Malcolm X: A Lesson for White People
As a beneficiary of white privilege, I have no standing (or street cred, if you prefer) to write an article about Malcolm X from any other perspective than that of an enlightened admirer of the man. I do, however, feel justified in writing an article about him for the purpose of encouraging people of my race to reconsider their prejudices and preconceived notions about him.
Many white people today consider Black History Month as racially charged and unnecessary. That is unfortunate because history as we learned it in school was from the white man’s perspective. I have been guilty myself of minimizing in the past things like slavery, segregation, and black militancy. I like to think of myself as somewhat enlightened on these topics today, and hope that others who have not sought the light themselves will consider doing so. Many white people claim our race is discriminated against these days. If they relate what many of them claim to feel on a societal level, and magnify it a thousand times, it still wouldn't equal the mistreatment people of color have endured throughout this country's history.
If, instead of imagining Hispanic people attempting to control society, and Muslim people terrorizing anyone who thinks differently than them, there actually were a race of people who controlled people of our race such that we had no advantage or hope, and terrorized us if we thought differently than them, we might take action or, at the very least, speak up about it.
That was the reality for black people from the inception of this country until quite recently. The Presidential election of 1964 was the first time black people in every state had the right to vote. Lynching black people became a federal crime in the 1960s. Laws to make it a federal crime had been introduced multiple times before that, but did not pass through the legislature due to procedural blocks and filibusters by those who considered lynching black people to be a states’ right issue. It is now recognized as a violation of civil rights.
That was the America that a man named Malcolm Little was born into in 1925. If societal discrimination and fear of capital retribution were all he faced, we might give him a bit of a break for what he said and did in the 1950s and 1960s. If we were to compound that with his father being found dead two years after his family’s home being burned to the ground, with both incidences declared "accidents," we might even go so far as to think we, too, might try to change things on a societal level, or even try to seek revenge on the people we believed did those things.
Malcolm Little went to Boston in 1946, where he was convicted of burglary and sentenced to ten years in prison. He would serve only seven of those years, and used that time to read. He met a man named John Bembry there, who also was self educated, and about whom he would say was "the first man I had ever seen command total respect with words." It was also in prison that Malcolm was introduced to the Nation of Islam by his brother Reginald.
His belief in the religion was lukewarm at first, but steadily grew from the encouragement of his brother, correspondence with the religion’s leader, Elijah Muhammed, and his voracious love for reading. He would describe his time in prison, and the time it gave him to read and learn, as a time he "had never been so truly free" in all his life.
It was also while in prison that he began using the last name "X," rejecting the surname "which some blue eyed devil named Little had imposed upon [his] parternal forebears."
After his parole, he became a minister for Nation of Islam. He was highly successful, and the church grew from several hundred members to many thousands of members in large part because of his charisma and eloquence.
His national prominence grew from an incident in 1957 in which two Islamic men were beaten trying to stop the police from brutalizing a black man. Malcolm X went to the police station demanding to talk to the men. He was initially denied access to them, but the police relented when the group accompanying him grew from a few dozen to several hundred. His leadership among the membership of the church was recognized, and white society took notice of him.
His influence grew larger and larger. He was featured in a 1959 television broadcast about the Nation of Islam entitled The Hate that Hate Produced.
Like his fellow civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X preached from the pulpit about the social inequality people of his race experienced. Unlike Dr. King, his message was of black people uniting to create their own marketplaces, boycotting white businesses, and defending themselves against any attempt to keep them subordinated "by any means necessary." While Dr. King was welcoming white people to march with him as brothers and sisters of the human race, Malcolm X had little use for white people pandering to him for he saw it more as a racial war than merely a struggle for civil rights.
He would face a serious personal trial in 1963. It surfaced that Elijah Muhammed had used his position as leader of Nation of Islam for lustful ends, allegedly having relationships with many women and siring some illegitimate children as a result. This bothered him terrifically, for, whatever people felt about him as a civil rights leader, he was a man with devout beliefs and high integrity. He had, himself, followed church doctrine about celibacy and courtship in group activities in his relationship with his wife, Betty.
He could not forgive Muhammed for his sins believing that people of power within the church must exemplify the virtues of the doctrine. He renounced his position in the Nation of Islam in 1964, founded the Muslim Mosque, and set out on a pilgrimage to Mecca. It was on that pilgrimage that he became more enlightened about the Muslim religion as one including all people "from blue eyed blonds to black skinned Africans" interacting as equals.
1964 was also the year that those who threatened him grew from angry white people who could not accept black people as equal citizens, to include members of his former church who declared him a hypocrite for not accepting Muhammed’s indiscretions as fulfillment of prophecy. There would be threats against him and his family, calls from leadership in the Nation of Islam for his beheading, and an attempt to bomb his car. Throughout all that, he would remain steadfast in his cause and his integrity.
It all came to an end on February 21, 1965. While preparing for a speech in Manhattan, the attention of his bodyguards was drawn to a staged scuffle in the audience leaving him vulnerable to an attack by three armed assassins, likely making good on the threats he received from his former religion.
Though people of all races may learn something about this great man in this article, it is sincerely written as a lesson for white people to better understand him as a man of high integrity who rose to prominence fighting the establishment that degraded him, his family, and people of his race to second class citizenship. This was not something he perceived. It was something he experienced.
Today people of my race will contend that our nation must be preserved against any influence from people they perceive as from inferior races or cultures, without any personal experiences of degradation. Heck, it is even without much knowledge on economics, research on the other races and cultures, and empathy for the plight of people trying to escape certain death for merely a hope for some semblance of life.
Mexicans and Muslims are not trying to dominate society. If you believe they are, then you are mistaking your attempt to continue dominating society as white and/or Christian with allowing people from other races and religions to be treated equally to us. Constitutionally, all people are to be treated equally under the law. We are not there. We have never been there.
We watch something on YouTube that happened half a world away, and claim that it represents all people of that color and religion, while at the same time defending the white race and Christian religions against people who actually do things in our own back yards as not representative of the race or religion.
I recognize the likely futility in my message getting through to those who might benefit the most from considering it. It is difficult to let go of our prejudices, especially when doing so means admitting that we are more enlightened than we once were.
It would take extremely high principles, like those exemplified by Malcolm X.
Some quotes from Malcolm X:
"Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today."
"A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything."
"You can’t legislate goodwill; that comes through education."
"To have once been a criminal is no disgrace. To remain a criminal is the disgrace."
"In all our deeds, the proper value and respect for time determines success or failure."
Some other things I've written about: