Legal & Literary Society

“I’m For Truth, No Matter Who Tells It. I’m For Justice, No Matter Who It’s For Or Against.” – Malcolm X

COMRADE SHELLZ (aka Dave Shellnutt)
Legal & Lit President

One of the things most inspiring to me about Malcolm X, or as he preferred to be called towards the end of his life El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, was his ability to change and alter his viewpoints in a progressive way. Malcolm started out his life wanting to be a lawyer at a young age. Thwarted by circumstances, life, and the racist notion that he could never be a lawyer, Malcolm reached his 25th birthday and was immersed in a life of crime. After a spiritual awakening behind bars (not a reason to support Bill C-10), he became radical in his black nationalism; I’d say rightfully so.

However, just before he died, and I reckon the reason “they” killed him, he realized that to overcome inequality in America, we all had to work together. He was tolerable in the eyes of authorities when he called Dr. King all sorts of names. Yet, the moment they shook hands and Malcolm expanded his ideology to one more inclusive of a majority of Americans, a stance with real power for change, he was dead.

The idea of learning and changing ones views is an incredibly difficult and liberating journey. Personally, where I am at today is a product of learning from others and throwing off the shackles of ignorance and prejudice that are so easily ingrained in us all. I see diversity, equality and social justice as paramount to our human development and societal progress. Often we are faced with uncomfortable situations, the righteous anger of those oppressed and views that challenge the fabric of our so-called being.

Personally, I came face to face with one of those uncomfortable situations at a tender age. There are memories from our childhood that stand out but we can’t place them in time. Maybe they are the beginnings of our cognitive abilities that stick in our mind. I recall grade three and four very well, but before that, not much. (And no I haven’t obliterated memories with Patron that you can get for $6 in the JCR). One such experience haunts me to this day. I was in the car with my parents and a cousin or two. I remember this watershed moment clearly. I made a racist “joke” and everyone went silent. I paused and repeated it, not understanding why my primary school comedic genius had fallen on deaf ears. This time, I was met with such outrage from my mother and father that I learnt my first lesson in respect for people that appeared different than myself.

Was I saved at that moment? No, but it was that early lesson in knowing what I said was wrong that gave me a framework to grow within. I recall many occasions where my mom would always say, “stop being a chauvinist”. I remember reading about the oppression of First Nations people as early as grade 7 and having to reconcile that with my devout Canadian nationalism. During my secondary and post-secondary education, I was forced to challenge the romantic vision of my British heritage. I never felt that I had to recoil from embracing my own cultural backdrop, but I did force myself to recognize its imperfections as manifested in the depths of oppression reached by the colonial enterprise.

Truly, I am thankful for my first exposure to the horrors of the Holocaust by the book “Daniel” in middle school and for the outrage that leapt off the pages at such a young age. It made it easy for me to comprehend the impacts of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the 20th century reverberations of that (see FBI COINTERPOL policy of preventing the rise of a “Black Messiah”).

While I am grateful and fortunate to have had a background and education that has allowed me to recognize various of forms of oppression and the reality of non-pearly white history, it has not always been a fanciful classroom awakening. Many times, like in that car ride with my parents, I was berated. I will admit that Women’s Caucus and I butted heads last year, and this year surely I have belligerently gone about my way not listening to others. I have been uncomfortably forced to give up beliefs I mistakenly clung to and that can be embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to be wrong. But you know what, never admitting that, never even considering the perspectives of others is far more detrimental. A diversity of views means that you and others have different ideas. It affords you the opportunity to take your deepest held beliefs, or those you tacitly hold onto for political or other purposes and lock them in a box never to be challenged or agitated.

Had Malcolm done that he would have never inspired a movement. If you do, what are you missing out on? From my perspective, and I suppose not listening to that may be quite apt, we should always accept challenges to our ideas. When we feel uncomfortable or angry that others are saying we are wrong, we should embrace the criticism because they may be onto something we have yet to contemplate. There are a diversity of views out there and a diversity of people. I’ll agree to accept that if you will.

Happy Black History Month.