Growing up X: daughter tells about father
Sun Oct 31, 2010 4:10PM
Interview with Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of famous civil rights activist the late Malcolm X about her book Growing Up X
Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of famous US civil rights activist Malcolm X, has written a book named Growing Up X on his father's life.
Ilyasah, the third of six daughters of the late great Malcolm X, was two when her father was tragically assassinated in New York on February 21, 1965.
Press TV conducted an interview with Ilyasah Shabazz about her book Growing Up X.
Press TV: I read this book. The book came out eight years ago, but there is a community that missed it, the African American community, the millions of foreign Muslims who live in the US and many of the Hispanic brothers and sisters. Has the book been translated into any other language?
Shabazz: No, I don't believe it is in any other languages as of today. However, I am sure it is going to be translated into different languages because I do get the request a lot over the Internet.
Press TV: I was moved. I couldn't put it down. You start the book off by talking about your father's life and that this is not a rehash of your father's life, this is your story. But your story is intertwined with your father's life. Why do you put in the author's note that it is not a rehash of the autobiography of Malcolm X?
Shabazz: Because I think people have this expectation of his children and especially they have their own image or their own perception of who they think Malcolm X is and depending on that is what they expect of us.
I didn't grow up the way my father grew up and so my life is different. But, thank God he is my father and he definitely influenced my life, and especially the way my mother raised us in his absence.
Press TV: On the cover of the book, there is a picture of Malcolm X holding you in his arms. Did your mother ever explain to you where that picture was taken?
Shabazz: Yes, it was taken at Kennedy airport and he had just returned from abroad. I was looking at his facial hair because I had never seen it before and also looking at the reflection of myself in his hat on the top of our car.
Press TV: Many of our audience may not realize that you are of six sisters and your mother was pregnant with twins on the day he was assassinated. You opened up with the tragic loss of your mother and that phone call in the middle of the night and you are going to the hospital and the doctor saying that you should prepare yourself. Can you tell us why you open the book with that particular part of your life?
Shabazz: It was that that inspired me to write the book - losing my mother and just reliving what happened, the fire, when I got the phone call that she was in the hospital. So it just seemed where I would start the book.
Press TV: You started the book with the tragic death of your mother and close it with the Janaza prayers over Malcolm X's body. Can you tell us more about that?
Shabazz: Starting it with losing her or for any person who loses somebody very close to them, especially a parent, there is no preparation in that loss and so when it happens, you have to decide how you are going to let this affect your life; are you going to be healthy and productive or are you going to wallow in this human pain and not give anything back to society?
So it helped to re-visit important moments in my life and how my mother influenced me tremendously, how the joys of having five sisters, regular things that we go through as women, are the reasons why so many people identified with my story and then sending my mother off to the afterlife with her husband seemed just appropriate to end it there.
Press TV: Did you bury your mother side by side or on top of your father's grave?
Shabazz: We actually buried her on top of her husband, and this was my mother's desire.
Press TV: You still have some hesitations about public speaking. Now that you have written a book, people want to hear from you. How do you feel about public speaking now?
Shabazz: Now I am a lot more passionate and understand the challenges that people experience and are confronted with and so I am very passionate in ensuring that young people are empowered to be all that they can, knowing that there are no limitations.
I think comparing that to my mother's life, having witnessed her husbands' martyrdom, having witnessed his brutal assassination and being the wife a man who challenged a government that had been historically unjust, having four babies, pregnant with twins, home fire bombed a week prior to this killing of her husband, my seeing that she never accepted "no" as an answer, she possessed self-respect, she knew her history, I think that her life is really an inspiration to young people that there are no limitations, you just have to persevere.
People always have these expectations, and sometimes as human beings we feel that we may not live up to these enormous expectations, but when you are very passionate about whatever it is you want to talk about, you want to inspire or empower people with, you just do it. So initially it was very difficult for me because my mother had been protective in raising her girls. She was overprotective with us and didn't let us out into the public and as time went on, I really had no choice, my mother had passed away and I wanted to do something for her, which would be an appropriate legacy of her husband and in so doing, an appropriate legacy of my mother's, so I did it because my mother was that important to me and it was actually to present her with an award… and so it was very natural and easy for me to get up and say these things that my mother did for her six girls, the sacrifice, the contribution, and to honor her.
Press TV: You went to a Montessori school and talked about the challenges in that school and you also talked in the book about your extended family, your uncles on your mother's side and on your father's side. Can you talk about your experience living with your uncles?
Shabazz: First, I have to say that my mother worked very hard, she sent all her six girls to private school and that was to make sure we had a quality education. She worked very hard and paid for her six girls to do this and that deserves some sort of credit because her home was fire-bombed, her husband was killed, there were so many obstacles, but she was able to do this because she persevered; she never accepted "no" or "I can't" as an answer.
Press TV: Was she working on her doctorate degree at the same time as all of this?
Shabazz: Actually, she was working on her doctorate when we were going to the Montessori school so we were much younger. On my mother's side of the family we had this routine that when school was out we went to my grandmother's (maternal side) house in Philadelphia. My mother had three brothers - my uncles, who were extremely overprotective and would not let us out of their sight. If we went outside they would hover over us - no boys could come and talk to us - It was very strict. But when we were at home we were able to go outside, play in the background and run up and down the street and play games. So it was very difficult to be so policed.
Press TV: On your father's side, he had a large family. Two of his brothers were very active members in the nation of Islam. One headed the mosque in Detroit and I believe one in Michigan somewhere - Philbick and Wilfred. They stayed away after the assassination because they were active in the nation and there were some questions so when did they come back into the life as you described it in the book. I think it was Wilfred that came first to visit you.
Shabazz: Right. I don't know if they ever left us. My mother was very protective. My uncle Wilfred, I recall him coming to visit, I was 4 years old and it was when the Malcolm X college opened in Chicago so he came to our house in New York and then we went to Chicago. I remember when we went back to New York I was traumatized that he was leaving; the only thing I can really compare it to is the trauma of my father being killed when I was not quite 3 years old.
Press TV: Wilfred looks like his brother a lot; they look a lot alike.
Shabazz: Right, but… I think when you're that young you don't know, you know. But knowing that, he must have reminded me of my father and he must have reminded me of that loss.
Press TV: And this is why you described it. Also in the book you describe Ramadan, and I think that you wrote that very well. I was reading your book during Ramadan and when you talked about Ramadan and then you talked about your interaction with the Christian friends that you had - Could you tell our audience about that experience? I think it was excellent how you described as a young girl what Ramadan meant to you and was really surprised because I wasn't keeping up with how the family was going; that you would fast during Ramadan, which really touched me and those that read the book and talked to me.
Shabazz: Well my father was a Muslim, and my mother so quite naturally, I and my five sisters were all born Muslim. We attended the Islamic centre and so it was just a part of our lives where we fasted and when Ramadan came we celebrated. There were other families, we were very close too and we had our celebrations where we would eat and it was just unforgettable.
Press TV: A footnote to history, I don't know if anyone talked to you about it - the mosque on Riverside Drive in New York City, the Imam there was a brother named Abdul Raouff and he was an early friend of your father's. Your father would go down there and he would give Islamic lessons. He wrote some excellent books: Creed and Warship and Malcolm, your father became very close to him. He is the father of Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has the controversy with the mosque near ground zero. Many people do not know the legacy of his father and his father's involvement with the black American Muslim community and in particular, your father. Has anyone ever talked to you about that?
Shabazz: No, and I would like to write that down.
Press TV: And we will talk about it, a very interesting piece in history. But we have to talk about something that you wrote in your book - You said, in your home, Minister Farrakhan's name was very rarely mentioned and as you grew, quite naturally you were hearing about him and you mentioned the Arsenio Hall show that Minister Farrakhan appeared on. Could you talk about that for minute?
Shabazz: Yes. I just remember listening to him speak and there were some things I, you know, found interesting; when it came to the struggle of people of the African Diaspora, of Africans and the people of the Diaspora. I remember watching him on Arsenio and Arsenio had asked him about my father and he said we were the only people that honored the dead and that we should let the dead be gone. Yet he kept mentioning the honorable Elijah Mohammad, and saw that as contradictory. And I think what troubles me the most has been that with all that my father gave to the nation of Islam, all of what he gave was that he wasn't acknowledged for the things that he gave to the nation.
Press TV: OK, I think you described it right, and I think that your position on it was correct because those members of the nation found difficulty in talking about his work, but I personally know his work, I know his contribution to the nation of Islam and as time goes on, more people as they study it, they will give the credit that is rightly due to the hard work that your father did.
There is another part in the book where you talked about girls in the gangs, and how these young ladies, I guess they were from MT Vernon, attacked one of your friends and I think the part of your struggle how you came to the defense of your friend and we have a tremendous gang problem in America today in the cities. So when you reflect on that day, can you tell me how you feel about it? You were young, your friend …..
Shabazz: Her name was Dietra. She's deceased now, but was one of the most beautiful girls you would ever lay your eyes on. She was absolutely beautiful and it wasn't gangs like we know them today like the Bloods and ...you know, it wasn't that, but it was these girls who went around terrorizing people. And Dietra went to a public school and so they terrorized her in school and she lived in my neighborhood, and the girls would come down into my neighborhood and… I just remember one day, they beat her up and I was surprised because we didn't grow up beating each other up and I did not understand that. So I did go to her defense and fortunately I didn't get beaten up, but I did go to her defense. I think it's unfortunate and I think it has a lot to do with self-hatred that if we don't know our history… We can go back to that case study of the black and white dolls where you have all these little girls picking a white doll over a black doll when the dolls are identical. So if we're not teaching our children histroy history and for them not knowing their capabilities then there is all this self hatred and misdirected anger and so forth.
Press TV: Now, there's another part in the book and I could have this feeling because Sydney Portier lived in Pleasantville, New York - he had a home there with his first wife and your father came from overseas and Ozzie Davis, who was a great friend of the family, and who did that tremendous obituary at your father's funeral service in New York. They gathered some people together - civil rights leaders, and they met there and you write in the book about Lorraine Hasber. She was sitting on the couch and she was attacking your father for the position that he had taken and how he answered her. And how you described it, whether you got the words from your mother or if it was talked about in your house, but would you talk about that meeting because you only did a paragraph on it?
Shabazz: I think it's important that when we understand what the biggest challenge is, that we forget about our differences and come together on the basis of addressing those challenges whether it's our educational system not being accurate, not being fair; whether it's housing economics whatever it is and I just think it is important that we identify what the challenge is and we set out to resolve that rather than focus on other things that really don't even matter
Press TV: First of all, let me thank you very much. It takes another show to walk through all that you have done and if there are people that want to go to your website could you mention your website - they may want to get this book, this captivating book.
Shabazz: Yes. It is.
Press TV: And the next show we do with you when you do the children's book on your father's life we have to talk about the origin of 'x'; what growing up 'x' is like and what it represents. Thank you very much for being the guest on Epilogue.