Minister Martin & Mad Malcolm #2
A closer look at Malcolm X and his place in history alongside MLK Jr.
Every year we celebrate MLK day and the accomplishments of the civil rights era. But what about the other man in the mix? Malcolm X was a ghost in my early education.. Always in the textbook, but never a common character. Teachers would give me vague and differing answers when I asked about him, adding to the mystery.. Everyone loved Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr and didn’t hesitate to sing their just praises, and tell me how they doggedly fought racism in America, but whenever MLK day rolled around; I couldn’t help but try to catch a glimpse of Malcolm somewhere on the stage. As I got older I was able to do my own research but that gave me more questions than answers. I learned a muddy story conveying him as the villain of the civil rights era and the same time conceding that he made progress concerning the civil rights movement. It wasn’t until recently that I was shown a more accurate picture of the mysterious man that was Malcolm X, and I now think that the civil rights era would not been nearly as successful without this mysterious man.
Malcolm X was no doubt much more of an extremist in the subject of African American rights when compared to Martin Luther King Jr. Even the most straightforward placement of him puts him farther to the left, but the extent and details of the nature of this difference in ideals are less clear. One of the major differences that we can see is the validity of violence. MLK is quoted saying “Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. While Malcolm X is quoted saying “Don’t be throwing out any ballots. A ballot is like a bullet. You don’t throw your ballots until you see a target, and if that target is not within your reach, keep your ballot in your pocket.”. The ramifications of these two contrasting quotes is obvious but not as much as many would tell you. MLK’s quotation condemns violence in its entirety, but Malcolm X is telling the black population that if they can solve the problem with peace (the ballot), do it, but if you cannot use the peaceful methods of the ballot, then do not chase after it, the African American community has done enough of that, use the bullet. This means that Malcolm X would give peaceful solutions a chance, but by way of his tone it is clear, he doesn’t think that’s going to happen. Malcolm X also scares whites because whites were not part of his movement, and he didn’t try to include everyone like MLK Jr. “Brothers and sisters, and friends. And I see some enemies. In fact I think we’d be fooling ourselves if we had an audience this large and didn’t realize that there were some enemies present” . This shows that Malcolm X had an Us vs Them mentality, he spoke mainly to the black community, and so it was up to the blacks to gain their rights, not up to the whites to give it to them. Malcolm X was also a nationalist , as in he thought that blacks would be better off away from whites. He used graphic terminology in his speeches as well, “They don’t hang you because you’re Baptist, they hang you because you’re black.” Speaking of lynching, of course, and using this to draw the black communities away from their religious causes and closer to a common black goal. He distances white Americans from black Americans by saying “some of [the black community] thinks they came here on the Mayflower” reminding us that blacks were forced across the ocean while whites came by choice. This hostile black man scared many white Americans  and many only saw a violent enraged black man.
You may ask, we took the path of MLK, and Malcolm X’s plans and philosophies are not trumpeted at every school assembly across the stages of US schools everywhere, so how was Malcolm X such a pivotal person in the civil rights movement? Malcolm X and MLK Jr. directed a double pronged attack on white racism in America. They, unintentionally or not, pulled a good cop, bad cop routine on the entirety of America. Malcolm X being the bad cop and MLK being the good one. Their philosophies and actions mimic the routine to a key. As a refresher for the good cop bad cop tactic, it’s a tactic used by police to get a suspect to do something, whether that is turn in other criminals or to get a confession the methods are the same. The bad cop threatens the suspect, telling them that they will be busted, listing off how many years they’ll never see the light of day again, and generally treating the suspect as the enemy.  While the good cop lightens the mood, makes the suspect feel comfortable, sympathizes with them somewhat, and offers them a deal, treating them as a partner to “put this mess behind us” . Normally the two cops are seen as disliking each other the bad cop calling the good one a weakling/pushover and the good cop believing the bad cop too harsh and not patient enough. If all goes according to plan the suspect will think they have to choose one of two options, rather than just deciding to comply or not. With this set up they must choose a side, and nine times out of ten they choose to side with the good cop and take his deal even if the convict wouldn’t have if the good cop offered it alone . The parallels between these two are perfect. With white America committing the crime of racism and the patience of black Americans swiftly running out, a resolution had to be made, and fast, something the good cop bad cop routine in good at doing . Malcolm’s side of the argument treated the white man as the enemy, someone who would not comply and therefore was to be punished by black America. Telling them they were going to commit violence, fight back, and create a black nation with or without the white’s permission. While those who took MLK’s corner were calm, treating white America as an ally, putting away the grievances of the past hoping that “that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”, and offering white America a much more reasonable deal, all they wanted was equality. Something that was owed to them for generations, and they were willing to receive the payment of this deficit without interest. The conflict between the two only fueled the good cop bad cop routine further. Malcolm X saying that “The white man pays the reverend Martin Luther King, subsidizes the revenues of Martin Luther King so that Martin Luther King can continue to tell the Negros to be defenseless.”, and the gut instinct of many white Americans was an unintentional defense of MLK  putting them on the same side. Martin Luther King says that “… [our tactics] arouse a sense of shame within them often instances. I think it does something to touch the conscious and establish a sense of guilt. So often people respond to guilt by engaging more in the guilt evoking action in attempt to drown the sense of guilt.” masterfully portraying the reaction of anger from the white man into progress and sympathy. Another key element to this was the fact that MLK was a Christian and Malcolm X was a Muslim . This made the primarily Christian America afraid and made it clear whose corner to take.
