Jelani Cobb writes in the New Yorker that Malcolm Shabazz, who died last week in Mexico, was a young man still defining his place amid a looming legacy.
The passage of time made the troubles of Malcolm X’s own youth appear as stations on some racial cross: the impoverished youth who became the heartless hustler, the jailhouse autodidact who birthed the ascetic rage prophet who was to become the martyred humanist. He saw something metaphorical in those phases of his life, in that knotted feeling of injustice and spoiled aspiration—his tale was as much demography as biography. But viewed from the distant sidelines, Malcolm Shabazz’s short life inspired a different kind of sentiment, reflected an entirely different yearning.
Read his blog and what emerges is a young man who died at a time when he was still trying to define his life and identity, both separate from and yet very much tied to his grandfather’s. The first sentence on the blog reads “Malcolm is the first male heir of Malcolm X.” At twenty-eight he was literally the image of his grandfather. His March 9th post features a split screen image of him and Malcolm X, the latter in his iconic finger-to-temple pose. In an earlier post is a picture of Malcolm, fil, donning a fedora and recast as the mugshot of his ancestor during his Detroit Red days. Elsewhere he posed with a rifle, peering out a window. On one level that kind of mimicry was the most honest commentary possible. The sole directly related man in a family consisting of five aunts and an internationally recognized grandmother, Malcolm X was an identifiable male role model for him to imitate, even if it was posthumously. He was not alone in this pursuit—in his 1965 eulogy Ozzie Davis pointed to Malcolm as the working definition of black manhood, an idea that millions of young Malcolm Shabazz’s peers cosigned.
Read Jelani Cobb’s entire piece at the New Yorker.
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