Two giants. Two martyrs. One so sanctified he’s made it to Paradise Porn. The other mixedbagged and boutiqued into Niche Noesis. Maybe, for each of them, a second martyrdom.
Now comes the Washington Post with a very, very fine “Malcolm X Redux”. But it’s the Washington Post, so the pretext for publication is another 50th anniversary. But it’s the Washington Post, so it dominates the Style section. But it’s the new, beleaguered with all its print siblings, Wapo, so it has about as much graphics as text.
And what, you may ask, is the problem?
It is that we need the ancestors, and we very much need these two precious, dead, thinkers and activists. Krissah Thompson’s article is a valuable contribution, but it is so desperately necessary because the mainstream assumptions reflected by the Post and other “leading” media for these 50 and more years have as a whole served to attack, obscure, misrepresent and sanitize the images of these two men.
Let’s take a whirlwind tour of the borderlands between three gigantic domains: citizenship, journalism, and schools. I’ve hopped on my blog-scooter, so I beg you to hold on tight and forgive me my shortcuts. What for some will be harder to forgive is the overall perspective: what does any citizen or kid-potential-citizen need, to “mature” into an at-risk world that dearly needs his or her input. I.e., where is the groundwork for being/becoming – if one so chooses – an intelligent activist.
Okay, so kids of all ages learn about Saint Martin. With precious exceptions, teachers peddled that in 1980, and still do, in classrooms elementary and otherwise. But from where do they get it, these dutiful ones who don’t get it? Above all, they get it from the dishonest “American Dream” culture that has only a small, sanitized place for minorities. (And denial or worse for those of God’s creatures who were here before Europeans and their slaves). Top-tier newspapers such as the Post are essential elements of this culture, and especially of its transmission to teachers and middle-class parents, who are the main infecters of children.
This remains true (with beloved exceptions) despite all of the intelligent pluralism of editors. They got to be editors because of their ability to present the richest and most literate versions of mainstream assumptions of reality. Otherwise they land on the “fringes,” like Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky.
Where they belong, you interject, and have ample opportunity to address their following.
Naw. But I am not going to do what I would prescribe for every journalism teacher and media critic. Google Malcolm and Martin for the past year (or 10 or 40 if you have the time) and “Washington Post”.
Then tabulate relative frequencies. And if you want a PhD or something as a media critic, assemble a composite picture of each of these leaders, based on what you find. Or limit yourself to coverage for the year or two preceding each of these precious individual’s assassination.
I’ve done none of that. But once, while driving to Baltimore (where my friends the Women in Black march in the MLK parade) I listened to WPFW reading New York Times contemporaneous coverage of Martin. Makes you wonder what the Jerusalem Post would have thought of Jeremiah.
And I suspect that Malcolm-the-pimp-turned-rabble-rouser (vs.-Saint Martin) was a more prominent tale 1963-1970 than Alex Haley’s Autobiography of Malcolm X. Another challenge would be to see what – if anything – primary school administrators and their employees have made of Malcolm all these years.
It has taken 50 years, but maybe Krissah Thompson’s insightful and comprehensive Post piece would be a good starting point. And yes, your humble servant the present author, who became a ghetto schoolteacher in the 1990s when he was 47, should add Manning Marable’s biography of Malcolm to his already hopelessly long reading list.
I only wish that too much to read was our biggest problem. And when I say ‘our” I mean simultaneously some public intellectuals and academics, all teachers at all levels, and really, all the citizens of these United States – whether they have “stepped up” to what citizen means or not.