Paper Presentations

Lehigh University Malcolm x - University Center

Hisham Aidi (Columbia University): "Du Bois, Ghana and Cairo Jazz: The Geo-Politics of Malcolm X"
Abstract: This paper will talk about Malcolm X's interest in music and culture (i.s. jazz, Highlife) in his travels across Africa, and Malcolm X's engagements with African American expat communities in Kenya and Ghana, and their efforts to forge a black aesthetic for liberation.  The presentation will talk about how fifty years after his death, Malcolm X has become central to Muslim youth politics (globally) and to debates about integration & radicalization in Europe. 
Maytha Alhassen (USC): "The Ummic Imperative: Appraising the Influence of Islamic Humanism on Malcolm's Pro-Palestine Politics"
Zaheer Ali (Columbia University): “Muslim Lands in this Country: The Nation of Islam’s African-Asian Bazaars and the Creation of Muslim Spaces in NYC, 1957-1963"
Abstract: On June 28, 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower stood on the grounds of the newly built Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., addressed the Muslims gathered there as though they were a foreign people, “many from the Muslim lands” who were “enjoying the benefits of experience among the people of this country.” A little more than a week later in New York City, foreign dignitaries were guests at another gathering, this one hosted by Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam. The 34th annual “Feast of the Followers of Messenger Muhammad” was a two-day event attended by 2,000 people, including a representative of the Syrian mission to the United Nations and the Egyptian attaché. During the next six years, under Malcolm X’s leadership the NOI’s Harlem-based temple would host over fifteen similar large-scale events, or “African-Asian Bazaars.” These bazaars featured guest speakers, African American and African performers, local merchants selling their wares, screenings of documentary films about Africa and the Middle East, and Nation of Islam cuisine. This paper examines the transnational linkages signified by and formed through these gatherings. Through these bazaars, the NOI created a space that hosted both commercial transactions and dialogic encounters between and among Muslims from Africa and the Middle East, members of the Nation of Islam, and the greater Harlem community. In so doing, the NOI’s Harlem temple challenged the territorial distinction between “Muslim lands” and “this country,” creating a space for Muslims lands in this country.
Kwame Essien (Lehigh University): "Malcolm X: The (Un)Wanted Guest in Ghana"
Abstract: On May 26, 1964 Malcolm X visited Ghana. This visit came at a time when the new independent nation was going through a period of socio-political and economic reforms. During his visit, Kwame Nkrumah, the Ghanaian President at the time, was in the process of negotiating with several industries in the United States to facilitate industrialization projects in the country. African-American expatriates who settled in Ghana from the 1950s were also exploring different opportunities to make them more visible in  Nkrumah’s post-independence reforms. Malcolm’s meeting with Nkrumah which was arranged by Shirley Graham Du Bois, a close aid of Nkrumah gained local and international attention. While the US government undermined Malcolm’s visit, the expatriates who were not given similar opportunities were frustrated with the attention Malcolm received. This paper chronicles Malcolm X’s visit, its significance to the black freedom struggle as well as the controversy it generated.
Garrett Felber (University of Michigan): "A Bandung Conference in Harlem: The Nation of Islam and 1950s Afro-Arab Solidarity"
Abstract: Explores the significance of the Nation of Islam's relationship with Pakistani Muslim editor Abdul Basit Naeem and his journal Moslem World and the U.S.A. in order to understand the organization within a global religious and political context. The group was significantly more politically internationalist and religiously orthodox than has been previously recognized, and its influence on the journal demonstrates the emphasis that the NOI put on Afro-Arab solidarity and Islamic orthodoxy during the height of the Cold War.  
Wilfredo Gomez (Independent Scholar): "X’s World: Hip-Hop’s Treatment of Malcolm X’s Legacy"
Abstract: February will mark the 50th year anniversary of Malcolm X’s death. Given his significance in the pantheon of African-American thinkers, activists, and intellectuals, his image, ideology, and substance of his engagement/critique of American society has been chronicled in popular culture, present in both film and music. Hip-Hop has been the genre of music most responsible for the likeness of Malcolm and its persistence in the realm of popular culture. Though, the landscape of hip-hop has evolved beyond the likeness of Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions’ By Any Means Necessary cover, Tupac Shakur’s 1992 speech at the Malcolm X Banquet, and others, I ask, to what extent is the legacy of Malcolm X’s ideology and thought still present in hip-hop culture. In attempting to tackle this subject, I will use the respective work of rappers Common, Nas, The Roots, and others to critically examine and reflect on Malcolm’s legacy. More to the point, I will use the albums such as Common’s Nobody’s Smiling, Nas’ Untitled, The Roots’ Undun, and Dice Raw’s Jimmy’s Back as conceptual albums that serve as cultural data and social commentary on the realities of the ills plaguing cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia. I will also use these cultural texts to speak to the landscape of the prison-industrial complex and state sanctioned violence against young African-American men such as Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and others.
