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Sunday, February 26, 2012

52 Week 9 - Malcolm X: The Pilgrim

Man out of time...
When I was younger, I was fascinated by the Greek concept of nemesis in which a protagonist possesses a tragic flaw (generally hubris) which leads to his demise. Much as I admired Malcolm X, I have to admit that he was a deeply flawed man, and his story is in a lot of ways a Greek tragedy. Anger can be good, it can be a driving force, but ultimately it can’t be allowed to rule your life. His intense anger at whites ultimately led him to the Nation of Islam, and he was never fully able to escape its clutches, which ultimately led to his death.

Of all the things I admire him for, his willingness to change. His views were never static and though he initially saw the world as black and white, he eventually came to recognize it for all its shades of gray. If I could have a 1 hour conversation with anyone on this list, I would have to choose him. He always struck me as someone who would be great to sit down and have a wide ranging conversation with. Just to hear of his experiences and his philosophy and ideology would be intensely fascinating. Part of it has to do with how different yet similar we are. There was a time in my life when anger was my constant friend, when I was immensely frustrated with the state of things. I never fully succumbed to it though. If even one person is good, they that’s enough for me, but I’m not sure about I wouldn’t have ended up like Malcolm if I had been born in his time. 

He was at his most passionate and eloquent during his famous ‘Ballot or the Bullet’ Speech which I’ve always been fascinated by. I’ve excerpted a small portion of it. See the link for the rest.


            “How can you thank a man for giving you what's already yours? How then can you thank him for giving you only part of what's already yours? You haven't even made progress, if what's being given to you, you should have had already. That's not progress...”

I find it hard to blame him for his anger. His father and uncle were both killed by white supremacists and he truly felt the weight of the segregation system from a young age. In addition, his message of Black self-reliance as uncompromising as it was served a very useful purpose. In the fight against injustice, civil disobedience is preferred, but if it’s your only option then that has never proven to be entirely successful on its own. A touch of steel is sometimes called for, and his presence I think bolstered the entire movement. His writings were always passionate and eloquent, in particular his autobiography and I don’t agree with a lot of what he said, but I still feel it’s worth reading. After his tragic assassination, MLK said of him, and I think this is as persuasive an explanation as any as to why I still hold him in regard:

“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 a 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.”

I’ll let him speak for himself to end this, to show his willingness to self-reflect. It’s remarkable really, how few people can do that:

“...[L]istening to leaders like Nasser, Ben Bella, and Nkrumah awakened me to the dangers of racism. I realized racism isn't just a black and white problem. It's brought bloodbaths to about every nation on earth at one time or another.
Brother, remember the time that white college girl came into the restaurant—the one who wanted to help the [Black] Muslims and the whites get together—and I told her there wasn't a ghost of a chance and she went away crying? Well, I've lived to regret that incident. In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping black people. Something like this kills a lot of argument. I did many things as a [Black] Muslim that I'm sorry for now. I was a zombie then—like all [Black] Muslims—I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march. Well, I guess a man's entitled to make a fool of himself if he's ready to pay the cost. It cost me 12 years.
That was a bad scene, brother. The sickness and madness of those days—I'm glad to be free of them.”

Ultimately, though, he died his own man.

Greatest quote:

"You don't have to be a man to fight for freedom. All you have to do is to be an intelligent human being."

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