By Amber Randall
Conservatives have never been quick to embrace civil rights leader Malcolm X, but it’s far past time for them to take a second look.
What most conservatives don’t seem to realize is how much they have in common with the man — from his calls for black entrepreneurship to his idea of black empowerment through education.
Malcolm passionately advocated for black Americans to focus on self-improvement, instead of relying on white people, to gain self-respect. He called on black men to start their own businesses, to hire other black people to give them a hand up and for those living in poverty stricken areas to get their lives back on track.
“The black man in the ghettos, for instance, has to start self-correcting his own material, moral and spiritual defects and evil,” Malcolm wrote in “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” “The black man needs to start his own program to get rid of drunkeness, drug addiction, prostitution. The black man in American has to lift up his own sense of values.”
Education was also crucial to Malcolm’s philosophy: He believed, as conservatives do, it could be a source of power for black Americans. He eviscerated the public school system in America, saying it was inadequate for educating black students, and called for schools to come under the control of the black community who would educate their own.
“Our children are being criminally shortchanged in the public school system of America,” he said in a 1964 speech. “The Afro-American schools are the poorest run schools in the city of New York.”
He also joined the Nation of Islam, a religious group that University at Buffalo Professor Victoria Wolcott believes espoused values that many conservatives can agree with, such as gender roles and strong fidelity in relationships.
“With Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, this is a very conservative religious group. It’s a black nationalist religious group with very strict rules on gender roles, about fidelity and no alcohol, various kinds of aesthetic practices that are quite strict and very much kind of conformed to mainstream or conservative cultural values,” Wolcott said to TheDCNF.
American history is filled with influential men who, while making huge contributions to our country, often made dubious moral choices. If those men are part of our American history, in the minds of conservatives, why can’t conservatives re-examine or even give a valid place in history to our nation’s black leaders?
Malcolm was more than a man who preached about his distrust of white people. Born in 1925, Malcolm grew up in Nebraska and dropped out of middle school when a white teacher told him his dreams of being a lawyer were “no realistic goal for a nigger.”
From there, Malcolm turned to a life of crime as a drug dealer and pimp, eventually getting arrested in 1946. But Malcolm reinvented himself during his seven years in prison, turning into a self-educated man traditional family man who later became a champion of black power during the 50s and 60s.
Conservatives mainly take issue with Malcolm’s rhetoric on white people or believe he advocated for violence. Malcolm later changed his views on race and white people after he visited Mecca in 1964 and saw people of all races interacting well with each other, declaring, “I no longer subscribe to sweeping indictments of one race.”
Malcolm also wasn’t advocating for active violence, Wolcott explained to TheDCNF. In Malcolm’s philosophy, the opposite of non-violence is not violence, but rather armed self-defense. He often argued that if the U.S. government was not going to grant black Americans their due rights and continue to practice violence against them, then black Americans had the right to take up arms to defend themselves.
“Malcolm was not engaged in sort of active violence, you know, bombing campaigns or that sort of late ’60s early ’70s sorts of actions. He was engaged in self defense, armed self-defense and was not involved in any kind of violent conflict with the police or other groups,” Wolcott told TheDCNF.
Too often, conservatives seem to find comfort in Martin Luther King Jr.’s ideas of a race-blind society, while Malcolm’s more fiery indictments of white America make them feel uncomfortable.
Without a doubt, Malcolm had deep flaws: his ties to the Nation of Islam are troubling, considering some of their philosophical views, but all in all, Malcolm was a black man fighting for the freedom of his people in a country where sizable segments insisted that they were less than human.