Had Malcolm X not died in a hail of gunfire on this day 47 years ago, he likely would have been the same unflinchingly-proud, telling-it-how-it-is black man taking on conservative and liberal commentators today as articulately as he did when he was a newly-minted understudy of Minister Elijah Muhammad. He would have been 96 years old, but something tells me old age would not have slowed his resolve.
He truly epitomized how an intellectually fit and civic-minded black man should face down the indignity of racism-no matter how socially powerless blacks were in protecting themselves from it. He was known during his time as a “northern troublemaker,” one of those uppity Negros (to put it nicely) who refused to stay in “his place.” Malcolm’s persona was often measured against more “amiable” Negro leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who didn’t rub whites the wrong way. (Though the “turn-the-other cheek” characterization is not particularly accurate of King, either)
Malcolm’s defiant attitude and measured radical rhetoric was needed for the Negro masses who never warmed to King’s more conciliatory tone. Simply put, Malcolm told it how it was and refused to sugar coat how negative the debilitating effects of Jim Crow rule and black passivity towards racism was on black male masculinity.
Of all of his speeches, Malcolm’s discussion of the “House Negro and the Field Negro” was, in my mind, one of his greatest historical references of how black men during his day should maintain their pride in the face of racism.
Here is a snippet of the longer speech below:
“The field Negro was beaten from morning til night. He lived in a shack, in a hut. He wore castoff clothes. And he hated his master. And I say he hated his master. He was intelligent. The house Negro loved his master. But that field Negro, remember, he was in the majority. And they hated the master. When the house caught on fire, he didn’t try and put it out. That field Negro prayed for all wind. For a breeze. When the master got sick, the field Negro prayed that he died. If someone went to the field Negro and said, ‘let’s separate. let’s run.’ He didn’t say, ‘Where are we going.’ He said, ‘Anywhere is better than here.’
You got field Negros in America today. I’m a field Negro.
The masters are the field Negros. When they see this man’s house on fire, you don’t hear these Negros talking about ‘our government is in trouble.’ They said, ‘The government is in trouble. Imagine a Negro, ‘Our government.’ I heard one saying, ‘Our astronauts.’ They won’t even let him near the plant. ‘Our astronauts. Our Navy.’ That’s a Negro that’s out of his mind.”
Though our society has progressed from being down-trodden Negros of the 1960s to high-achieving African-Americans occupying the White House, it was still important for us to have people like Malcolm who refused to bat an eye and dip their heads in humiliation to white prejudice.
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So on this day, the anniversary of his tragic assassination, I pen this short piece in remembrance of a great man who taught masses of black men to lift their heads to the sky with dignity, no matter how often racist cops pushed them into the dirt.
Thank you, Brotha Malcolm, for being a “field Negro.”
House Negro, Field Negro Speech