Letters to Malcolm

Dear Malcolm,
in PS 201, a school nestled in
Flushing, Queens,
where 43 percent of the students are Black,
the children were banned from writing about you.
the teacher dragged her chalk,
scratching a line through your name
as a way to mute you.
she told the children to pour their white outs,
hit their backspace keys,
clench their teeth to prevent
your name from spilling out
through their mouths
as though it was a profanity.
when the children shifted in their seats,
and a quivering hand stretched out like a lone branch
demanding why,
the teacher said it’s because you were violent.

but it’s okay if children still learn about Columbus
who explored lands while stomping on corpses,
and while,
I quote,
“dashing out brains
of Indians and feeding them to armoured attack dogs,”
end quote.
it is okay if our children learn about President Washington
who owned more than 300 slaves,
whipping their bodies bloody,
and selling them to buyers in West Indies to
sever ties from their lovers
as a cruel punishment.
this is okay.
but God forbid they learn about you,
God forbid they learn about someone who
tells them to adore their dark skin.
tells them about their lineage
that runs through
the richest of civilizations,
who tells them their blood is not cheap,
but worth every ounce of self-defense.

Dear Malcolm,
violence is not what you embodied.
violence is what unraveled in the classroom
of PS 201.
after all,
what is more ruthless
than ripping away knowledge
from a people that is rightfully theirs to carry?
more catastrophic than muffling
a multitude of voices until
it dwindles down
to only one White person re telling
the whole story,
with only the White man
ever being the hero.

they paint you as a militant man
and always forget to paint strokes of your softness-
of you as a father
making your daughters double-over with laughter
while resting on your knees,
as a husband
clasping the hands of your wife,
that the fire that swallowed your home
didn’t take her too.
as a son,
visiting your mother and
making up for lost time
from when they peeled her away
from your childhood.

Dear Malcolm,
you were decades ahead of your time.
your words remain like prophesies
proving to be true time
and time again.
the knife is still rammed inside,
nine inches,
tearing tissue and slicing bone.
the knife is still stuck,
protruding and paralyzing
Black children
who are fed to the open jaws
of a system that instruments
the school-to-prison pipeline.
studies show
“Black pre schoolers make up only 18 percent
of pre school programs,
but make up half of those who are suspended more than once.”
which means Black four year olds
with baby teeth and tiny hands
are seen as threats before
they are ever seen as actual children.
the wound remains untended,
and it’s grown wider since
Trayvon Martin lay cold on the sidewalk,
a little deeper since Mike Brown
was riddled with six bullets,
it’s festered and oozed pus
since the day Eric Garner’s
lungs were closed off.
there are no band aids large enough
to cushion
this biting hurt,
this stinging shame that some think is “progress.”

Dear Malcolm,
We are drawn towards your story
like moths to a lamp,
and each who’s read it
has woken up from a slumber
finally tasting the bitter
and tart truth,
heavy on their tongue.
you have taught so many of us
what courage is,
what change is,
what giving is.
God lifted your soul as a martyr
but your teachings still ripple
through generations.
There is a hadith that says,
when God loves a person he tells Gabriel to love them,
and Gabriel makes an announcement to the people
in heaven and on earth,
until they all love him too.
it’s no doubt God must have seen beauty
in your truth-calling voice, because
He, who created the Heavens,
has insured that you are not forgotten.
after all,
I write this letter having never met you,
college students and scholars gather
fifty years after your death
celebrating you,
and somewhere in a classroom
where your name is banned
from being mentioned,
a student secretly
cradles your autobiography,
cracks open the spine
and peels through the pages,
finding healing in
that has long been denied.

This piece was written and performed by Jaweerya Mohammad for “Remembering Malcolm X 50 Years Later,” an event hosted by the Graduate Muslim Student Association at Rutgers University.