Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Malcolm X Speaks; Selected Speeches and Statements, edited by George Breitman

This book was first published in 1965. Malcolm X was assassinated Feb 21, 1965. The speeches were transcribed from audio tapes, radio shows, and interviews during the last year of his life with the purpose of showing his major focus in the struggle for equality for black people in the United States at that time. As a child of the seventies, I did hear the name of Malcolm X on television when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was mentioned, and he was only briefly mentioned in my high school history books along with Martin Luther King, but I never heard much else about him. When I saw this book at the library, I thought this would be a good opportunity to find out what he was about from his own words.

I'm still wrestling with my feelings about him. On the one hand, I cringe at the knowledge that he repeatedly said that black people, at that tumultuous time, should get their freedom "by any means necessary". He did not exclude the possibility of a violent revolution overthrowing "the system" in order to reach the goal of complete economic, physical, political, and social equality for blacks. He was a Muslim and he didn't believe in "turning the other cheek" like Christ taught. I don't like the idea of settling every problem with violence. However, I have to ask myself: did I disapprove of Malcolm's statements because I am a Christian, or do I disapprove because I am white?

Malcolm had some very persuasive arguments. If a mob of Ku Klux Klansmen are lynching a black person, and the law enforcement officers do nothing to stop the violence, then a black person or persons have the right to defend themselves. He thought a black man couldn't really call himself a man if he allowed his wife and children to be vicitimized without resistance, without fighting back. I'm sure my Dad would do anything to protect my Mom if the police were unreliable, or unsympathetic to him personally.

Malcolm felt the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 didn't go far enough, that it was just a token show of "progress" to get the black people of America to go back to accepting prejudice and bigotry because they just couldn't get more out of the white government at that time. Malcolm claimed that a corrupt system couldn't be bargained with, that it would use the press to cast black people in an unfavorable light, that equality couldn't be begged from a prejudiced government. He claimed that from childhood, he had been taught in school to look up to George Washington, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, all in effect, revolutionaries that threw off an unjust system of government to create their own. Malcolm X stated that the black man had every right to use revolution if the system they revolted against was not able to give them the human freedoms that they claimed were for everyone. I feel like he had a point there.

If Martin Luther King was the nonviolent advocate for black equality, Malcolm X was the militant one. Could progress for black equality have been achieved with just Martin Luther King's approach? Perhaps not. King did his best to take the moral/Christian high ground. A white person with a conscience could have been persuaded to act in a way that helped bring about change. For those white people who were deeply prejudiced, perhaps only the possibility of violent revolution would have made them consider changes for their own self-preservation.

No matter the approach each man took to achieve complete freedom for African Americans, their lives ended the same way; assassination. There are still problems in our country with discrimination and not just over skin color. I feel I'm not alone in saying that I would prefer progress without violence. It doesn't say much for our society if someone has to die before people change their ways.

If you wish to discuss discrimination with your children, I would suggest presenting them with a broad range of materials from many different civil rights groups from that era. I don't think it would be healthy to only present the views of Malcolm X exclusively. Our youth are steeped in violence through television, video games, and music to an unacceptable level already, and they should be shown nonviolent alternatives if they wish to make a difference.

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