Malcom X on the Origin of 'hippie'
29 Aug 1992 14:54:44

I'm finally reading _The Autobiography of Malcom X_, in anticipation of
Spike Lee's movie about him coming out in November. I found this
interesting account of the origin of the word 'hippie', along with an
uncomplimentary example of some racist behavior on the part of one.

Malcom relates this story on p. 94 of the first paperback edition, about
11 pages into the chaper titled "Detroit Red". He's talking about his
reefer-dealing and hustling days in Harlem, and specifically about white
women pairing up with black men, and the effect that these situations
had on the egos of supposedly-hip-and-liberal white men. The account
mentions "Sophia", who was white and a lover of Malcom's at the time.

Historical note: this account takes place in the early 1940's, and
indicates use of the word 'hippie' as being common among Harlem
musicians at the time. This was told by Malcom to Alex Haley between '63
and '65, before 'hippie' came into common use; since the hippie
"movement" was virtually unknown at the time, I don't think Malcom
intended the story as a commentary on the hippie movement.


"Now, I'll tell you another peculiar case that worked out
differently, and which taught me something I have since learned in a
thousand other ways. This was my best early lesson in how white men's
hearts and guts will turn over inside of them, whatever they may have
you otherwise believe, whenever they see a Negro man on close terms with
a white woman.
"A few of the white men around Harlem, younger ones whom we
called "hippies", acted more Negro than Negroes. This particular one
talked more "hip" talk than we did. He would have fought anyone who
suggested he felt any race difference. Musicians around the Braddock
could hardly move without falling over him. Every time I saw him, it was
"Daddy! Come on, let's get our heads tight!" Sammy couldn't stand him;
he was underfoot wherever you went. He even wore a wild zoot suit, used
a heavy grease in his hair to make it look like a conk [a hip
african-american hair style at the time], and he wore the knob-toed
shoes, the long, swinging chain - everything. And he not only wouldn't
be seen with any woman but a black one, but in fact he lived with TWO of
them in the same little apartment. I never was sure how they worked that
one out, but I had my idea.
"About three or four o'clock one morning, we ran into this white
boy, in Creole Bill's speakeasy. He was high - in that marijuana glow
where the world relaxes. I introduced Sophia; I went away to say hello
to someone else. When I returned, Sophia looked peculiar - but she
wouldn't tell me until we left. He had asked her, "Why is a white girl
like you throwing yourself away with a spade?"


I can't help thinking of all my white sisters and brothers with
dreadlocks, or of how, against my own will, I started speaking like a
Rasta while hanging out with Rastas in Belize. George Carlin once did a
very funny piece about this; he said, "Take 9 white guys and 1 black
guy, and let 'em play basketball together for a week; the black guy will
still sound the same, but all the white guys will be talking like
they're black." It's almost as if I have some deep sense of cultural
deprivation, and I can't help but adorn myself with the stronger
cultures of other peoples - yet, I still act like a WASP, at least
occasionally. I've heard this described as being a "culture vulture".

I don't mean to say it's a bad thing to take on another's culture;
indeed, that's one way new culture is born, by mixing two existing ones.
I just keep wondering what *my* culture is.....computers? TV? corporate
greed? anarchism? rugged individualism? earth-centered spirituality? a
nation of immigrants?

Why doesn't my ethnic lineage fill my cultural needs? I am a walking
melting pot. On my mother's side I am an unknown Dane mixed with a
Canadian lumberjack, descended the from French prison inmates that
originally settled Quebec. On my father's side I am a potato-famine-era
Irish highlander mixed with an English aristocrat. Both sides scurried
from their roots in pursuit of the American dream (now fast-becoming a
nightmare), in at least one case deliberately changing their names to
sound more "American". So my generation's melting pot now contains a
bland, artifically-preserved stew, cooked in the microwave built by a
major arms manufacturer, powered by nukes built by a major arms
maufacturer, bought with blood money from the frozen foods section of
the mega-grocery store down the street....

I'd like to say I never met a hippie like the guy Malcom describes, but
I've known a few; although I've been attracted to women of all colors, I
sometimes feel disoriented when in close contact with cross-racial
couples, unless I know them well. Having a subculture and a set of
ideals that abohr this kind of thing doesn't make my shortcomings go
away; it only presents me with a daily opportunity to outgrow them
a little more. Whether I actually become a finer person or not remains
up to me, as an individual, regardless of my cultural affiliation....

This Saturday afternoon cyberspace rambling brought to you by....

-- -- | A population of sheep will eventually beget a
Please clean up. Thanks! | government of wolves. -- William Sloan Coffin

I am no longer a contact for legaliaison, mid-atlantic, or anything else.
Try Thomas from Peace Park @ (202)462-0757; or POB 5604, Takoma Park, MD,
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