This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Malcolm X
"I don't favor violence. If we could bring about recognition and respect of our people by peaceful means, well and good. Everybody would like to reach his objectives peacefully. But I'm also a realist. The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent are black people."
– Malcolm X
Malcolm X is a critically underappreciated and tragically
misunderstood figure in American history. Often, he’s still tarred with the
kind of labels J. Edgar Hoover used to describe him. What many people fail to
recognize is that Malcolm X worked relentlessly to improve life for Black
people in America. That was his focus.
Malcolm used his role as a minister in the Nation of Islam
to preach a message of Black love and self-reliance that was truly radical in
the early 1960s. While many Blacks viewed their relationships to Whites as being
permanently imbalanced, Malcolm began convincing us that no one else held the
key to our destiny as a people. Publicly decrying America as inherently,
institutionally racist was a revolutionary step. The Black Power movement,
Black Liberation Theology and Afrocentric theory owe Malcolm the deepest of
Many are now convinced that Malcolm X was an advocate of
violence because of the dichotomous relationship presumed between he and Martin
Luther King Jr. The two men had many important differences but their
similarities were much deeper and more profound.* While he rejected King’s
stance on passive resistance, Malcolm never suggested that violence was a
solution to turmoil, only that every person has the right to self-defense. The
image of a Black man encouraging his followers to stand against violence was
terrifying to a population accustomed to seeing Blacks as willing victims of
Sadly, none of us were able to see the ultimate evolution of
Malcolm X. He was assassinated soon after his hajj to Mecca during which he
discovered that Whites of good will existed in large numbers and could be
important allies in his fight against American racism. The shift from Malcolm X
to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was on the verge of changing the world once again.
Malcolm rejected much of the delusional race theory of the
Nation of Islam and preached about the possibilities of Black people. He
refused to focus on being a victim and demanded his adherents decide to live
their lives fully and well.
Today, on the anniversary of his assassination, I am particularly grateful for Malcolm X. You should be too.
*- Hopefully I’ll be encouraged to write more on the