21 marks the anniversary of the assassination ofMalcolm
articulated a message of racial justice that made him far ahead of
his time. He believed the black struggle for civil rights must be
expanded to the level of human rights, a message which the Black
Lives Matter movement should incorporate into the current public
discussion on race in order to move it forward.
nation grapples with the seemingly intractable nature of
institutional racism and inequities in the justice system, the slain
leader resonates with a Black Lives Matter movement born decades
after his death. Yet, this nascent movement fights the same
hopelessly persistent problem of American racism, one born of the
badge of slavery.
had much to say regarding the precarious, if not ephemeral or even
illusory nature of civil rights for
African-Americans, who were originally noncitizens, regarded
as property and not human, and therefore excluded from the
protections of the Constitution. "They don't need additional
legislation to make anyone who comes to this country a citizen, but
when it comes to the rights of the black people who are the
descendants of slaves, then new legislation is necessary," he
distinction between civil rights and human rights,
Malcolm X framed the former as a domestic affairs issue. "Whenever
you are in a civil-rights struggle, whether you know it or not, you
are confining yourself to the jurisdiction of Uncle Sam. No one from
the outside world can speak out in your behalf as long as your
struggle is a civil-rights struggle," he argued. "Civil
rights means you're asking Uncle Sam to treat you right. Human rights
are something you were born with."
pleading to America for equal, just and fair treatment he said it has
been an elusive proposition for African-Americans. "There is
something about civil rights that makes it almost impossible for us
to get," Malcolm X argued. After all, in a nation that often
stands in blissful denial over the very existence of racial
inequities, the benefits conferred by white skin privilege have been
so ingrained as to become normalized. Any suggestion that the playing
field should be leveled, that inclusivity should reign and the wrongs
should be eradicated, is met with white backlash, false claims of
"reverse racism" and a form of self-righteous grievance
also known as "white tears."
the way in which the victims of racism are treated in the U.S.
reflects a refusal to come to terms with it. While institutional
racism is hardwired into the fiber of America, the victims of racial
injustice are left to prove that someone intended to discriminate
against them. A stumbling block to justice, the civil rights mindset
assumes that the ability to read the mind or heart of an accused
perpetrator of racism is of greater consequence than the existence of
systemic, multigenerational barriers to equality--of systems of
oppression that steal lives, livelihoods and spirits in broad
daylight and on a daily basis.
the human rights approach to racism focuses on the end result, the
damage that has been done. "When we begin to get in this area,
we need new friends, we need new allies," Malcolm noted, as the
civil rights struggle is elevated to one of human rights. When
African-Americans begin to view their plight with a human rights
lens, they are able to link their predicament with that of people of
African descent in Latin America, Europe and throughout the diaspora.
And in the process, they establish connections with groups such as
the Roma in Europe, the Dalits in India, and the Palestinians in Gaza
and the West Bank.
keep you wrapped up in civil rights. And you spend so much time
barking up the civil-rights tree, you don't even know there's a
human-rights tree on the same floor," Malcolm said. The leader's
words provide guidance on how to address today's reality of racism.
This commentary was oiginally publishd in BC February 25, 2016 - Issue 642