Malcolm X, Colorism, And MULTI

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As many of you all know, this past week was the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination. X was a Muslim minister, human rights activist and unspeakably influential figure in the civil rights movement. Even though he was considered very radical during the time of his activism, many of his contentions remain unbroken, his methods still valid and his sermons still applicable.

As we all know, Occidental prides itself on its harboring and representation of diverse cultures within the student body, faculty and staff. Following this trend, our student body—despite its small size—manages endless cultural clubs and spaces to explore nuanced facets of identity, with blackness being one of the many. However, until this year, there has not been a space to explicitly dedicated to the intersection of mixed racial/cultural identities. MULTI is a new a cultural club that aspires to fairly represent, provide space for and discuss the experience of multiracial and multicultural identities. While X advanced many valid ideas on the issue of black empowerment, his ideas are often not nuanced using a multiracial/multicultural lens.This lens is valid, important and could often find many of X’s arguments problematic.

For example, X explained, “The word Negro is a term that was made up by the white man himself during slavery. No right-thinking black man in America will accept it as a term to apply to himself. If the white man, no matter how dark he gets, still regards himself as a white man, then our people, no matter how light we get, still regard ourselves as black people. If it’s good enough for them to be white, then it’s better for us to be black.”

This statement by X is something that I presume many people in MULTI would find problematic to varying extents. Here X leaves no room for phenotypically racially ambiguous people, and through that allows practice of things such as the “one-drop” rule and maliciously advantageous white-passing.

Also, X shuts down the opportunity for one to use the term negro as a means by which to empower themselves. Many would not be in accordance with this under the notion that once derogatory terms, after being reclaimed by those oppressed by them, can use these same terms to empower themselves through. The reclamation of the term and subsequent redefinition is what allows for the connotation-based transformation needed to practice reclaiming terms.

Beyond this, here X fails to separate colorism from culturalism, and treats phenotypic means (such as skin color) as the only grounds by which racial/cultural identity can be defined. Is it fair for a racially ambiguous person to identify as white because that is the only culture they were exposed to (despite any trace of black in their family)? Is it fair for someone racially ambiguous to identify as black, having never experienced and having no understanding of black culture (on the same grounds)? These are questions that I do not have the answer to, and instead require a deep discourse that spaces like MULTI can provide.

For those interested in participating in MULTI, the cultural club meets every other Wednesday in the MLK Lounge (Pauley Hall) at 8:00 p.m. The next meeting will be this Wednesday, February 25th. All are welcome!