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Remembering Malcolm X

Betty Shabazz

September 19,1996


Part of his strength, interstitially, is with me. What you have to understand is conditions for the African Diaspora had not changed appreciably, so we are still “by any means necessary.” And a lot of very narrow-minded people say “by any means necessary” was a violent statement. I say, anyone who says “by any means necessary” is a violent statement, is violent themselves, because it is a comprehensive statement. If you write a proposal, they want to know about options; they want to know about variances. “By any means necessary” is not violent. It’s comprehensive. It could be political, social, religious. But a lot of very narrow-minded people say that’s violence. Politics have always been violent. Slander is violent. The violence in a storm, uprooting trees…that’s violence. My husband was not violent. He was born into a violent climate. His ancestors came over here from Africa at the bottom of slave ships. He didn’t put himself there. He didn’t come over on the Mayflower. So my husband was not violent. We have upheld everything else. We’ve saved the world.

We’ve stood behind men, at the side of them. You see, I am not for women having typical female roles. I had to do everything. I was the head of the household. When my husband lived, there was a role I played. When he was assassinated, I had to do everything. If I didn’t make the money and bring the food in and pay the mortgage and pay the car note, and pay the school bill, we didn’t eat, we didn’t sleep, we didn’t have a house. So that I am not for women having specific roles and not doing what they should do, ought to do, and can do. Maybe if my life had been different I would say that women should not be in politics, that they should be in the home caring for their families. But my experience has not been that. I no longer believe that.

I think that a lot of young people feel trapped, locked in, caught up. They don’t see people really speaking for them, they don’t see the pieces being put in place for the full expression of their humanity. I think in revisiting some of Malcolm’s work they see there was someone who spoke for them and was not ashamed, particularly including the African Diaspora in the whole human rights umbrella, and saying that you have a right, and anyone who denies you that right is not being very humane. And ‘they are wrong and not you’ kind of thing. So that our young people have a right to learn, to teach, to go to school. It is a right, not a privilege, a human right. They have a right to a job suitable for the survival of their families, to be able to live wherever they can afford to live, and not have people burn crosses on their lawns.

The whole human rights spectrum is probably more amenable. And that is the tragedy of this government attempting to keep Malcolm as a street corner nationalist. I can remember when I first left this country and went to Europe on my way to make Haj. I had gotten on the plane and gone to sleep. I woke up and thought, my god, I’ve done it again. I saw a sea of people and wondered who on earth was on the plane. I started looking behind me. Maybe I would see someone coming out. Of course, they were all Europeans, so they certainly could not have been waiting on me. But, guess what? They were. They had felt that Malcolm was their leader. It is a tragedy that this country promoted him in the way they did. Of course, I did get to know them, to talk to them, to understand their concerns, and tried to assure them that I was going to be okay.

A lot of people don’t understand that the world is larger than themselves, and that this world was here long before they and their ancestors were born, and that darker people made contributions more than any other combination of ethnic groups. I was invited to go to Atlanta to participate in an all-day function where Mrs. Clinton was the speaker. Of course, I met her and we had an opportunity to chat. I thought she was a great lady, very intelligent and very much into the fact that people can be different, that conditions can be changed. I think that kind of enthusiasm is good, because a lot of people are died-in-the-wool, “well, oh, that can’t be, no, no.” Her whole premise was that the possibility exists for a change. That kind of enthusiasm filled everybody’s heart, just “yes, yes.” I don’t really know her, that was my first time being able to share time with her. I liked her persona. I liked what I saw and assumed that she stood for, and I think it would probably be good for the country.



Copyright 1996 by National Radio Project/Making Contact. All rights reserved.