“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
You’ve got to be carefully taught.” –Rodgers and Hammerstein, “South Pacific”
Most people are taught to think. They may be taught at home or at school. But they are taught.
Fifty-seven years ago, on Feb. 21, 1965, one Black man shot and killed another Black man and changed the course of history. The killer could have been from the FBI, he could have been from the Nation of Islam, he could have been a finger on the hand of both. Who the guy was, we do not know — all we know is that he was Black, he was effective, and that he was taught to think differently from Malcolm X even though they were the same color.
Malcolm X’s death changed the world.
Because of that assassin, a way of thinking was effectively diluted. It still is to this day.
Malcolm was the bad boy of that era; Martin Luther King Jr. was the saintly one. Martin was nonviolent and turned the other cheek. Malcolm was for plucking out your eyeballs and teeth. It is true that they both had the same goals, they just went about it differently. It was the Beatles versus the Rolling Stones. They both made beautiful music. Bad boys, however, don’t get a national holiday named after them. They may get a boulevard in Harlem, but not a paid vacation day. Saintly ones become martyrs.
Malcolm X voiced the thoughts that many people, mostly Black, were thinking but were afraid to say out loud.
Malcom said that Blacks were being played for suckers; that we were believing that Black people’s failures were our own fault since we had no knowledge of root causes or our oppressed history. He talked about the seminal philosophies of a Black nationalist party. Clearly, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats were interested in the needs of Black people. Neither party kept their promises, not to Black people, not to people of any color, not to poor people of any stripe. He said that even when voting as a bloc, the politicians were white with white values, even those few Black existing politicians had to have white values, or else they would never have been permitted to run or get elected.
“I’ll have them n______ voting Democratic for the next 200 years.” –Lyndon B. Johnson [said to two governors regarding the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to then–Air Force One steward Robert MacMillan]
The notion of Black people forming a political party that favored Blacks was an anathema to me. A political party should represent all the people, Black and white. It should answer to the needs of all its constituencies.
I never said that I was bright. I was earnest, but not very bright. Huge numbers of Black people thought the same way. Malcolm was going too far. He must pull back on his rhetoric if he was going to attract college-educated Negroes like myself. Of course, I did not know about the Lyndon Johnson quote at the time. If I did, I probably would have made some sort of namby-pamby, rationalized excuse for him. I may have been college-educated, but it was a white college, and I had “liberal” white values. I didn’t know the difference between civil rights and human rights. Malcolm taught me that. Civil rights are the rights that a government gives to civilians. Human rights are the rights you have as a human being. Civil rights are protected by civil law; human rights should be protected by natural law — the right to life, education, employment, food, shelter. That’s not my definition, it is the definition of the United Nations. Black people had none of those rights.
It never occurred to me that both mainstream political parties were white people who upheld the needs and the power of white people. They were one group of wealthy white people opposing a different group of wealthy white people as to who could steal the most from poor people who trusted them. True, they represented all the people. All the people who were wealthy and white.
Malcolm supported forming cooperative towns which were Black-owned, Black business, Black professionals, Black curriculum, and run by Black people. It was a good idea, I guess he never heard of Tulsa. If Malcolm had his way, there would have been massacres throughout the United States. Tulsa wasn’t the only self-sufficient Black community that was destroyed when the community got power. The Elaine Arkansas Riot in 1919, the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898, Africville, and many others were decimated as well.
If Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town” had been written by August Wilson about an all-Black town with an all-Black government, it would have been thought of as “agitprop” theater. I know, because I wrote one. The very thought that Black people could oversee their own lives scared the bejesus out of white people. They thought, “Oh, oh, what if the situation is reversed? Will they treat us the way we treated them? Will they learn to hate us from the lessons we taught them?”
Malcolm thought of himself as a revolutionary. Revolutionary in thought and in action. He wanted to put the power into the hands of the constituents who lived in communities. In the past, to do that, a lot of blood was shed. Patrick Henry shed a lot of blood, so did Washington. They were seeking freedom from England; Blacks were seeking freedom from the institutionalized racism as stated in the Constitution of the United States of America.
Malcolm wanted to have a bloodless revolution. “Give me freedom or give me death,” said Patrick Henry. “Let my vote mean something,” said Malcolm X.
Here it is 50 years later, and the vote still doesn’t mean anything. In fact, it’s going backward. The Democrats (the people’s party) couldn’t even protect the voting rights bill. This means that it will be state authorities who will be responsible to protect fair elections. Now, how do you think that is going to play in Georgia? Georgia’s Republicans are dancing up and down with joy with their success in sabotaging the Black vote.
