What would Malcolm X have to say about the Black celebrities meeting with Trump? There is no need to guess because the Black nationalist leader — in his infinite wisdom and understanding about white supremacy — told us how he felt over half a century ago.
In his iconic speech “The Ballot of the Bullet,” Malcolm X describes “so-called” Black leaders who rush to white power, offering themselves up to validate the person’s good intentions toward Black People. “The first thing the c—–r does when he comes in power, he takes all the Negro leaders and invites them for coffee to show that he’s all right, and those Uncle Toms can’t pass up the coffee. They come away from the coffee table telling you and me that this man is all right.”
In recent months, the newly elected president has met with a number of African-American celebrities, athletes and entertainers, including Kanye West, Steve Harvey, Tiger Woods, Martin Luther King III, former NFL player Ray Lewis, and perhaps most disappointingly, former NFL great and activist Jim Brown. These were the so-called Black “leaders” that Trump deemed fit to meet with.
Brown, known for his courageous stands on racial justice and Black empowerment, helped organize the 1967 Cleveland Summit, which featured a collection of the nation’s top Black athletes who came together in support of Muhammad Ali, who refused to serve in the Vietnam War. Recently, Brown met with Trump, whom he praised, and later criticized Rep. John Lewis for “crying the blues” by calling Trump an illegitimate president. Moreover, Brown’s Ameri-I-Can Program hosted a $1,000-a-head pre-inauguration party with Trump surrogate Omarosa Manigault, as USA Today reported.
Malcolm X had much to say concerning folks like Brown — today’s Brown, not the one from 1967 — and others who met with Trump. “Comedians, comics, trumpet players, baseball players. Show me in the white community where a comedian is a white leader,” Malcolm X said in an Oct. 11, 1963, interview at the University of California, Berkeley. “Show me in the white community where a singer is a white leader or a dancer or a trumpet player is a white leader. These aren’t leaders. These are puppets and clowns that have been set up over the Black community by the white community and have been made celebrities and, usually, they say exactly what they know the white man wants to hear.”
But Malcolm broke it down even further in “The Ballot or the Bullet,” which he gave on April 12, 1964, in Detroit. He gave his remarks during a momentous time in American history. Just to set the stage for you, it was the middle of the civil rights movement, when nonviolent protesters faced brutality, Black churches were being burned and white Southern segregationists filibustered on civil rights legislation before Congress. As Malcolm pointed out, it was a time of heightened political consciousness for Black people. And he spoke of the self-help philosophy of Black nationalism, the need to control the economics, the politics and the politicians in our community, and acting in service to our community. “And until we become politically mature, we will always be misled, led astray or deceived or maneuvered into supporting someone politically who doesn’t have the good of our community at heart,” he proclaimed.
“The time when white people can come in our community and get us to vote for them so that they can be our political leaders and tell us what to do and what not to do is long gone,” Malcolm said. “By the same token, the time when that same white man, knowing that your eyes are too far open, can send another Negro in the community and get you and me to support him so that he can use him to lead us astray, those days are long gone, too.”
The government and white liberal friends failed us, Malcolm said. The government, he noted, was being run by white supremacists, Southern segregationist Dixiecrats such as Sen. James Eastland of Mississippi and President Lyndon Johnson of Texas. Malcolm said the racists in the Democratic Party disguised themselves as Dixiecrats and called Johnson “the father of the Dixiecrats.” These white political leaders invited Negro leaders over for coffee in order to gain Black acceptance, Malcolm argued.
Malcolm’s point was simple and yet profound. Black people have supported these white politicians and placed them first, yet no one is placing the interests of Black people first. White racists have used divide-and-conquer tactics against the African-American community, he said, having us at each other’s throats, fighting over separations vs. integration when the goal should be freedom. Malcolm X was admonishing the Black community, urging them to wake up. Wake up from white supremacy and toward control over our politics. And over half a century later, it seems as if some of us still need to wake up.