Shermaine Jones (UVA): "From the Prophet Himself: The Existential Dimensions of Black Rage in Malcolm X’s Autobiography"
Abstract: Violence has always served a pedagogical purpose in black life. Witnessing violence enacted on the black body or hearing stories of white assaults on black humanity teaches the black subject that the ever-present threat of violence defines the black condition in America. Blacks have undoubtedly experienced rage in response to this constant threat of arbitrary violence and terror. Black writers, artists, and activists have employed rage as a means of mediating blacks’ relationship to violence; but perhaps no one has more eloquently articulated what Cornel West calls the “existential dimensions of black rage,” than Malcolm X. West would hail Malcolm as “ the prophet of black rage” in his 1994 Race Matters. With the growing unrest and debate about police brutality following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and most recently Michael Brown Jr., black rage has returned to the forefront of American discourse. Malcolm's life, his writings, philosophy, and most importantly his autobiography, offer an important site for theorizing black rage and its association with the black underclass and specifically black males. My paper examines the ways that Malcolm X redeploys the genre of the autobiography as a both a political intervention and pedagogical exercise to both initiate and implicate the reader into scenes of violence and thereby offers a counterargument to the characterization of black radicals as violent threats to the peace of the nation. Rather, Malcolm locates violence as foremost a tool of the state apparatus. Malcolm’s autobiography presents alternative ways of understanding and relating to power. Read complete paper.
Roberta Meek (Muhlenberg College): “Racist Rizzo Rides Again: The November 17, 1967 Philadelphia Police Riot"
Abstract: On November 17, 1967, thousands of black students in Philadelphia left their classrooms to join a protest march to the Board of Education where representatives of various student groups and adult allies met with the Superintendent, Dr. Mark Shedd.  Many of the young people engaged in the demonstration had been profoundly influenced by Malcolm X, particularly following his assignation a little more than two years earlier.  The students’ list of demands included teaching of black history and the permission to wear dashikis and wear afro hairstyles in school.  What began as a planned, non-violent protest turned into a bloody nightmare when the Philadelphia police, many on horseback and led by Frank L. Rizzo, rioted on the students.  This paper examines the ways in which the police riot radicalized the African American community and prompted a significant shift towards self-determination, community control, and black power politics and away from civil rights liberalism.
Katie Merriman (UNC-Chapel Hill): "Malcolm’s Lost Son: Muhammad Ali’s Muslim Internationalism in the 1960s"
Abstract:The civil rights movement had only served to cordon off the black athlete in a Bantustan of sport. It was left to Malcolm X and the Black Power movement to threaten the total release of the negro. Muhammad Ali is the epitome of that release. And it is this that bugs white society. He is not just a prizefighter, he is not even one man. He is many men—and all of them black.
Sri Lankan novelist and race activist Ambalavaner Sivanandan Muhammad Ali is recognized as a key voice in the tradition of “Afro-Asian anti-imperial solidarity” but the religious dimensions of his efforts are noticeably absent. As such, Ali’s thought on African American nationhood, the black body, global decolonial solidarities, and even his explicitly religious rejection of the Vietnam War are analyzed without a serious engagement with his theological positioning.  Instead I argue that Ali must be understood in a larger transnational Muslim intellectual and activist network of the mid-20th century and specifically through the mentorship of Malcolm X.
This essay returns to Ali in his core activist years of the 1960s – from his public announcement of conversion to Islam in 1964 to his release from the draft for Vietnam and return to boxing in 1971. In this time period, I analyze how Ali’s critical interpretations of Nation of Islam theology shaped his public stance and actions in relationship to black oppression in the US, American imperialism, and Third World solidarity, especially with Muslim-majority nations.
I first look at Ali’s early development as a Muslim and his relationship with Malcolm X. More than an intimate friendship, Malcolm X served as Muhammad Ali’s personal religious teacher and confidante for nearly two years. Even though Ali eventually rejected X’s invitation to join the new Muslim Mosque Inc., he would grow to follow his former teacher’s method of direct confrontation, personal sacrifice, and fighting for Black freedom beyond the limits of the nation-state. I demonstrate this link through three sections: Ali’s embodied expression as a Muslim masculine body, his economic projects to support black financial empowerment and ultimate salvation, and finally his international solidarity building during his years resisting the draft to Vietnam.    