Malcolm had a lot of brilliant theories, all of them about making the world a better place, all of them aimed at equalizing the races, distributing wealth more evenly, and instead of trying to bury 10 percent of America’s people, encourage them, extol them, because that 10 percent will make America stronger.
Here is something Malcolm didn’t count on: white callousness and white guilt.
Historically, the cruel treatment of Black people from Jamestown to today has given some white people a thick skin, an inability to see a situation from another person’s point of view. Those kinds of white people haven’t a clue about life from the eyes of a Black person. Other white people feel so guilty that they are ashamed of being white. At a meeting of the M.V. Diversity Coalition, some people bemoan the fact that they are white, and own up to the atrocities their ancestors have bequeathed. They are aware of the privileges that come with being white, the luxury of being part of the ruling class, yet it churns in their stomachs and in their minds, and they cannot find peace. I’m not saying that we should feel sorry for these white people. I’m simply saying that racism affects us all in different ways. Fannie Lou Hamer was clearheaded and firm when she talked about the bravery of the young white people who went to the South to organize the vote. She loved them as much as she loved those who needed to know that they could vote. Mrs. Hamer also recognized the need for Black sustainability.
Well, Malcolm understood her position, and it was when his attitude toward whites was evolving, that “they” shot him. Clearly, they had to.
If Malcolm was given the opportunity to unite the exploited, to affect their thinking, all hell could break loose. Poor people would be helping other poor people across the board. Democracy would be about representing the majority by the majority. According to opensecrets.org, in 2012, the median net worth for members of the 113th Congress was $1,008,727. Skip ahead seven years to 2019, and the poverty threshold for a family of four was $25,926.
Now you know good and well that the concerns of the congressperson who is worth over a million dollars are not the same concerns as someone whose annual salary equals the congressperson’s weekly salary. There were 34 million people who lived below the poverty line in 2019.
Malcolm was beginning to realize that in addition to race, it was how you think that separates us. True, the white man can be your enemy, but then again, don’t wealthy Black people exploit workers as much as anyone else?
It’s how people think that separates them more than anything else.
When Malcolm returned from Mecca, he said, “That morning was the start of a radical alteration in my whole outlook about white men.”
In his introduction to “The Autobiography of Malcom X,” by M.S. Handler, he says that “Malcolm’s attitude toward the white man underwent a marked change in 1964.” Many people talked about his trip to Mecca. Charles Wilson said, “Even his attitude toward whites was affected by his experiences in that holy place … he became less and less doctrinairely antagonistic toward whites.”
Those who followed Malcolm were disappointed in this change of attitude, and made a big fuss about denying it. In their heads, Malcolm could never become an “integrationist.” If only the covert assassination government agencies saw it that way, perhaps they would not have murdered him. The truth is, he was not talking about racial integration, he was talking about people sticking together with the same thoughts; the voter registration people 50 years ago, the non-Black, Black Lives Matter supporters of today. Having a community of like-minded people who understood the needs of humanity. Mecca taught him to see the beauty inside a person. He recognized that Daniel Shays did not risk his life by singing “We Shall Overcome,” he risked his life by gathering a group of like-minded men and threatening the government with pitchforks. That threat is what persuaded the “Founding Fathers” to write the Constitution. Malcolm didn’t dismiss Shays because he was white. Malcolm admired him because he represented his community.
So, what is our “bad boy’s” legacy? Well, the Black National Party, which had its roots with Marcus Garvey, evolved into the Black Panthers, then SNCC, SDS, and CORE, and now BLM. Everything Malcolm said is true; every single organization formed to empower Black people has been besmirched by politicians and the press.
In 1969 J. Edgar Hoover said, “The Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to the internal security of the country. ‘Schooled in the Marxist-Leninist ideology and the teachings of Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-tung, its members have perpetrated numerous assaults on police officers and have engaged in violent confrontations with police in cities throughout the country, Leaders and representatives of the Black Panther Party travel extensively all over the United States preaching their gospel of hate and violence not only to ghetto residents, but to students in colleges, universities, and high schools as well.”
The Panthers’ biggest campaigns were self-help programs, such as their breakfast for grammar school children.
In 2020, ex-President Trump said of the Black Lives Matter movement, “The stated goal of BLM organization, people, is to achieve the destruction of the nuclear family, abolish the police, abolish prisons, abolish border security, abolish capitalism, and abolish school choice — that’s what their stated goals are.”
To my knowledge no politician or news outlet has corrected either one of them.
It’s not color, it’s the way you think which separates us. It’s the ability to have compassion, the ability to care. If it were color, no Black man would have killed Malcolm. The idea of taking action for profit and greed, to take action against another human being to benefit yourself, those are the things that separate us at least as much as color.