Politics

Malcolm X: Why do people misunderstand him?

Malcolm X

Does Malcolm X propagate extremism and the violent overthrow of any oppressive authority through the constructive violence of the masses? Does he suggest what the mediating power relations between the Whites and the African Americans are? Do the White American elites with authority attempt to contain any subversion of their authority against the African Americans? For half a century, the philosophical and socio-political thoughts of Malcolm X have been being studied by scholars across the world, and their impact on the struggle for social justice for the African Americans living in the US is reflected through the dynamic student movements during late 1960s and early 1970s.

As a leader, Malcolm’s appeal among the oppressed people of the world, specially the African Americans was, and still is, far-reaching.  His electrifying speeches, charged with the fire of revolutionary social change, shaken up five-hundred years’ of repressed anger in the hearts of the African Americans against the brutalities by the Whites. In him we find, as James H. Cone asserts, “the most formidable race critic in American history.” He further tells, “More effectively than anyone else, he exposed the racist hypocrisy of American democracy and the ethical contradictions of white Christianity. His unrelenting and uncompromising critique of America and Christianity was bold and devastating. Few people could listen to him and not be challenged by the cogency of his analysis”.

Malcolm highlighted the way the Whites dehumanize and demonize the black people historically, culturally, and socially. He focused his criticism on how this dehumanization is perpetuated and reinforced by almost every wings of the Sate. Unlike the academicians with huge statistics and theories, Malcolm did not try to make a scholastic narrative of racism in America: he simply spoke of what he saw around him and proposed the right things to be done. Cone says, “That and that alone was the heart of his critique. There was nothing fancy or sophisticated about it. Just plain talk-telling the truth about the crimes against blacks that whites did not want to hear about and few blacks had the courage to confront.”

Despite the utter simplicity of his expressions, the frankness of his ideas, the honesty of his thoughts, and above all, the truth behind his intentions, Malcolm is often misunderstood and misrepresented by his critics. It is his concepts of violence and self-defense that invited much criticism and Malcolm himself was very critical of the white people’s view of violence and nonviolence in the Civil Rights Movement. The whites suggested the strategy of Martin King-the rejection of violence of any form.

Malcolm did not advocate violence; he advocated self-defense. He believed that the right of self-defense is an essential element in the definition of humanity. Whites have always recognized this principle for themselves but not for blacks. This kind of racist thinking infuriated Malcolm. If whites have the right to defend themselves against their enemies, why not blacks? Malcolm used provocative language to express his rage. “If you want to know what I’ll do, figure out what you’ll do. I’ll do the same thing-only more of it.” He contended that blacks should use “any means necessary” to get their freedom and whites should be prepared for “reciprocal bleeding.”

Violence in the form of resistance is not violence, it is constructive violence. Violence to face violence is self-defense; it guards one’s dignity in the face of humiliation. Violence to overthrow violence is justice, a form of justice that Christianity does not prescribe. In Malcolm X we find the revolutionary voice that pointed out the long history of exploitation and brutal racial violence against the African Americans in the US. None like him had the courage to stand against the entire United States with such a commitment to liberate the Blacks from the state endorsed segregation and racial discrimination. With his unmatched eloquence and rhetorical power, Malcolm X took no second chance in critiquing the White establishments including the government. More effectively than anyone else, he exposed the hypocrisy and animosity behind the myth of American democracy and equality.

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About the author

Sayeed Noman

Sayeed Noman is a Fulbright scholar and an adjunct professor at Temple University. His PhD dissertation focuses on Afrocentricity, postcolonialism, and postmodernism. His interest ranges from political to economic and cultural issues.

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