When Nicki Minaj decided to use a photo of Malcolm X holding a rifle as the centerpiece of her artwork for the single, “Lookin’ A** N***az”, I was just as disturbed as the rest of the black community and history buffs who know the actual context of that infamous photo. However, it seems that Nicki Minaj doesn’t know why Malcolm X was cautiously peering out of that window.
The photo in question has been the subject of debate about which magazine published the photo first. Experts amicably agreed that the photo first appeared in the September 1964 issue of Ebony magazine. The article in which the photo was featured, “Mystery of Malcolm X”, was a rare, in-depth profile on who Malcolm was as a father and husband; one part of being a husband and father is being a protector. Malcolm took that important chunk of paternal being extremely seriously and demonstrated it for the photographer by looking outside of his home with an automatic carbine. The paternal instinct was only one half of the equation about why Malcolm kept a rifle in his home.
Around early 1964, Malcolm had heard distressing rumors about the extramarital affairs of Nation of Islam leader, Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm had heard about the rumors for years but chose to ignore them. Now, they were too strong and obvious to ignore since many of the young women had given birth to children fathered by Elijah Muhammad. Instead of sweeping these indiscretions under the rug and continuing to wear five-inch thick blinders, Malcolm spoke out against Elijah Muhammad for breaking one of the Nation of Islam’s moral codes. This caused a mighty uproar with Nation of Islam followers, many of them believed Malcolm to be a traitor who deserved to die. Just five months after that infamous photo was taken, Malcolm was decimated with bullets in front of his wife and daughters by two men who identified themselves with the letter “X” just like the man they once revered and now massacred.
In his interviews, Malcolm never admitted he was afraid of being killed. The photo showed he was willing to go to violent lengths to protect his wife and daughters. Also, I believe Malcolm was in fear; in fear of never seeing his beloved Betty again, in fear of not seeing his young daughters grow into strong women, and in fear of never spreading his message of black unity and Islam. These fears are clear in that photo. He wasn’t “standing up for what he believed in” as Nicki Minaj stated in her choleric, unapologetic apology. He was ultimately in a subconscious state of fear, just not of death. When put into perspective, Nicki Minaj was attempting to capitalize off his fear. It is shameful that she didn’t have people to tell her, “Hey, using that photo for this particular single isn’t a good idea.” It is shameful she didn’t know the controversy she would cause. Maybe, she did, but she just wanted to be talked about at any cost, which is the ultimate goal of many of today’s artists.