Malcolm X autobiography, report continues

Lisa Rogers eqwq.lrogers at email.state.ut.us
Thu Nov 9 22:44:04 MST 1995


Part 2
Class composition of membership of NOI

To the considerable extent to which the NOI has maintained a
consistent appeal for people with certain kinds of experience for
over 50 years, the class analysis of its membership remains the same.
I'm not yet finished with other authors and more recent views, so
this is still a report based mainly on the X autobio.  I did just
read the preface to Theweleit's _Male Fantasies_, about the
Freikorps, and it provides quite a contrast between the class
composition of the pre-nazi facism and the NOI.

Malcolm X is a fine example of much of the membership.  Born in 1925,
the family was what we might call nowadays "working poor".  His
family probably did not see itself as "working class".  "Workers"
were those well-paid white people in auto factories, blacks couldn't
get that kind of work.  His father was a visiting preacher, without a
permanent post.  The father was into the teachings of Marcus Garvey,
became known as a "trouble-maker" and was murdered for it by the
local version of the KKK while walking homeward one day, when Malcolm
was still quite small.

Troubles only added on from there.  Suffice it to summarize that
every experience was of duplicity and oppression at the hands of
whites.  The mother was committed to a mental hospital, most of the
kids all split up into foster homes.  

Just one early example of his experience with "the white devil":
Malcolm was a student star for a few years there.  He was the only
black kid in the school, hence no threat.  He became a mascot, a pet,
he later realized, they even elected him 7th grade class president! 
He aced every class, he was valedictorian.  His favorite teacher
asked him what did he want to be when he grew up.  He said lawyer -
"All I really knew for certain was that lawyers didn't wash dishes,
as I was doing.
"Mr. Ostrowski looked surprised, I remember, and leaned back in his
chair and clasped his hands behind his head.  He kind of half-smiled
and said, 'Malcolm, one of life's first needs is for us to be
realistic.  Don't misunderstand me, now.  We all here like you, you
know that.  But you've got to be realistic about being a nigger...'

It was not only the oppression, but the hypocrisy that began to
embitter Malcolm.  He was "welcome" in the school, was graded fairly,
but it was all for what in the end?  Just to be told that even though
everyone recognized that he was smarter than most other kids, he had
better aim no higher than to be a carpenter.  (He'd have been a great
lawyer.)  This pattern continued, consistently.

The NOI still recruits a lot in prisons, where they find a lot of
people with Malcolm's experience of poverty, home-insecurity,
oppression, racism, crime, brutality, hypocrisy and bitterness. 
Malcolm said "'The white man is the devil' is a perfect echo of that
black convict's lifelong experience."

NOI membership is also more diverse than that, no big money, but some
professionals, shop-owners, workers of various kinds, mostly poor 
and desperate.  

It was during Malcolm's 12 years as minister number one that the NOI
grew enormously, so that it was no longer on a shoestring by the time
he left it.  

Various measures/markers of facism:
Nope, the NOI doesn't meet one I've seen around here lately.  They
were/are not displaced members of a former bourgeoisie, and not
evidently anti-communist.  Certainly not anti-capitalist.  Those they
kill [such as Malcolm] are immediate rivals within their own realm of
competitive membership and tithing collection, those who expose dirty
laundry or split and take other members with them.

As much as white racists got/get nervous about an angry black man
getting up on his hind feet and "telling them the truth about
themselves" as Malcolm often put it, the NOI never killed any of
_them_.

So, for the simple question "is the NOI facist?" I say no, not
according to criteria lately advanced onlist.  Does it have the
effect of supporting capitalism?  Yes.  It is a terrible excuse for
"progressiveness" to simply want blacks to be exploited by blacks
instead of by whites.  I guess it's black capitalists fighting with
white capitalists for market share.  Perhaps it's only "fair" given
the system we live in now, but...

It reminds me of Japan fighting Euro-Am colonialism by saying "Asia
for the Asians" meaning Japan should have those colonies _instead_ of
Holland, Britain, etc.  How much difference does it really make in
the lives of those at the bottom?  

Or, as a black left acquaintance in California says, "Can we _all_ be
shop-keepers?  I don't think so."

Lisa Rogers
ps. Questions?  Comments?  Other things you'd like me to address?



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