The Arts & Issues Event “Living the Legacy to Empower the Future” was a conversation held Oct. 29 between Assistant Professor of Political Science Timothy Lewis and Ilyasah Shabazz, an author, professor and daughter of activist Malcolm X. Shabazz highlighted parallels between her father’s history of activism and today’s Black Lives Matter movement.
According to Grant Andree, the director of SIUE’s Arts & Issues performing arts and speaker series, the idea to have Shabazz speak came from some reading he was doing over the pandemic.
“I wondered then if any of his daughters … whether they gave public appearances — and so I started Googling, and Ilyasah Shabazz was on the roster of one of the agencies I work with all the time, so it worked out to be … a nice coincidence, and that’s how it all came together,” Andree said.
Before getting into the questions, Shabazz said she is actually one of six daughters of her parents, and that everywhere she goes, she feels a need to acknowledge them.
During Malcolm X’s early life, he was brought into an orphanage after his father was killed by white supremacists and his mother was admitted to a mental hospital. According to Shabazz, his challenges didn’t stop there.
“We know that his teacher told him, as he was the head of his class, the president of his class, that for Malcolm wanting to be a lawyer, that that was not a realistic goal for the n-word, and that he should focus on being a carpenter,” Shabazz said.
Growing up in the Jim Crow era, he would learn to use the values his parents raised him with to navigate his environment, which is the subject of Shabazz’s children’s book about Malcolm X. She said she wrote the book so young people could see a positive representation of themselves while they learn some history, although she was initially met with skepticism.
“I remember when I first said that I wanted to do a children’s story on Malcolm X … many people were like, ‘how can you write a children’s book on Malcolm X?’ Well, Malcolm was a child,” Shabazz said. “And, Malcolm did not go to jail and miraculously become smart, compassionate, responsible; these are values that were instilled in him by his parents.”
Due to the historical mischaracterization of her father, Lewis asked Shabazz to set the record straight.
“[White historians] go as far to present Malcolm X as this radical Muslim that preached the hate of the white man,” Lewis said. “Why do you think there’s this tendency to present him as an angry, violent man rather than this one who really valued inherent human dignity of everybody?”
“Because you put a mirror on those with immoral acts,” Shabazz said. “We can’t forget the trauma that surrounded slavery, we can’t forget the injustices … the institutionalized racism … Malcolm basically took a mirror and just put it up to all of those who were committing these awful acts.”
This pattern of injustice would continue from Shabazz’s father’s life into her own, as Lewis transitioned the conversation to the modern day.
“It seems that we’re in this moment of racial awareness now in the United States, and it’s largely due to the video of George Floyd’s murder,” Lewis said. “On one hand, I’m glad that there’s this spirit of allyship from white America … and on the other hand, I’m insulted, because Black people aren’t saying anything new … how should Black people navigate this new space of national racial awareness?”
Shabazz said a growing global awareness of these issues was actually one of her father’s predictions, citing Black Lives Matter protests that happened in all 50 United States and several countries abroad.
“My father said that this generation would see that those in power have misused power … and they will demand change,” Shabazz said. “It’s important that … we understand that Black power is not exclusionary, it simply says that everyone deserves a seat at the table of humanity.”