Attallah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X, engaged the Princeton community yesterday in an active discussion on racial, cultural and national identity.
Shabazz discussed Malcolm X's role as a public leader and father, but her talk focused mostly on personal identity and its relationship to race and culture.
"In this country you need to be everything you are without risk," she said.
During her almost two hour talk Shabazz was animated and engaging, sometimes almost dancing behind the podium. She demanded interaction and listened carefully as students and members of the community asked questions and related personal experiences.
At one point in the discussion, Shabazz asked the audience if they thought they knew who Malcolm X was. Members of the audience responded, expressing admiration or even fear of the man. One member of the audience described Malcolm X as "kind of scary, but impressive."
Shabazz emphasized what she described as "the value of representation." While many people consider Malcolm X to be fearless and intimidating, Shabazz described him as "fragile" and "vulnerable."
"My father was one with whom you could share any secret," Shabazz said. She described her mother as her first love. "I still have a crush on her," she said. She described her father as her first friend. "My sense of my best self as a woman came from my father," she said.
Shabazz tenderly described scenes in which, as a young girl, she would watch her father effusively complement her blushing mother. He would come home late at night, and rest his head on her mother's lap while they watched television, Shabazz said.
Shabazz called her father a "faith-filled man" who "knew that truth was going to render him silent."
Truth played a large role in Shabazz's talk.
"There's truths existing that you've never even inquired about," she said. "I do not, myself, have the right to read the headline" and make moral judgments.
Shabazz recounted a conversation she had after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 in which her friend said that America should kill all Muslims. Shabazz, a Muslim herself, asked her friend if that included her.
"I was more concerned with the vigilante" than the "shoe-bomber," she said.
"We cannot be here in this country and do any unanimous elimination of a people," she said.
Shabazz, who is a mixture of races and ethnicities, stressed the importance of pride and self-respect. She urged members of the audience "to find ways to be fine as we are."
Before ending the discussion, Shabazz declared that everyone present was "family."