The Wife of Civil Rights Legend Malcolm X was an Icon in Her Own Right.
by Dr. Kai Hora El-Aminis, ARGUS Contributor
Liberation discourse and Womanist rhetoric often locate the “Mothers of the Movement” with considerable contributions to the work of freedom. Betty Shabazz, the spouse of el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X), is one of the “Mothers of the Movement” for her contributions to advocacy through health and education. Education is a revolution, and it is revolutionary.
Betty Shabazz grew up sheltered from racism by her aunt and uncle, her foster parents. Born into a single-parent household experiencing documented abuse, she moved to Detroit. They cultivated her religious experience in the African Methodism, attending services with significant religious experiences. She appreciated the discipline and spiritual connection.
The violence of oppression associated with racist ideas, lynching, and inequity for females experienced during her tenure at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, made Malcolm’s message of racial uplift, social and community reform more appealing. So much so that after moving to New York, her first encounters with Malcolm, before their marriage, was not to encourage a relationship; but, the reconstruction of Black minds and community life through education, awareness, and economic development.
Their marriage sealed their commitment to family and community. Their common bond furthered belief in the responsibility of Black people to fight against systemic racism and to “by any means necessary” advocate for the community itself.
The assassination of Malcolm in 1965 created an opportunity to progress in areas of gender identity, racial uplift, and the collective community. Maintaining a commitment to the Nation of Islam, Betty Shabazz raised her daughters, recognizing the strength needed to navigate grief and continue the movement towards civil rights.
She continued her education with a degree in healthcare administration, a Ph.D. in education; became the first African American Professor at Medgar Evers College. She furthered the revolution, ensuring that her children were equipped to navigate the world learning French, Arabic, theology, and medicine. Betty Shabazz was cited as wanting to assure that her daughters could use mind, body, and spirit in the fight against injustice and inequity in this world.
Ritualized mundane is how one author describes revolutionary education towards flourishing for the community. Mother Betty Shabazz, shy in demure, took the everydayness of life and examined their experiences under the lens of injustice. “Oppression is not incidental but orchestrated,” she said when challenging misrepresentations and misinterpretations of Malcolm’s message.
“Malcolm did not preach hate. He addressed people who had lost hope with the message that you had a past before slavery; and a present for which you are responsible. The goal is to ensure a future with love for yourself, your community, and equitable, shareable resources in mind. Hate is an emotion that bigots have redefined with a white agenda. There is a season for hate as we are redemptive people. Love and hate go together.”
This struggle continues as Black women reclaim Black lives and Black families and invite the juxtaposition between love and hate. The resurgence of home-based, faith-centered education: formal and informal vocations designed to confront and challenge racism: focus community, capacity building, and process development are the results of love for self and community. Racism, sexism, xenophobia result in hate. Hate for systemic oppression, fostered a restructuring of feminist agendas that espouse inequity while deconstructing Black family life and the responsibility to ensure a collective identity where we change and thrive. Womanist dialogue encourages a type of love, Black women harnessing age-old techniques of strength and strategy towards the common good for humankind. Thank you, Mother Betty Shabazz.
Dr. Kai Horn El-Aminis an Assistant Professor of Religion at Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee