Does Malcolm X deserve the honor of an American Stamp?
Introduction – Before the electronic means of communication reached the hands of everyone equipped enough to access and use such technology for correspondence and even until now that electronic mail or email is as common as the early morning coffee for everyone, the US postal office holds a significant role as an institution in the American way of life. Among the most important aspects of the postal service is the existence of postal stamp and how it has become more than an ornament in the envelope of domestic and international mails that Americans send to friends, relatives and business contacts.
It has managed to find a niche outside its utilitarian purposes as it metamorphosed into a collectible item as well as an instrument that helped illustrate the shifting social policies in place inside the United States as time went by, particularly with its role in helping make the country a place wherein equal social rights is in place and improving and that institutions that recognize notable icons and personalities does not consider ethnicity and racial background.
Whites, as well as African Americans, are all featured in the different issues of US postal stamps. But is everyone who have earned a status as a social personality have a sufficient enough reason to claim a seat in the list of other icons who are featured in the US stamps or is there a defining line that separates America’s exercise of a system free from racial discrimination from the nomination of every individual who might be a personal favorite but not entirely iconic in the progress of the American way of life as it is today?
There are those who will agree that a person such as Malcolm X – born Malcolm Little – achieved a sufficient degree of social importance that earned him the right to have his name and face featured in the US postal stamps, while there are those who may think otherwise. To ascertain the validity of the claims that would stem from those who supports this proposition as well as from those who disagrees with the idea of creating Malcolm X stamps, it is important to put forward first who Malcolm X is and what characteristics and accomplishments he has that made him qualified to be included in the list of African Americans who graced the different issues of the US postal stamp.
Who is Malcolm X? – Malcolm X was an Omaha-Nebraska native. Malcolm was the son of Earl and Louise and their fourth child as a couple (since Malcolm X’s father also had children prior to his marriage with Louise). Malcolm X’s young life was characterized by violence, seeing their house burned by white men and seeing his father physically assault her mother, while her mother was just as abusive towards him physically, which he thought was because of his color (Harvey, p3).
Historians claim that the turning point of Malcolm X’s life that led him towards his newfound responsibility towards social and civil rights is during his important transition from being a non-believer to becoming a faithful. He was hardly a religious man during his earlier life, and that is putting it nicely since Malcolm X actually confessed to having ‘very little respect for most people who represented religion’ (Harvey, p5).
But when Malcolm X converted to Islam, he adopted the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and he became more active in not just religious preaching but as well as political sermons that advocated human and equal rights and consistently encouraged fellow African Americans to not be intimidated by actions of hate from white people. Sadly, religion, the institution that empowered him, is also rumored to be the one responsible for his death also, mainly because of Malcolm X’s leaning too much towards radicalism and his actions and words that nurture the atmosphere of civil disobedience and activism.
Malcolm X in the American Stamp: Does he deserve the ‘Post’? – A United States Postal Service article stressed about its strong commitment in the effort to honor African Americans who made positive and significant contributions to the way of life in the country, even commenting about how the series featuring African American icons are amongst the popular US stamps in circulation.
One of the areas wherein civil rights, equality and the absence of racism manages to display its self is in the selection of the icons and personalities that have adorned and will be featured in the postal stamps used in the United States for US mail.
Civil and equal rights proponents will be glad to know that the US stamps accommodate notable African American icons – as a matter of fact, there are already some popular and iconic African American personalities that have made their way towards immortality via their presence in US stamps, and these personalities include Malcolm X as well as contemporary and fellow civil rights advocate Martin Luther King Jr., Booker T. Washington ( who is the first African American that was featured in a US postal stamp), Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman (the first African American woman who appeared in the U.S. postal stamp), Jackie Robinson, Scott Joplin and most recently, Thurgood Marshall.
One of the noticeable characteristics among the African Americans who were selected to be featured in the postal stamps aside from Malcolm X is that they are not inclined to senseless and overt acts of violence and the outright disregard for laws and rules. King was contrasted with Malcolm X during their time because he was generally a pacifist, and Washington was known for using education as his main thrust to empower his fellow African American.
As for Marshall, he was a civil rights advocate like Malcolm X during his time, but Marshall did not break or went around the law to have his way – he affected social change through the dispensing of morally correct and unbiased justice through the halls of the Supreme Court Justice. He assimilated himself with the system and made positive contribution towards his advocacy not by the distortion of the system but by helping create a just society bereft of crime. Thurgood was an icon because he believed that ultimately, the never ending social struggle is free from the color of one’s skin and ethnicity, like the pursuit of fair and consistent justice by all.
This particular characteristic – the ability to win an advocacy without the use of violation and without sowing more seeds of hatred among people of different races, the removal of violence as a means to achieve the victory of an advocacy, to effect social change in a positive manner – is an important characteristic and a significant consideration that the US post office makes every time they select a new icon from the civil rights movement group the act of immortalizing a person via a postal stamp design is a way of supporting everything that the person stands for and represent, and no modern day social institution will deify a person who is synonymous to violence, social disorder and criminal acts.
Yes, it is true that not everyone can be saints, but if persons like Mother Theresa and Mahatma Gandhi can live a life without the use of violence, then why should the US postal service consider the criteria of moral soundness be overly high in their selection of the next new face in the US postal stamp? Yes, there are those who achieved their goals by the use of violence and force, like generals who won important wars and ruthless rulers who helped civilized nations and societies – but for those that can be achieved without violence, why would the best man (or woman) in that category be that which utilized violence and showed disregard and disrespect for the law?
What message would it send to the public – whose taxes are making sure that federal offices like the US Postal Services operate so that they serve the best interest of the majority, and not the petty qualms of the few whose idolatry towards Malcolm X failed to comprehend the fact that Malcolm X and his acts of violence made him no better than the person and the institution he fought during his lifetime and aimed at changing.
Conclusion – Malcolm X was an inspiration to many, mainly because he represents the rebel that every one wanted to become even just for once in their lives, against one act or experience that created the feeling of indignation.
And while there are those who staunchly believes that he was instrumental in how the civil rights movement shaped in America during the late 1950’s and before he died halfway the following decade, the position of this paper in this particular issue is that Malcolm X’s violent and law-breaking past have placed him many points below in ranking along with other civil rights advocates – living or dead – in the US history who deserves to be honored with his/her own version of the US postal stamp.
Haley, A. (1995). Autobiography of Malcolm X. Ballantine Books, N.Y.