February 21, 2021

OR ELSE:

Malcolm X is still misunderstood - and misusedFifty-five years after his assassination at the Audubon Ballroom in New York, we still get much wrong about Malcolm X. (Omar Suleiman, 2/21/21, Al Jazeera)

Malcolm was never violent, not as a member of the Nation of Islam, nor as a Sunni Muslim. But Malcolm did find it hypocritical to demand that black people in the United States commit to non-violence when they were perpetually on the receiving end of state violence. He believed that black people in the US had a right to defend themselves, and charged that the US was inconsistent in referencing its founding fathers' defence of liberty for everyone but them.

Malcolm knew that his insistence on this principle would cause him to be demonised even further and ultimately benefit the movement of Dr King, which is exactly what he had intended. Just weeks before his assassination, he went to Selma to support Dr King and willingly embraced his role as the scary alternative. In every interview, in his meeting with Dr Coretta Scott King, and elsewhere, he vocalised that the US would do well to give the good reverend what he was asking for, or else.

But he never actually said what the "or else" was, placing a greater urgency on America to cede to King's demands. Malcolm had no problem playing the villain, so long as it led to his people no longer being treated like animals. And while King may have been steadfast in his commitment to non-violence, the thrust of Malcolm fully served its purpose.

As Colin Morris, the author of Unyoung, Uncolored, Unpoor wrote, "I am not denying passive resistance its due place in the freedom struggle, or belittling the contribution to it of men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Both have a secure place in history. I merely want to show that however much the disciples of passive resistance detest violence, they are politically impotent without it. American Negroes needed both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X ..."

But it was not just that Malcolm and Martin had complementary strategies to achieve black freedom, they also spoke to different realities. Malcolm spoke more to the Northern reality of black Americans who were only superficially integrated, whereas Martin spoke to the Southern reality where even that was not possible.

Malcolm also spoke to the internalised racism of black people that was essential to overcome for true liberation. As the late James Cone states, "King was a political revolutionary. Malcolm was a cultural revolutionary. Malcolm changed how black people thought about themselves. Before Malcolm came along, we were all Negroes. After Malcolm, he helped us become black."

In the long run, we might well have been better served by more violence, so we couldn't be so self-congratulatory about ceding basic rights. 

Posted by at February 21, 2021 12:00 AM

  

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