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Posted: May 25th, 2018 | No Comments »

Tomorrow (May 19) is the birthday of both #MalcolmX and #YuriKochiyama. One you’ve heard of, the other you probably haven’t. I commissioned the amazing @ericuhlir to make their friendship come to life for me. I’m calling it “American Gothic X,” because it tells this story: The scene was where Yuri lived: the Manhattanville Projects in Harlem. The time was June 1964. A Japanese delegation of Hibakusha (the atomic bomb survivors) just arrived in NYC on a peace mission. Yuri, who knew Malcolm but not well, invited him to come speak. She did not expect him to show up. Malcolm, who three months earlier left the Nation of Islam, was on his own journey. We remember him going everywhere flanked by NOI members. But that day, Malcolm knocked on Yuri’s door alone. When he walked in, he sucked the air out of the room. He held court and connected identities and experiences. He said: “You have been scarred by the atom bomb. You just saw that we have also been scarred. The bomb that hit us was racism.” He came out against the yet-to-be escalated Vietnam War: “The struggle of Vietnam is the struggle of the whole Third World: the struggle against colonialism, neocolonialism, and imperialism.” After that, Yuri and Malcolm became closer, and they challenged each other: on integration vs. Black separatism, on religion, on internationalism. He supported the Hibakusha, she was the first non-black member of the Republic of New Afrika, Malcolm’s vision for the South. When Malcolm traveled the world later that year, she was one of two people he wrote to. When Malcolm was killed a year later, she was there. As Malcolm laid dying, it was Yuri who held him. Decades later, after Yuri successfully led the campaign for reparations for Japanese incarceration survivors, reporters asked her what she thought was next. She didn’t miss a beat: reparations for Black America, of course. I tell this story because America likes to tell its stories in black and white. Folks who are neither are often written out. Yuri was left out of Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” (Angela Bassett, who plays Malcolm’s wife, holds him in the movie)… [To continue reading, go to the link in bio]

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learned about this via aminatou sow’s instagram story. embarrassed to say i’d never heard of yuri kochiyama and though i read the autobiography of malcolm x, it’s all pretty foggy (but what isn’t these days).

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