The military junta that ruled Greece beginning in 1967 banned the Beatles, miniskirts, and the letter Z. (At least according to this movie.) Z was shorthand for the word zei—“he lives”— a pithy slogan of resistance that recalled the memory of assassinated leftist politician Grigoris Lambrakis. Historically speaking, though, the letter X tends to stoke more controversy. Malcolm Little became Malcolm X to protest the slave origins of his surname. (Incidentally, the letter X made Spike Lee more money than the film “X” did.) In 2007, the conservative blogosphere erupted at the (very dated) news that Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice—the fatwa-issuing body that once declared the Earth flat—had rejected the name of a new company because the name included the letter X. X was reportedly deemed too evocative of the Christian cross.
The letter X also played a small role in the Mozambican revolution. More than a dozen languages are spoken in Mozambique, but in the early 1970s maybe only seven percent of the population read and spoke Portuguese. Teaching Mozambicans the European language was to be the liberation movement’s chief means of overcoming regional divisions and forging a shared sense of nationhood. Without a massive literacy push, an independent Mozambique wouldn’t stand a chance. Guerrilla leaders nonetheless felt the tug of resentment. Portuguese was the language of the oppressor. A FRELIMO teaching manual used in liberated zones compared the tricky pronunciation of the Portuguese “X” with the workings of capitalist exploitation.
X is like imperialism. Imperialism always hides from the eyes of the people and appears in many different forms. Sometimes it is colonialism, then it changes forms and appears as neocolonialism. Neocolonialism is a sly way of tricking the people of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. X also changes many times. It is like a chameleon; sometimes it is read “sh,” sometimes “ks,” sometimes “ss,” and finally “eis.” But the people always manage to discover and conquer imperialism, by struggling a lot. We too will be careful. We will study and we will discover the values of X.
More literacy posters from after independence: