And why was it important that Blacks define their self-image? And who had been defining it before?
One of the things we learned from Malcolm and others that, ah, we had not been in control of defining ourselves. There's no such thing as self-determination. We were very much concerned about doing that for ourselves. Who are we? The whole question of identity came up. Are we Negroes with a capital N? Because America didn't capitalize Negro until the 19- late 1920s okay, in the newspapers and books. Are we Afro-American, and what that means also, are, are we Black? And so all of a sudden people came, saying, "Well I'm not Black, please," I mean you know. And, and we said, "No, no, we're not talking about color. We were talking about are we these Black people who populate the earth?" So, it became important that we define ourselves as Black men and Black women, walking on this planet Earth, doing what we need to do. It became important that we write our own books, eh, that we write our history books and our poetry books and we write in the language that we wanted to write, um. It became important that we educated out children, ah, that we start, that we began to talk about Black religion, you know, ah, Black Christian theology, ah, Black history, Black English, ah, ah, Black poetry, ah, Black sociology. People began to look at, ah, little Black girls and say, "Yeah, okay, maybe they do have some problems in these urban, ah, ah, cities, but there's a strength about them that is fascinating, whatever." And how, how, then, then do we change that? Ah, we began to teach Black literature. For the first time people, in our classroom in San Francisco, um, we had like people sitting on the floor to read, or write, to read a Du Bois, ah, to read a Garvey, ah, to read a Zora Neale Hurston, ah, to read all these people. And they cried. People literally cried in the classroom, saying, "How can I say that I was educated, ah, when I didn't know these people existed." People cried. And so when you gave a syllabus out with 13, 14 books, people would say, "Hey, I'll read it," because they wanted to read. Because they knew that they had been deprived of that information about themselves. That is the kind of joy. So, at sometime, so you began to have in the churches, ah, at the shrines of the Black Madonnas, Black Jesu Christus--Black Jesus Christ, you know, a Black Jesus Christ up there and people would say, "Sacrilege, sacrilege." And we say, "No, no, no, no. Think of the place. Think of the time and say it is not sacrilegious to say a Black Jesus Christ," you see. Ah, people began to put up Black Maries and, and Black, you know, all of these things. And people said, "Hold it, now that might no be the case." We say, "Think of Isis and you'll know something then. Think if you go into certain countries, if you go, you'll see that the people that they worship are these Black women." And so people said, "Hold it, if they worship Black women, how will we become to be people who are not, women who are not worshipped, and who are damned," you see. And so that whole movement began to come in terms of women beginning to look at themselves in a different fashion.
I began this poem after Malcolm was assassinated and I never finished it. I used to come to it, look at it, hold it, put it down. But the great joy of poetry is that it will wait for you. Novels don't wait for you. Characters change. But poetry will wait. I, I think it's the, it's the greatest art, because it will wait for you in a drawer, in a notebook. And when you open that notebook and say "I'm ready to finish it." The poem will say, "Welcome, come on, get to it, do it." And I did it: -Malcolm "do not speak to me of martyrdom/ of men who die to be remembered/ on some parish day./ i don't believe in dying/ though I too shall die/ And violets like castanets/ will echo me/ yet this man/ this dreamer,/ thick lipped with words/ will never speak again/ and in each winter/ when the cold air cracks/ with frost, I'll breathe/ his breath and mourn/ my gun-filled nights./ he was the sun that tagged/ the western sky and/ melted tiger-scholars/ while they searched for stripes./ he said, "fuck you, White/ man. we have been/ curled too long. nothing/ is sacred now. not your/ White face nor any/ land that separates/ until some voices/ squat with spasms."/ do not speak to me of living./ life is obscene with crowds/ of White on Black./ death is my pulse./ what might have been/ is not for him/ or me/ but what could have been/ floods the womb until I drown./" Ah, that poem for him was, um, was done almost, I finished it, ah, in one night in one sitting, ah, as I walked through it and thought about, um, how to at some point say to people, "Don't talk to me about martyrdom. I know it. I feel it. I taste it. I've lived through it. Um, I don't believe in dying but we're all gonna to do it," you know, ah, and then go to the man. Talk about this man, this dreamer, "this man thick lipped with words who will not speak again." But in a sense when he spoke we listened and we heard and knew and felt and lived and loved and, and we were.