Martin Luther King and Malcolm X – Two Views, One Cause Many black authors and leaders of the sixties shared similar feelings towards the white run American society in which they lived. Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, and Stokely Carmichael all blamed the whites for the racism which existed. However, they agreed that it was up to the black society to end this problem. Using the black society, each of the authors had their own idea of how racism could be stopped. Unfortunately, for some, such as Malcolm X, this involved the use of violence, while others, such as King, favored the non-violent approach. This paper will focus, for the most part, on Malcolm X and King because they are both strong representations of two different approaches to a common goal.
Perhaps their different approaches of violence and nonviolence stem from their original opinions of how capable the whites are Not all of the whites involved in the problem of racism supported it. Some were actually trying to help fight for the blacks. Unfortunately, it took Malcolm X a long time to figure that out. Malcolm’s paper, “The Ballot or the Bullet,” makes that clear. In his paper, he is constantly criticizing whites as a whole.
He does not consider, even for a moment, that a white could actually support equality for all men. “Usually, it’s the white man who grins at you the most, and pats you on the back, and is supposed to be your friend. He may be friendly, but he’s not your friend” However, in a later work of his, “1965,” one can see that Malcolm was learning to accept whites as possible allies. I tried in every speech I made to clarify my new position regarding white people – ‘I don’t speak against the sincere, well meaning, good white people. I have learned that there are some. I have learned that not all white people are racists’ (367).
Yet, while Malcolm learned over a period of time that not all whites are evil, King entered the scene already fully aware that “good” whites existed. In fact, where Malcolm underestimated the goodness in whites, King seems to have overestimated it. He talks about his overestimating of goodness in “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” “I guess I should have realized that few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand…the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those that have been oppressed” (244). Yet, even after he found that he did not receive as much white support as he had hoped for, King never lost faith in the white Altogether, these views of white society as expressed by Malcolm and King are reflected in their methods of fighting racism. Malcolm, who supported the use of violence to achieve equality, most likely reached the conclusion that this was the only way to fight the whites based on his original view of them as heartless and uncaring.
One place in Malcolm’s “Ballot or Bullet,” where his categorizing of whites with violence and cruelty can be found, is during a passage in which he compares the white man with a Guerrilla warrior. “You’ve got to have a heart to be a Guerrilla warrior, and he (the white man) hasn’t got any heart” (267). Malcolm sees the whites as a violent group. He most likely came to his theory, that nothing important could be accomplished without violence, through the reasoning that only violence can be used to stop a violent group.
Violent people would not understand the use of peaceful means to reach an agreement. Therefore, it is not really the violence itself which he supports as much as it is the reason for using it. He justifies his use of violence by trying to explain that there is no other way to get through In contrast, King sees the whites more as victims of violence than creators of violence. He blames the violence, itself, on evil forces. In “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” King calls the problem of racism “tension…between the forces of light and the forces of darkness…. We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust” (3).
Therefore, one can see why King rejects the idea of using violence to achieve his goals. Only love can defeat evil. “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness” (2). Aside from their basic methods of achieving their goals, Malcolm X and King have also talked about solutions for the racial problem. What could put an end to racial prejudices in America? For King, part of the answer to this question would include the elimination of “unjust” laws.
These are laws which the white man expects the black man to follow, without following the laws himself. Everyone should be required to follow the same set of rules. These rules should also be consistent with the “moral” law. Laws should not be intended to hurt someone or degrade them (Letter from Birm. Malcolm X answers this question a little more concretely.
In “1965,” he suggests that whites, who wish to help, should work with other whites to change the beliefs of the white system as a whole. They should teach friends, family, and any one else they know about nonviolence. Supportive whites should work together to change America’s racist view of blacks in the society (376-377). Likewise, he expects the blacks to do the same in their communities. In this manner, both sides of the racial problem can be dealt with at the same time, making an end to the racial problem more In conclusion, it is obvious that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were fighting for the same cause, racism.
Although their views on white Americans, which affected their methods of approach, were originally different, both activists came to realize that not all whites can be classified as good or bad. They began to see that, instead of discouraging whites from helping, they could use eager whites to create more of an impact within the white communities. This is important because it shows that it is possible for whites and blacks to work together for a single cause. It leaves hope that maybe one day, all traces of racism can disappear and leave behind a united society in which everyone can work together for the good of the country.
WORKS CITED King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” The Borzoi College Reader, 3rd edition. Ed. Charles Muscatine and Marlene Griffith. New York: Alfred A.
——- Pilgrimage to Nonviolence ’58. Memeo. Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Grove ——- “The Ballot or the Bullet.” The Borzoi College Reader, 2nd Edition.
Ed. Charles Muscatine and Marlene Griffith. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1974. Bibliography: