Happy birthday, Malcolm X.

May 19th, 2014 by | Tags:

I keep a copy of Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet” on my phone.

It’s something I got out of growing up in the church. When you’re going through it, seek out things that comfort you. When you have idle time, remind yourself of why life is good. It’s a reminder, a reinforcement, a gift to yourself.

The Autobiography is a little too long for a quick hit. The various collections of quotes online are too stripped of context to be true reminders. But “The Ballot or the Bullet” is the perfect sampler. I can dip in, get something out of it, and dip back out and be on my way before I get to where I’m going.

I got into Malcolm X’s work as a kid, and his words have been a source of strength ever since. He taught me that rights can not be given. No one can grant you the right to do anything. It is yours by natural law, and the only thing they can do is illegally deprive you of your rights. You can’t ask for freedom. It’s yours already. Don’t let people congratulate themselves for giving you a leg up when what they really did is stop holding you back. Be grateful for advances, but don’t confuse or tolerate half-measures and limp efforts masquerading as progress. Your family deserves and requires your protection. Self-defense by any means. Be honest and be direct. Have patience and integrity. But when push comes to shove, if somebody puts his hands on you, put him in the cemetery.

Know that you are invaluable.

You are bigger than whatever box it is they have chosen to put you in. The world will remind you of how bad and ugly and worthless you are, so that’s hard to remember sometimes. Sometimes you need a second to think. Sometimes you need to flip through something familiar to remind you.

Today is the birthday of Malcolm Little, later Malcolm X and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. He was thirty-nine when he died, but he’d be eighty-nine today. “Rest In Power” makes me uncomfortable, like the struggle is infinite and there’s no rest for us. “Rest In Peace” is too small, too generic. So: thank you for reminding me of what I can be.

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