On this day in 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated. I don’t know that much about him. Some day I really should read Alex Haley’s book. But I want to talk briefly about what he seems to have represented to White America: the dangerous black man. I’ve often thought that what progress we’ve made regarding racial politics are thanks to Malcolm X. Because when I was growing up, it seemed to me that people were terrified of him. And note: he died just days after my first birthday. So they were terrified of a dead man.
Malcolm X vs MLK
That’s not to say that America’s Gandhi, Martin Luther King, didn’t terrify White America too. That is the true white man’s burden: fear of everything, but most especially that they will lose their preferred status, which is based a centuries old asymmetry of weapons technology. Of course, the White Man doesn’t exactly think in those terms. But I think he knows. I think we all know that in a fair fight, the white man would not come out on top. It would just be a mess — a diverse mess.
But if you have to negotiate a peace, you want to do it with King and his commitment to nonviolence rather than with Malcolm X and his commitment to “any means necessary.” None of this is to say that racism of any form is acceptable. But I’m much more of the separatist mentality myself. And I can’t believe there are many white men who have grown up with the privilege that we are given in his country deciding that turning the other cheek was a reasonable approach to the oppression that African Americans lived under then and continue to live under to this day.
A lot of people wonder what King might have accomplished had he lived longer. I think that Malcolm X might have had a much greater effect. As we’ve seen in this country, the times are rare when being polite and asking nicely get much accomplished.