Malcolm X

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​I downloaded a couple of movies to watch on the airplane to and from Ireland. I ended up watching only one of them: I am Not Your Negro – the James Baldwin documentary. It was enlightening to say the least. In the documentary, James Baldwin talked how he was affected by the deaths of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and their context in his own civil rights struggle As I watched and listened, I heard things about Malcolm X, in particular that wasn’t familiar to me.

Upon arriving home, I borrowed The Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to Alex Haley), and again, I was inundated with information that I had never heard before. The most surprising thing that I discovered was Malcolm’s conversion away from the Nation of Islam and his change to a less anti-white activism.

I wonder if perhaps my growing up was too close to his time.

I’ve often wondered why I know so little about Vietnam, civil rights, women’s ERA, and activists who weren’t Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was born in 1966, almost two years after the assassination of Malcolm X. I was about eighteen months old when Dr. King was assassinated, and not even born yet when President Kennedy was, but I still had very clear memories of both men. I’m sure that most of that was due to media, but today I still wonder about the lack of attention, not only in the media I watched as a young child but also in the education I received.

I attended school from nursery through fifth grade in New York City from 1970 to 1977 after which we moved to the suburbs out on Long Island. I distinctly remember bussing. I remembered waving to classmates as they boarded buses to bring them home while I walked home with my brother and cousins. 

I remember my Black friends in school, especially two boys, one named Lonnie and one named Robert, but they weren’t the only ones in my class, just the two boys I was closest friends with. They were different as night and day. Lonnie had a huge afro compared to the size of his head, and Robert wore his hair close to his scalp. The girls that I can recall on the schoolyard wore braids with colorful beads, and I was so envious of how “easy” their hair styled. I say easy because despite my stick straight hair, I was always walking around with knots and tangles and I would have done almost anything to have their hair. I could never jump double dutch – I was so uncoordinated on my feet, but I was thrilled that I was allowed to turn the jump ropes for the girls who could.

Now, I could see that it was a tumultuous time, at least that’s what I’m reading now about then, but living through it, we were more or less sheltered from current events. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but our insulated community didn’t really discuss what was going on in the political world. My neighborhood, the places we shopped, went to the doctor, my parents’ workplaces, the pizza place up the road – they were all diverse. I didn’t have a negative reflex in seeing Black people, or brown or Asian in my neighborhood and in my safe places. I didn’t know the word integrated. I just viewed brown skin as part of my world despite no one living and playing in my neighborhood who wasn’t primarily white, or partly white and/or Jewish.

I’ve always had Malcolm X in my mind as a radical, a revolutionary, a militant. All are not necessarily positive descriptions.

I realize that reading an autobiography is not always the entire story. It’s all about perspective, and so even in self-deprecation, I’m sure Malcolm X wanted to be seen in a positive light, and I can understand that.

I’ve just started reading a biography by Manning Marable that is described by the San Francisco Chronicle as a “masterpiece,” and by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. as the definitive biography of this outrageously misrepresented figure,” titled Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. It is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2012, after Marable’s death.

As I said I’ve just begun reading this, but I will include a video from C-SPAN that has some counterpoints to Marable’s work that I intend to watch later this week.

By Any Means Necessary: Malcolm X — Real, Not Reinvented

One of the things that really stood out to me, though about Malcolm X, his politics, and his views was how closely they seem to align with today’s Black Lives Matter movement, and other current civil rights protests and movements.
Working from the grassroots, in the neighborhoods, being self-sufficient, relying on each other instead of other groups or the government, self-confidence, pride, black nationalism, Pan-Africanism, and others things espoused by Malcolm X, especially closer to the end of his life. It seems that while he was eschewed while alive, and it’s taken decades to come around, his way of thinking is almost mainstream in black politics today.

The more I read, the more I learn, and the more I see how much my education at the time was lacking. It shows me that I have to educate myself, and share what I find with others.

Obama Book Club – Doris Kearns Goodwin

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For most of the past Mondays, I’ve shared with you some of President Obama’s book recommendations as outlined and discussed in this Entertainment Weekly Article.

I’ve tried to share books that I am somewhat familiar with. I am currently listening to the audiobook of Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I am slightly distracted by the voice of the narrator, Richard Thomas, known in my childhood as John-Boy on the the popular show from the 1970s, The Waltons. He is the perfect voice to read anything related to the Civil War or this, a biography of Abraham Lincoln and his Administration, his team of rivals.
I’ve been reading a lot of history and biographies lately. Part of that I believe is to show myself how far we’ve fallen but also to be reminded of how much potential we have as a country. We can come back from anything. After all, we came back from the Civil War.We came back from 9/11. We can come back from the Trump Administration.

President Trump could learn a lot from Lincoln and how he worked with his oppositional party. It’s the only way our country can flourish; by coming together for the betterment of all.