Although Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali were never able to reconcile while X was still alive, scholarship can do their relationship justice by recognizing Ali as Malcolm’s lost son, an inheritor to the struggle to articulate a specifically black Muslim call to justice. As part of larger conversations about decolonization, Muhammad Ali’s work is an important avenue through which to discuss the links between internal colonization as a mirror to external colonization by the United States; the arena of sports as a space for resistance politics; and the contributions of Malcolm X as more than the hagiography of the solitary figure and instead as a powerful guide and example to a larger network of his brothers and sisters in resistance among the “lost-found” nation of African Americans in the United States.
Ted Morgan (Lehigh University): "From Satan to Commodity: The Malcolm X of Mass Media Culture"
Abstract: This paper examines the shifting characterization of Malcolm X in the United States mass media culture, both during his leadership years in and after the Nation of Islam and in the years since the long 1960s era.  Malcolm X fits nicely into my documentation of how mass media culture covered the social movements of the 1960s era and how those characterizations were instrumental in both backlash attacks against the 60s and commercial exploitation of 60s personalities, events, and social movements. 
My analysis of mass media revolves around two structural characteristics of capitalist mass media: 1) a boundaried discourse which reinforces prevailing ideological beliefs about the United States and its political economy, leaving outside the realm of legitimate discourse challenges to those ideological beliefs, and 2) an increasingly imagistic, dramatic, and personality-focused emphasis in news and public affairs reporting, driven by the growing significance of television and the commercial imperative of maximizing audience and readership.  I have documented how these media traits converged to marginalize the more system-critical voices in the major 60s-era movements, while simultaneously inviting increasingly dramatic and militant behaviors.  Something called “the Sixties” became the focal point of corporate and right-wing backlash, as well as a widely exploited vehicle of entertainment and consumption; together these forces helped to usher in the contemporary neoliberal era.
The Malcolm X of mass media culture is archetypical of this dynamic.  Through his meteoric rise to leadership fame, mass media accounts treated Malcolm largely as a compelling personality and a dangerous man of violence.  Like the black power movement he influenced, Malcolm was conventionally viewed as racist and a man of hate. The liberal Newsweek magazine titled its review of Malcolm’s autobiography, “Satan in the Ghetto.”  For years after the 60s era, Malcolm was virtually invisible in mainstream commercial media, until Spike Lee’s film catapulted a domesticated Malcolm back into popular culture, feeding the phenomenon of X-hats and other paraphernalia.  Befitting the neoliberal era, Malcolm X the commodity had become a form of expressive politics.
Abdul Akbar Muhammad (Historian): "Malcolm X - His Life, His Impact 50 Years After His Assassination"
Abstract: Because of Malcolm X’s charisma and his ability to capture the media’s attention, his contemporaries and historians alike have often overlooked the social context of the Nation of Islam in Malcolm X’s life and legacy.  Or, if they have examined Malcolm’s relationship to the Nation of Islam, they usually center their discussions around issues of ideological or theological convergence and divergence.  It is as though Malcolm’s relationship with the NOI can best be comprehended by Malcolm’s embrace, and then apparent rejection of, Elijah Muhammad’s brand of Islam.  However, a closer examination of the inner life of the Nation of Islam—in particular Mosque No. 7—reveals a vibrant community that provided both a nurturing and challenging environment for Malcolm’s growth and development as an organizer, administrator, and leader in Harlem. He was both a co-creator and product of the Mosque community, connected and interdependent on its social networks, personnel and administrative support, and organizational structure.  In order to understand how Malcolm X worked as an organizer for the twelve years he spent in the Nation of Islam—nearly ten of which he spent as its Harlem Minister—it is first necessary to understand his life as Brother and Minister—member and leader—of Mosque No. 7. Having joined the Nation of Islam in Harlem in 1960, and served as a student in Malcolm X’s ministry class, I will draw on my personal experiences, eyewitness accounts, and oral history, to illuminate this often-overlooked aspect of Malcolm X’s life and legacy.
