Monday, February 21, 2011

Malcolm X on Violence and Hypocrisy

Today is the 46th anniversary of the assassination of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X. A brilliant orator, he was killed in a moment of transition. He had left the Black Muslim movement of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and was honing his vision of the struggle for freedom. In his speches he had an amazing way of, pardon the expression, cutting through the bullshit. The world he spoke to back in the 1960s was a very different place, but it's hard to read one of his speeches and not to come away with some insight that remains completely relevant. This excerpt seems relevant to the wave of popular discontent in the Middle East and the false equivalency often made between state violence and popular resistance. While the wave of popular discontent in our own Middle West isn't quite at the same level, it's important food for thought.

"I'm not in a society that practices brotherhood. I'm in a society that might preach it on Sunday, but they don't practice it on no day -- on any day. And so, since I could see that America itself is a society where there is no brotherhood and that this society is controlled primarily by racists and segregationists -- and it is -- who are in Washington, D.C., in positions of power. And from Washington, D.C., they exercise the same forms of brutal oppression against dark-skinned people in South and North Vietnam, or in the Congo, or in Cuba, or in any other place on this earth where they're trying to exploit and oppress. This is a society whose government doesn't hesitate to inflict the most brutal form of punishment and oppression upon dark-skinned people all over the world.

To wit, right now what's going on in and around Saigon and Hanoi and in the Congo and elsewhere. They are violent when their interests are at stake. But all of that violence that they display at the international level, when you and I want just a little bit of freedom, we're supposed to be nonviolent. They're violent. They're violent in Korea, they're violent in Germany, they're violent in the South Pacific, they're violent in Cuba, they're violent wherever they go. But when it comes time for you and me to protect ourselves against lynchings, they tell us to be nonviolent.

That's a shame. Because we get tricked into being nonviolent, and when somebody stands up and talks like I just did, they say, "Why, he's advocating violence!" Isn't that what they say? Every time you pick up your newspaper, you see where one of these things has written into it that I'm advocating violence. I have never advocated any violence. I've only said that Black people who are the victims of organized violence perpetrated upon us by the Klan, the Citizens' Council, and many other forms, we should defend ourselves. And when I say that we should defend ourselves against the violence of others, they use their press skillfully to make the world think that I'm calling on violence, period. I wouldn't call on anybody to be violent without a cause. "
--Malcolm X, 14 February 1965, a week before he died.

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