Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Malcolm X wasn’t the antithesis of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rarely do the people I run into at work, church, or social settings express admiration for Malcolm X or even acknowledge his existence. The few times he’s mentioned are usually as a “rival” to Martin Luther King, Jr., with the understanding that MLK represents all that is good, and Malcolm X represents a violent, hating, extremist (sometimes people even wrongly call him a racist).

The truth is that Malcolm X wasn’t for violence. He just believed in self-defense, the same way George W. Bush believes in fighting Afghanistan and Iraq in “self-defense” (re: the 9/11 attacks) and the same way most Americans believe the colonial “Founding Fathers” were right in violently fighting the British during the Revolutionary War (instead of marching on London and singing “We Shall Overcome”). This is what Malcolm X had to say about non-violence: Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks. He didn’t say, “I’m going to take a gun right now and start shooting people who don’t agree with me.”

Is it admirable to resist non-violently? Sure. I admire Gandhi. I admire MLK. If someone can resist non-violently, then that takes a certain strength that goes beyond the natural human instinct to retaliate and defend. But that doesn’t mean people who defend themselves espouse violence; it means they are human, and the ones who can resist non-violently are super-human.

Furthermore, Malcolm X and MLK didn’t always agree with one another, but they are not the enemies mainstream media portrays them to be. They both understood the same problems to exist, and they both admired one another (even while criticizing each other and debating one another). This is a letter Martin Luther King, Jr. sent to Malcolm X’s wife Betty Shabazz after Malcolm’s death:

I was certainly saddened by the shocking and tragic assassination of your husband. While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had the great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem. He was an eloquent spokesman for his point of view and no one can honestly doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems that we face as a race. While I know that this is a difficult hour for you, I am sure that God will give you the strength to endure. I will certainly be remembering you in my prayers and please know that you have my deepest sympathy. Always consider me a friend and if I can do anything to ease the heavy load that you are forced to carry at this time, please feel free to call on me.

You don’t have to agree 100% with Malcolm X’s viewpoints to admire him; and you should, if you have studied his life and speeches, recognize that he is often misrepresented and continually done an injustice to by bourgeios conversation, American history textbooks, and mainstream media. Malcolm X was one of the most honest and well-meaning human beings who ever lived. He was able to admit when he was wrong, and he ultimately desired and saw the possibility of true kinship of human beings of all races.

Here’s to you, Malcolm!