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Why Now is the Time to Celebrate Malcolm X

Why Now is the Time to Celebrate Malcolm X

– E.D. Mondaine; President, NAACP Portland / May, 19th 2018

It must have been a very sad and difficult day for those who insisted on believing the world was flat to discover that the world is indeed round. But round it is, and this radical paradigm shift reminds us that throughout history the illusions of human culture must at times give way to proper alignment with the demands of the real world.

The legacy of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) represents one such shift, and today his legacy is more relevant than ever. Because like the discovery of our spherical Earth, his life and his work represented a movement away from the tired and unjust distortions of human ideology and toward a restorative relationship with the truth that sets all people free. This can be summed up in the three critical components that Malcolm X believed would strengthen and fortify the African American community. They were:

  1. The need for Blacks to become educated,
  2. The rights of Blacks to defend themselves, and
  3. The urgent requirement of economic development in the Black community.

In his critically acclaimed autobiography, Malcolm X recites his own journey to these positions. He reflects on his life and the lives of his various personas (like “Detroit Red,” and “Hustler”) recounting how he dated White women, lied, cheated and became a drug-selling brawler, all to remove himself from the pains of poverty he had experienced as a child. Climbing from the pit of oppression, Malcolm X eventually converted to Islam while serving time in prison for burglary. Upon his release from prison in the 1950s he became a steadfast disciple of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and overtime he became a bitter taste in the mouth of White America, unleashing unabashed criticism of classism and White supremacy.

Naturally this gave momentum to a White backlash already moving against Martin Luther King’s gentler and less radical criticisms of American public life. Adding insult to injury, Malcolm X’s polished, pearlized echoes of The Honorable Elijah Mohamed’s “blue-eyed devil dog” (the Myth of Yacob’s portrayal of White people) and his frequent insistence that Black communities had to be protected “by any means necessary,” marked him as a threat to White society. Soon the name “Malcolm X” represented a rebel force that White nationalists feared as an imminent danger to the United States.

But Malcolm X’s thinking continued to evolve. In 1964, he began to question the Nation of Islam’s leader. Unearthing the truth of Muhammed’s improprieties, and pushing back against what he saw as a flawed ideology, eventually he parted ways with the Nation of Islam. This break led him to a pilgrimage in Mecca – a requirement of all Muslims who are physically able – after which Malcolm X rejected the racially divisive teachings of the Nation of Islam. In a letter written at the time, he said that seeing Muslims of “all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans,” helped him to see the Islamic faith as a way in which racial problems could be reconciled. But it also helped him distill the critical components listed above, and this refined focus, and his dedicated example, became his great gift to American history.

Reverend E.D. Mondainé
Reverend E.D. Mondainé

Malcolm X spent the rest of his life trying to build a new organization, all the while being harassed by serious and credible death-threats. Ultimately, on February 21st, 1965, at the beginning of an Organization of Afro-American Unity meeting in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom, Malcolm X was gunned down by assassins affiliated with the Nation of Islam. Later, in eulogizing Malcolm X, the great African American thespian Ossie Davis dubbed Malcolm X, “A prince … our own Black, shining prince, who didn’t hesitate to die because he loved us all.” But I am even more moved by Malcolm’s own words in the conclusion of his autobiography: “If I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America, then all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine.”

This is why we celebrate Malcolm X. He reframed the work of empowering marginalized communities not just as a dream, but as an immanent reality that must be lived into in the here and now. Today our survival depends on seeing the world in its three-dimensional, rounded, and fully realized existence – understanding that we are all of us the same distance from its luminous center. In the name of righteousness, now is the time we must walk the unbroken circle that binds us together. Joining our commitment as we join hands around this miraculous, shared, and collective globe.


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Metro Inequities in Contracting

Metro Inequities in Contracting

Oregon Governor Kate BrownCurrent and former employees at Business Oregon want governor Kate Brown to fix the agency’s “bro club” culture, says an April 2018 article published in Portland’s Willamette Week.

The NAACP and other civil rights groups have long concerned themselves with the disproportionately low number of state, local and metro government contracts awarded to businesses owned by minorities and women (MWESB). This contributes to the disparities between the economic well-being of whites and minorities in Oregon, as documented in a recent study by researchers at Portland State University. In reviewing government contracts awarded 2009-2013, years of economic recovery, the study found that 2.1 percent went to firms owned by African Americans, versus 83.5 percent to white-owned firms. Latino-owned firms won 6.7 percent of the contracts, Native Americans 3.4 percent, and Asians 4.4 percent.” Pie Chart of Awards to MWESB firms by Race

These numbers are concerning. This unsettling profile report documented pervasive problems with minority contracting practices improving access to contracts by businesses of color because the vast majority of awards go to emerging small businesses and women-owned businesses. This pattern clearly extends to the State of Oregon and needs immediate attention.”


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Addressing the Wealth Gap

Addressing the Wealth Gap

Closing the racial wealth gap is very important for racial equality; the less money you have, the less respect you get. The racial wealth gap is part of our centuries-long inequitable economic system that must be changed at all levels of government. At the local or state level, one part of the system that we should seriously considering changing is the high unearned profits allowed to predominantly white land owners.

Over the past 150+ years, European Americans have dominated Oregon and the U.S., decimating the Native American population and dispossessing them from their land. European Americans have also excluded Chinese Americans and African Americans from Oregon, dispossessed Japanese Americans from their property, and economically disadvantaged African Americans. Our current economic system continues to inequitably reward those with capital or access to it, mainly European Americans.

Land and other natural resources in a state should be treated as a commonwealth, the benefits shared equitably by all its residents. Instead, we have a system that rewards private land owners. In Multnomah County, for example, privately owned land value has increased from $28.8B to $50.7B over the past 10 years.

Growth in land values is mainly a function of community efforts – government investment in infrastructure and services, neighboring development, the desirability of the natural and economic environment. Rather than only enriching those able to own land, land value should be captured by government to benefit all residents, either through more equitable government services, or simply divided among residents so renters can keep up with inflation and the poor have more resources for their children so they can climb out of generational poverty.

As an example an 80% land-value inflation tax (at property transfer or after 20 years, whichever is less) for the past 10 years in either Multnomah County or the City of Portland would have raised enough money to give every resident of 3 years or more (including children) $200/month, helping renters afford market-rate rents by letting them share in community-generated land-value inflation. A significant tax on land value inflation puts a damper on it, making land for housing and businesses more affordable to people who want to live and work here, providing “security of tenancy”, and discouraging speculators looking for a good profit.