The idea of an Obama Book Club was mentioned with humor in an article I read, probably that one I’ve linked to above, and I thought it was a great idea to recommend books that President Obama reads and recommends.

In the following weeks, I will share other “book clubs”, beginning with Emma Watson in one week’s time.

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing inside our former president’s mind, a man who reads for work, for context, and for pleasure, all good reasons to read and to emulate.

Election Reflection – Civics 101 or Dear Mr. President

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Civics 101 is not something I would have expected to write for a President of the United States, but here we are – through the looking glass.
First, not receiving calls directly about citizens against DAPL doesn’t mean that everyone in the country is for it. In fact, I would hazard to guess that the President’s aides are not giving him the full picture of what’s going on in this country. More people are against it than are for it. In fact, this is the epitome of an example to show the President why we have conflict of interest laws. He should not be pushing forward on a pipeline that he will directly benefit from once it’s in place.

Second, you won’t receive phone calls if the phones at the White House switchboard are disconnected or turned off as has been reported.

Third, President Obama doesn’t like you. He’s just too polite to say it. You called him horrible things, said horrible things about his parents and his birth. He may forgive you, but I can guarantee he will not forget.

Fourth, and more importantly, there are Three Branches of Government. Three. There is a reason for that. It’s called checks and balances. They are co-equal. The Legislative Branch, ie. Congress, makes the laws. Watch Schoolhouse Rock’s How a Bill Becomes a Law. It will break it down into bite sized pieces for you. It can’t be more than three minutes. And they sing.

The Executive Branch signs the laws. He or she makes suggestions, and sets the agenda, the priorities for the country. The whole country. Not just the rich, white folks.

The Judicial Branch keeps it all in order. They determine what is and isn’t Constitutional. Yes, they can overrule the President. In fact, that’s kind of their job.

You’re not the boss anymore.

We the people are.

I’d recommend brushing up on this handy document in its original or a transcript.

Or the interactive version.

Obama Book Club

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Continuing with our picks to the Obama Book Club, highlighted by this article from Entertainment Weekly, this week’s space goes to Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow.

I read this book right after reading his biography of Hamilton which was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s inspiration for his very popular Broadway msuical, Hamilton: An American Musical.

In both, I really enjoyed Chernow’s style and way of writing. Even as a fan of history, I sometimes find the reading of period writings to be a bit hard on the linguistics inside my head, but I didn’t find that in the Chernow books. In fact, it was strangely easy to imagine Hamilton and his contemporaries speaking and/or writing in hip-hop.

This biography of Founding Father, George Washington showed me a side of President Washington and his family that I hadn’t before seen or heard. It is by no means a simple read, but it is written in a way that is easy to understand. It held my interest throughout and I couldn’t put it down. It was one of those books that when finished, I wanted to read it again.

It has never been more important to recognize and know our history. Starting with the founding of our country as we look at our current global standing and the world around us.

Somewhere I Read

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This is part of Dr. King’s last speech, given in Memphis, Tennessee the night before his assassination.

They are words to remember; today, tomorrow, Friday, and for the next four years:

First excerpt:

All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.

Second excerpt, beginning at 1:20:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

On the 5th Day of Christmas, My True Love gave to Me:

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​…gumption.

This is disguised as a book rec. Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman. It is funny, historical and biographical, autobiographical, serious and not, and there is quite a bit of language, both of the English and the salty variety.

Comedian and all around great guy, Nick Offerman profiles many gentlemen and gentle-ladies who have that one thing that lets them hit their goals and more importantly to keep getting back up when the lemonade stand knocks them down. Making lemonade is fine, but adding a shot of whiskey is better. I think Mr. Offerman would agree with me.

Oxford Dictionaries defines gumption as:

shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness

A few synonyms are: ingenuity, imagination, acumen, practicality, spirit, pluck, courage, moxie, spunk, and my favorite: wherewithal.

In total, in addition to an epilogue and a bonus chapter, there are twenty-one profiles, some you’d expect: Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Benjamin Franklin as well as founding father, George Washington, and some you might not expect: Conan O’Brien, Carol Burnett, and Willie Nelson.

Those last three speak directly to my prejudices. Despite loving many celebrities, finding inspiration in them, and respecting them, I am still under the impression that they and celebrities of all types are expected to be more because they do more. Or rather, they do more publicly, and often hide their hardships, not always because of shame, but because of being so far ih the past as to not talk about anymore. They appear to just do it, which I suppose defines those with gumption better than the Oxford Dictionary.

Just get it done.

When you’re a kid that phrase usually means clean your room, finish the dishes, put away the groceries, but responsibilities foster more responsibility.

Some shrug off the fall; others cry, but they all get up and make a new plan.

That, my friends, is gumption.

Read the book, learn something new, meet someone new in its pages, and find out where your gumption is and how to find it; to reach it.