Lecture highlights Malcolm X’s social influence

By Victor Allison/reporter

A professor said during a Feb. 21 presentation on SE Campus that Malcolm X would have been critical of African-American voters for not holding the nation’s first black president accountable on issues pertaining to race.

SE history professor Eric Salas began invoking the ideas of Malcolm X when he told a room full of students the late civil rights leader would have been disapproving of black Americans for pledging overwhelming political support to former president Barack Obama, despite the surge of police brutality against blacks during his term.

Black people all across the country were “getting shot on camera” during the Obama administration, Salas said, but relative silence followed these events.

“You finally get a black president,” he said after citing that 98 percent of the African-American vote put Barack Obama in the White House.

“He does nothing for the black community,” Salas said Malcolm X would argue. “He put you last.”

Salas spoke Feb. 21 in the third installment of SE Campus’ Black History Month lecture series hosted by the student organization Historical Underground. Salas discussed Malcolm X’s flirtation and split with the philosophy of black nationalism.

The presentation evolved into part-lecture, part-sermon and part-performance with Salas often dipping into the character of Malcolm X for effect.

He slipped into Malcolm’s voice when he forwarded provocative ideas of Malcolm’s. But at the end, he would clarify that “these are Malcolm’s ideas, not mine.”

Salas imagined Malcolm X would have advised black voters to have more political savvy.

“Politically, we need to organize,” Salas said. “This is the truly unique element of Malcolm X’s nationalism. We have to organize voters. We have to register black voters. You have to let them know that, collectively as an organized bloc, we can sway the election.”

Salas’ attention then quickly shifted to many of Malcolm X’s sympathizers whom he feels revere the civil rights leader’s symbolic value to the black struggle but fail to apply the substantive lessons of Malcolm X’s philosophy to the modern landscape.

Evidence of this, he suggested, may lie in the cultural and economic exploitation of today’s black artists. Salas believes elements of Malcolm X’s philosophy on black nationalism — which promoted political, economic and cultural control — could be useful in ceasing things like cultural exploitation of blacks. Yet African-American creators still only receive a small portion of the profits their content generates.

“Hip-hop music represents 35 percent of all sales and streams. Black people create the content but don’t control it. Sounds like sharecropping,” he said. “In slavery, they commodified your labor. Today, they commodify your culture.”

Maria Aguilar, an early college high school student, said despite the symbolism and the idolizing that surrounds the life of Malcolm X, she enjoyed Salas’ humanization of him and his shift from racial separatist to humanist, or as she called it, “his transition from one end of the spectrum to the other, not all the way. But, it’s beautiful.”

Yet Mia Vasquez, also an early college high school student, believed that although some of Malcolm X’s nationalistic beliefs may have been useful for blacks during a pre-Civil Rights era, she found trouble with some of what she believes are patriarchal ideas.

“Black nationalism, as he said, is for the black man not for anybody else,” Vasquez said.