This year for Martin Luther King day I listened to two recordings of Malcolm X speaking, posted by WNYC in “Remembering Malcolm X: Rare Interviews and Audio.”
I recommend listening. People accuse him of racism and inciting violence, but to hear him speak and to hear people who knew him speak about him, it’s hard not to feel those critics missed the essence of what he said, and that they neglected to criticize the people and institutions he criticized, which were, and remain, racist and violent.
He spoke so clearly and plainly about subjects so few people do, I can’t think of anyone today who speaks like that today. I’d love to hear of someone I’m missing. It seems to me he spoke more about self-empowerment than anything else—and the self-respect, responsibility, action, thoughtfulness, awareness, and such that support it.
I wonder why leaders don’t speak so clearly today, but then I remember he was assassinated, which is a strong deterrent.
He criticized King in these interviews, but the criticism seems based more on media portrayals than mutual understanding of the men themselves. It’s hard not to imagine what could have come of the two of them—two of America’s greatest orators—had had time to understand each other and collaborate, especially at the ends of their lives.
King seems to be held in higher regard today, at least by mainstream society—we don’t celebrate a Malcolm X day—but the more I learn about Malcolm X, the more I appreciate him. I don’t agree with everything he said and did, but no two people agree on everything. When you look at his background, how much he learned, and his loyalty to people who helped him who didn’t share his motivation to help others, he stands out even more, especially considering where he ended up just before his assassination.
To hear him speak about the lack of justice in the United States for killing black men sadly makes him as relevant today as ever.
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