Jaylon Williams found this piece and thought it would make an interesting discussion about notions of race, politics, nationalism, and war. As many of us already know, Muhammad Ali lost his title belts and went to jail because he refused to fight in the Vietnam War. I have spoken to a number of black folks who too stated that they would have done the same thing Ali did. The general response I have heard is why fight for America during a time when black folks were so highly discriminated against. With Obama leading a number of polls in his race to win the Democratic primary, Jaylon asked me if I thought American blacks were now being permitted to assimilate into mainstream American culture? Malcolm X spent a lot of time with Ali as both wrestled with this. With Obama appealing to so many people of different races, I ask the question: Have we as Americans moved beyond the problem or race?
As people march today for immigrants rights, it’s worth remembering Malcolm X’s ideas about black citizenship. Here’s an excerpt from Malcolm’s famous “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech, delivered in 1964.
I’m not a Democrat, I’m not a Republican, and I don’t even consider myself an American. If you and I were Americans, there’d be no problem…Everything that came out of Europe, every blue-eved thing, is already an American. And as long as you and I have been over here, we aren’t Americans yet.
Well, I am one who doesn’t believe in deluding myself. I’m not going to sit at your table and watch you eat, with nothing on my plate, and call myself a diner. Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner, unless you eat some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American.