Today we celebrate what would have been Malcolm X’s 84th birthday. Malcolm’s hatred of white supremacy and love for black people cause many to misinterpret his legacy. Conservatives often frame him as a truculent hate monger. Some African American neo-nationalists honor him as a rifle toting peerless example of “strong” black masculinity. And others have flipped him into a mere commodified image on a t-shirt that can turn a quick profit at a street fair.
But Malcolm was so much more. He was a voice for the oppressed, champion of human rights and a moral conscience of the Western world. His love of humanity caused him to demand more of society, both black and white alike.
More importantly, he remains a quintessential example of what true intellectualism looks like. Malcolm had the courage and wisdom to raise embarrassing questions and challenge all forms of blind dogma—even of himself. This is why we can never reduce Malcolm to the various ideologies that many seek to associate with him. Not that he was perfect or without contradiction. Yet his greatest strength was found in the ways he confronted these contradictions head on. He was a prophet in the best sense. He felt and practiced what he preached toward maximizing this thing called life for all God’s children!