Thursday, April 29, 2010

Let's Not be Too Quick to Ignore 'The Fringe'

No serious study of African-Americans in this country can exclude consideration of Malcolm X.

He is at least one of the most complex, controversial, charismatic leaders of the modern day Civil Rights Movement. He evokes the most visceral responses from both black and white people to this day. He was incredibly inspirational and gave voice to the exasperation of black people during a period of time when it was clear that America was defaulting on its promise of equality, justice and protection for people of color.

Whites rarely understand that black people have never felt they had to choose between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. There are those who said that Malcolm preached violence while Martin preached peace. It's not true. Malcolm didn't believe in a non-violent approach to the race problem and he did not believe in trying to make white people comfortable in an oppressive culture which deprived blacks of liberty, citizenship and safety. Malcolm X preached that in the face of virulent and violent racism, bigotry and oppression, black people had as much right to protect their property and defend their families as anyone else legally had. As one whose father was killed by the Ku Klux Klan, he had no sympathy for whites and as a member and spokesman second only to its leader, Elijah Muhammed, he preached in accordance to his faith, separation from whites - a misguided, totally unrealistic notion which he eventually repudiated.

Martin, on the other had expressed a different type of militancy; a militancy which dramatized the confrontation of good and evil within a segregated system and forced America and the world to see what it produced by not practicing what it preached.

Malcolm used satire, logic, ridicule and explosive rhetoric to get his point across; Martin used the documents which America treasured, the Constitution and the Holy Scriptures, the philosophers, theologians and the cherished classical poets to show that this country had not been as good as its promise to the sons and daughters of slaves, and how it corrupted the souls of the sons and daughters of slave owners.

Malcolm for a time called for separation and ultimately for African-Americans self-realization and self-actualization; Martin called for integration, but gradually was coming around, in some measure to Malcolm's same understanding of the importance of African-American's responsibility for themselves.

King said of Malcolm: "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."

But I digress.

There is a much larger lesson regarding Malcolm that all of us need to heed.

His split from the Nation of Islam, the religious separatist sect for which he served as spokesman for nearly 10 years resulted in terrible assaults and harassment for himself and his family. Malcolm adopted orthodox Islam and sought for ways to empower blacks within their own communities and connect the suffering blacks endured in the United States, with the suffering of other oppressed people throughout the world.

Malcolm was killed at the Audubon Ballroom, in New, York City on February 21, 1965, gunned downed in front of witnesses, including his wife and children, as he made a speech on that fateful day.

The last of the three men convicted of Malcolm's murder was released a few days ago. On parole after nearly 20 of the 44 years to which was sentenced served on work release. My issue is not with his conviction or his release on probation. It is a salient point made by Dr. Boyce Watkins.

It is generally believed that Malcolm X was killed by members of the Nation of Islam on direct orders of its leader Elijah Muhammad or incited by the volatile rhetoric against and caustic criticism of Malcolm when he left the Nation. Hagan, then a 25 year old member of the Nation fell into one of those categories.

Men, whose bitterness and hatred for him found their final expression in his assassination.

There are a number of people today who claim the hate speech, name calling, fear mongering and the careless flinging around of red meat phrases like 'socialist', 'Marxist', 'Communist' mean nothing. They are, they say, the expression of a frustrated 'fringe'. Perhaps. But 'fringe' is exactly how one would describe, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray...or Thomas Hagan.

Hagan confesses remorse for killing Malcolm X, ""I've had a lot of time, a heck of a lot of time, to think about it," Hagan told a parole board last month..."

""I understand a lot better the dynamics of movements and what can happen inside movements, and conflicts that can come up, but I have deep regrets about my participation in that," said Hagan..."

In his post, Watkins expresses his confidence in his repentance and his reform. I think that's probably a productive position. Malcolm X has been dead for 45 years. But his life was cut short at the age of 39, as he grew toward something most of us consider to be both mature and eminently useful. He died because the 'fringe' was 'inspired' by words that called for his death in not so subtle ways.

It mustn't happen again...

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