his intellectual output was not as great as others; Malcolm’s great contribution to the world lies in his story of transformation from orphan, to street thug, to convict, religious leader and black nationalist icon. It is a story that has transformed the lives of many and managed to maintain the myth of Malcolm X way beyond what he may have imagined.
I have always related to Malcolm X. Myself and Malcolm X share a similar racial background and experience. We are both Mulatto looking people of African descent. I, like Malcolm am the product of a light skinned Mother and a dark skinned Father; raised by a Mulatto Mother, an educated woman like Malcolm’s Mother. A woman whose experience is very similar to the experience of Louise Little, Malcolm X’s Mother. Albeit with a brighter ending.
When I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I consider the story of Malcolm X to be a Mulatto story. The story of Malcolm X reads like a Tragic Mulatto story. It is his experience as a Mulatto that stands out to me.
Some would argue that Malcolm does not fit the definition of Mulatto, as it signifies those that are born of a black and a white parent. The actual etymology means “mixed” and I would argue that if you are a child of a Mulatto, like myself, Ali, Malcolm and Newton and raised by them then you are a Mulatto, you are a part of the Mulatto story and experience as much as you are a part of the Negro story.
Malcolm X’s Father died when he was 6 years old, around the same age that I lost contact with my Father before regaining it 8 years later. Malcolm X was raised largely by his Mulatto Mother, a woman that he stated “looked like a white woman”. Malcolm was quite clear in describing his Mother as different from a Negro woman, “she had straight black hair, and her accent did not sound like a Negro”, he wrote.
When Malcolm was 13 years old, Mother, Louise, suffered a nervous breakdown and was admitted into a mental health institution and Malcolm was sent to a foster home. The pictures of Malcolm X in foster care depict him as a schoolboy in a predominately white school. Not at a traditional Negro school; which may have had something to do with his Mother’s background.
The story of Malcolm’s Mother and therefore Malcolm X fits the narrative of a Tragic Mulatto storyline. Malcolm was the son of a Mulatto, his primary guardian and was intertwined in her storyline which influenced his own storyline. Malcolm X had more to say about the story of Mulatto people than Negro people because he watched a tragic Mulatto story unfold and became the victim of that narrative himself.
When I was 13 I had a very short stint with a foster parent whilst my Mother was admitted to hospital. I understand Malcolm X like if he was my brother. I understand what it is to be part of the Mulatto story in a world of black and white. I know what it is to be aware of the tragic Mulatto narrative more than anything else. I, like Ali, Newton and Malcolm am part of the Mulatto story as much as or in many cases more than the Negro story.
The experience of Malcolm is my experience. If anyone can speak about it, it is me. I relate to the story and experience of Malcolm X as a Mulatto and not a Negro. Because of the circumstances that I was raised in, my story is intertwined with a deep awareness of colourism and I have a deep insight into the mind of people like Malcolm and Ali in particular. I, like Malcolm, Newton and Ali would empathise with the Mulatto experience because it is part of our own.
Just as if you have a European and an African parent that are two different psychological and cultural experiences, it is the same if your parent is a mulatto and European or African. Some of the biggest black icons are part of the Mulatto story as much as they are part of the Negro story. Especially those like Malcolm and Ali that are close to their Mothers.
Malcolm X was a man seeking for identity. He was not a Negro in the strictest sense of the world and had been born from and raised predominately in a Mulatto psychological culture with all its nuances. Malcolm stood out from the Negro population, in skin tone and cultural background; he was not raised by a Negro voice. His Mother did not have an Afro.
When Malcolm was a street thug in Harlem he was named “Red”, a term that is used to describe Mulattoes and their descendants. Malcolm X’s lived experiences was as a Mulatto as much as a Negro.
The story of Malcolm X is the story of Malcolm finding identity amongst other men that shared the Mulatto story in their bloodline. The man claimed by many to be responsible for Malcolm’s transformation in prison was a freckle faced Mulatto named Bimbi, a respected man in the prison who befriended Malcolm and introduced him to ideas. The first man that Malcolm respected and loved as a Father, Elijah Muhammad is a man like Malcolm that carries the Mulatto story in his gene. Ali, who Malcolm recruited, also carried the Mulatto story in his gene. Are you getting the thread? There’s something going on that I understand. An understanding of affinity.
Malcolm X never got to discuss his story as a Mulatto story specifically but he understood that the story of the Mulatto was his story more than anything. He understood the psychological, cultural and racial differences between his Mother and Father and spoke candidly about it. Even openly stating, “Sometimes my Father would beat her. It might have had something to do with the fact my Mother had a pretty good education”
In the 21st Century with the coming of Barack Obama, and the growth in Mulatto children, it is time to make the Mulatto experience something that is discussed and respected as it’s own specific ethnic narrative. It is time to discuss the historical Tragic Mulatto narrative and to acknowledge the importance of the specifically Mulatto story in the story of some of the greatest historically black icons.
The story of Malcolm X is a Mulatto story as much as it is a Negro story. We should tell it as it is.