Amy Ongiri (Lawrence University): “Who Taught You to Hate Yourself?: Malcolm X, Visual Culture and the Challenge of the Black Aesthetic"
Abstract: Malcolm X responded to the accusation that he was “teaching hate” in 1962 with a provocative set of questions that challenged the parameters of anti-Black racism as an ideology that was created and rigidly enforced through a set of aesthetic codes
"Who taught you to hate the color of your skin? Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips? Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the soles of your feet? Who taught you to hate your own kind? Who taught you to hate the race that you belong to so much so that you don’t want to be around each other? You know. Before you come asking Mr. Muhammad does he teach hate, you should ask yourself who taught you to hate being what God made you?"
Malcolm X’s powerful account of self-hate begins with the experience of the individual, which is one of abjection, and spirals out to a collective experience of disenfranchisement. This trajectory of personal alienation that becomes collective disempowerment is significantly articulated through a symbolic economy that is both visual and written on the body.  This presentation will examine the ways in which Malcolm X’s political ideology confronted the loss, abjection, and trauma of racialization in the United States with a provocative call to reimagine concepts like beauty, hope, and futurity with an aesthetic that is both geographically and ideologically aligned with a disrupted African past and possibility. It will also explore the ways in which Malcolm X’s political and philosophical challenges helped create the possibility for the Black Arts movement and its radical attempts to define a Black Aesthetic. Read complete paper.
Usame Tunagur (Independent Scholar): "A Traitor Caught Between Martin and Malcolm"
Abstract: Malcolm X and Martin Luther King; Both men share the destiny of being designated on the opposite sides of the proverbial coin of race relations. The former has been vilified (and posterized by some) while the latter has been “Santa Clausified, sanitized and deodorized.”1 Furthermore, they have been pitted against each other, where a state-sanctioned MLK was hailed as the epitome of racial unity and healing, which reached its pinnacle as Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States. This moment was also utilized to “exorcize [Malcolm X] from the national past and the nation's future.”2
Simultaneously, the predominant image of Muslims as the 'global menace' has been so well established by this time, that Obama's middle name almost cost him the elections. One essential vehicle that has helped establish this “muslim = terrorist” image is the 'Anti-Terror Hollywood Cinema.' A key sub-genre is what I call 'Neo Jazz Diplomacy' films which are emblematized by a hyper-visibility of black male actors leading the American efforts against 'Muslim' 'terrorists.'
Among these films, a particular one, Traitor (2008) crucially stands out, since its lead, Samir Horn (Don Cheadle), an undercover FBI operative, is both black and Muslim, and embodies the above mentioned dualism of Malcolm and Martin. This dualism plays out in the shadows throughout Traitor, along with a prescriptive prioritization of a 'Muslim Martin' over Malcolm, thus making it a relevant text that might provide us with clues as to how the meme of Malcolm continues to hover over American zeitgeist, particularly with regards to the maintenance of the empire, and her global nemeses.
1 West, Cornel, and Zaid Shakir. Malcolm & Martin: Implications of their Legacies for the Future. New Islamic Directions, 2005. DVD.
2 Daulatzai, Sohail. Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom beyond America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2012. Print.
Darius Williams and Kashi Johnson (Lehigh University): "X-Cerpts: Channeling the Black Arts Movement in Celebration of the Lessons, Life, and Legacy of Malcolm X"
Abstract: One month after Malcolm X's assassination, LeRoi Jones changed his name to Amiri Baraka and uprooted himself from the integrated world of Manhattan's Lower East Side, to Harlem. Shortly thereafter, Baraka founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School, where he sought to experiment and develop a more politically and spiritually infused Black Art form. Subsequently, his 1964 drama Dutchman, ignited The Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Framed around an array of cultural signs, codes and symbols called ‘The Black Aesthetic,’ Black artists encouraged racial uplift and social change via the cultural production of poetry, music, and literature by Black people, for Black people and about Black people. These militant artists primarily utilized the medium of theatre and literature, in their collective call for racial uplift and unity, as they called on the Black community to become more socially aware of them selves in the presence of colonialist oppression. Drawing on the rich literary tradition of those who knew and loved Malcolm X including Black Arts Movement pioneers Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Gil Scott Heron, Ossie Davis, Sonia Sanchez, and Maya Angelou, among others; theatre professors Kashi Johnson and Darius Williams will perform select works from this prolific group of artists in tribute to Malcolm X. This conference presentation uses the theatrical mode of performance to celebrate, memorialize and intone Malcolm X’s historical legacy expressed namely in the dramatic literature of his political and artistic constituents.  Performance description: Video clips, images of Malcolm X and music will be interspersed between the live performances by Johnson and Williams. 
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