Fifty-five years ago, Malcolm X, also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, was assassinated. He was just 39 years old. In his short life, he inspired urban Black youth to resist the white supremacist structures that kept them oppressed and encouraged them to celebrate their African heritage. His message inspired other Black activists, including Kwame Ture and Maya Angelou, to promote Black empowerment and self-determination. 

Towards the end of his life, Malcolm X embraced Sunni Islam, and travelled throughout the African continent, which led him to move away from Black nationalism and to embrace Pan-Africanism. In doing so, he connected the struggles of Black Americans with other Black diasporas and continental Africans. While the contemporary reimagining of Malcolm X’s post-hajj life often presents him as post-racial, in truth, as his final days drew closer, Malcolm X continued to refine his analysis against white supremacy. He recognised that racism was a structural issue, rather than an interpersonal issue. 

Malcolm X’s criticism of white supremacy, his desire for solidarity among all people of colour, and his commitment to seeing marginalisation through a human rights framework rather than a civil rights framework remains relevant today, especially as people in the US and UK witness a rise in Islamophobia, renewed public conversations around anti-Black racism, and a resurgence of the far-right. Below are nine quotes from Malcolm X that still ring true in our contemporary context.

1. ‘The press is so powerful in its image-making role, it can make a criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal. This is the press, an irresponsible press…If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.’ 

(Speech at the Audubon Ballroom, December 13, 1964)

2. ‘I have these very deep feelings that white people who want tojoin black organisations are really just taking the escapist way to salve their consciences. By visibly hovering near us, they are ‘proving’ that they are ‘with us.’ But the hard truth is this isn’t helping to solve America’s racist problem. The Negroes aren’t the racists. Where the really sincere white people have got to do their ‘proving’ of themselves is not among the black victims, but out on the battle lines of where America’s racism really is – and that’s in their own home communities; America’s racism is among their own whites. That’s where the whites who really mean to accomplish something have got to work.’ 

(The Autobiography of Malcolm X, p.384)

3. ‘The Muslim world is forced to concern itself, from the moral point of view in its own religious concepts, with the fact that our plight clearly involves the violation of our human rights. The Koran compels the Muslim world to take a stand on the side of those whose human rights are being violated, no matter what the religious persuasion of the victims is. Islam is a religion which concerns itself with the human rights of all mankind, despite race, colour, or creed.’ 

(Letter from Lagos, Nigeria, May 10, 1964)

4. You ‘can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.’ 

(Prospects for Freedom in 1965, January 7, 1965)

5. ‘We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary. We don’t feel that in 1964, living in a country that is supposedly based upon freedom, and supposedly the leader of the free world, we don’t think that we should have to sit around and wait for some segregationist congressmen and senators and a President from Texas in Washington, D.C., to make up their minds that our people are due now some degree of civil rights.’ (Organization for Afro-American Unity Rally, June 28, 1964)

6. ‘I said that physically we Afro-Americans might remain in America, fighting for our Constitutional rights, but that philosophically and culturally we Afro-Americans badly needed to “return” to Africa—and to develop a working unity in the framework of Pan-Africanism.’ 

(The Autobiography of Malcolm X, p.357)

7. ‘The cords of bigotry and prejudice here can be cut with the same blade [on the African continent].  We have to keep that blade sharp and share it with one another.’ 

(Interview with Gordon Parks, February 19, 1965)

8. ‘It is impossible for capitalism to survive, primarily because the system of capitalism needs some blood to suck…. As the nations of the world free themselves, then capitalism has less victims, less to suck, and it becomes weaker and weaker. It’s only a matter of time in my opinion before it will collapse completely.’ 

(Interview with the Young Socialist, January 18, 1965)

9. The ‘only real power a poor man in this country has is the power of the ballot.’ 

(Interview with the Young Socialist, January 18, 1965)

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