It worked on white Americans. There was a lot of resistance, but eventually white America took the good cop’s deal and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Many white Americans realized the plight of African Americans when given the alternative that “’…this untamed heathen should lead the negro away from the word of god and the American Dream’”  and choose to support “’…this preacher from Georgia, although hasty, has valid points and a reasonable request’” . Or as another white man illustrates in a letter to his senator, “It is clear that the American negro is at breaking point. This is evident by the rise of blatantly unchristian leaders among them. These are good Christian black folks that would rather shake hands with a Muslim than a white man. This should demonstrate the anger behind the black man, and I fear no good will come from waiting for those of the perspective of predigest to realize this.”. These quotes also illustrate how this routine pushed white America to take more extreme measures than they otherwise would have. If given the option white America probably would have chosen the right of the civil rights movement, as they would rock the boat less. But MLK was a centrist  while Malcolm X was on the left , so why did they choose MLK over the more compromising right? Given the choice between the two, America was coerced into choosing a more progressive option than what was conceivably available.
In summary, I realize why Malcolm X is missing from every school assembly. Because he scared whites while MLK cooperated with them. He was the alternative to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the man that when whites threw up their arms saying “no more!” the black community could always gesture to Malcolm X and offer that he take over. He was a very real example to how fed up Black America was with waiting, and with his harsh rhetoric he pushed the conversation to more extreme and progressive measures. I don’t think Martin Luther King Jr. would have been nearly as successful if it were not for the other side of the same coin. I think Malcolm X was pivotal in the civil rights era making as much ground as it did. He played the part of the bad cop to white America so well that even today the routine still hasn’t ended. He still makes whites uncomfortable, and every MLK Day you can see many wiping their brows saying to themselves, “man, I’m glad we had good old Minister Martin when we did. If he hadn’t come along we’d be stuck with mad, mad Malcolm”.
: Perry, Bruce (1991). Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America. Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill Press
: Karim, Benjamin; with Peter Skutches and David Gallen (1992). Remembering Malcolm. New York: Carroll & Graf.
: Dyson, Michael Eric (1995). Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. Oxford: Oxford University
: Cone, James H. (1991). Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
: Pittman, LaShawnDa. “The Second Reconstruction 2.pptx.” AFRAM 101. Seattle. 2 Dec. 2015. Lecture.
: Bobbitt, David (2007). The Rhetoric of Redemption: Kenneth Burke’s Redemption Drama and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech. Rowman & Littlefield.
: Malcolm X; George Breitman (ed.) (1990) . Malcolm X Speaks. New York: Grove Weidenfeld
: Susan Brodt & Marla Tuchinsky (March 2000). “Working Together but in Opposition: An Examination of the “Good-Cop/Bad-Cop” Negotiating Team Tactic”. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 81 (2): 155–177
: The CIA Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual (1983) http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB122/CIA%20Human%20Res%20Exploit%20H0-L17.pdf
: Pittman, LaShawnDa. “The Second Reconstruction 1.pptx.” AFRAM 101. Seattle. 8 Dec. 2015. Lecture.
: Malcolm X by Dr. Kenneth Clark. From the WGBH show, ‘The Negro and the American Promise’ aired Monday, June 24, 1963.
: interviews of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin from “The Negro and the American Promise,” produced by Boston public television station WGBH in 1963 and hosted by Kenneth B. Clark.