Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

Placing 'The South' in the Geopolitical Thought of Malcolm X

Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

Placing 'The South' in the Geopolitical Thought of Malcolm X

Article excerpt

This paper extends our understanding of Malcolm X as both a critical theorist of geography and a radical political philosopher. Through an examination of speeches by Malcolm X, I outline his particular geographic understanding of civil and human rights, and detail how place figured prominently in his articulation of racial oppression. More specifically, this paper highlights the configuration of the South in the geopolitical philosophy of Malcolm X. In so doing, this paper contributes to the ongoing effort to critically understand the political function of regional landscape production.

Este trabajo amplia nuestro entendimiento de Malcolm X tanto como un teorico critico de la geografia y un filosofo politico radical. A traves de un examen de discursos de Malcolm X, bosquejo su comprension geografica particular de los derechos civiles y humanos, asi como informacion de como lugar ocupo un lugar destacado en su articulacion de la opresion racial. Mas concretamente, este trabajo destaca la configuracion del Sur en la filosofia geopolitica de Malcolm X. De este modo, este trabajo contribuye a los esfuerzos en curso para comprender criticamente lafuncion politica de la production del paisaje regional

KEY WORDS: Malcolm X, American South, landscape

PALABRAS CLAVE: Malcolm X, El Sur de los Estados Unidos, paisaje

INTRODUCTION

A polarizing figure--both in life and in death--Malcolm X was one of the most influential Civil Rights leaders of the twentieth century. As Marable (2011, 9) explains, for many commentators, Malcolm X "was unquestionably the most consummately 'political' activist, a man who emphasized grassroots and participatory politics led by working-class and poor blacks." And yet, the ideas of Malcolm X remain largely missing from most discussions of political philosophy and participatory politics. Within geography, this comes as no surprise, for geographers in general have paid scant attention to the political and urban geographies of black radicals (Tyner 2007, 229; but see Pulido 2002, 2006; Wilson 2002; Tyner 2006; Heynen 2009; Inwood 2009; Kruse 2009). This is the case, despite the fact that a contestation--a struggle--over space is paramount in the political activism of, for example, Huey Newton, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael and, of course, Malcolm X. Each in their own way, these individuals decried the material inequalities that existed within the segregated geographies of the United States; they critiqued a hypocritical system that promoted integration as part of the American Dream but kept in place structural and institutional barriers that limited African American advancement toward equality. Malcolm X, for example, denounced the systemic racism that too often went unnamed in broader narratives of integration and assimilation. "The worst housing conditions in America," Malcolm X explained, "exist in the so-called Negro community." And yet, he continued, "the white liberals, who own these run-down houses, force us to pay the highest rent. Faced with this high overhead, we are forced to take in roomers in order to help make up our rent. Our apartments are filled with both relatives and strangers. Our communities soon become overcrowded. These overcrowded conditions under which our people are forced to live eliminate all chances for a normal life, a clean life, or a healthy life" (quoted in Perry 1991, 59). In this statement we readily see the connection between surface appearances--the appalling and congested conditions of the urban ghetto--and the underlying social relation by which some people control--and profit from--the housing market at the expense of those who endure the consequences. Malcolm X does not blame the poor for their plight--an argument routinely made then and now--rather, he effectively relates the conditions of African Americans to deeper capitalist structures of rent. He does so not through abstract language but instead through a dialectics of landscape. …

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