By Brittney Cooper
Malcolm X, the famed Civil Rights leader and minister of the Nation of Islam, would have turned 90 years old this week. While America annually marks the significance of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is only in Black communities nationally, and locally in Harlem, that we mark and celebrate the birth of King’s most formidable racial adversary. Undoubtedly this has something to do with the very forthright and unflinching manner in which Malcolm X talked about race in the 1960s. El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, as Malcolm X was otherwise known, did not have any hope that white people could or would change when it came to race. Although King was far less optimistic at the end of his life about the capacity of white people to change, too, he still has the March on Washington speech, which represented the zenith of his racial optimism.
Malcolm X was different. His unflinching honesty about the evils of white racism made even King, formidable orator that he was, scared to debate Malcolm in public. Though he eventually toned down his rhetoric about the people that he was known to refer to as “white devils,” he never backed down from holding white people accountable for their investment in and perpetuation of white supremacy. For instance, in a 1963 public conversation and debate with James Baldwin, Malcolm X told him, “Never do you find white people encouraging other whites to be nonviolent. Whites idolize fighters. …At the same time that they admire these fighters, they encourage the so called ‘Negro’ in America to get his desires fulfilled with a sit in stroke, or a passive approach, or a love your enemy approach or pray for those who despitefully use you. This is insane.”
And indeed we did get a front row seat to such insanity this week, when three biker gangs in Texas, had a shootout in a parking lot that left nine people dead and 18 people injured. More than 165 people have been arrested for their participation in this thuggish, ruggish, deadly, violent, white-on-white street brawl but there has been no mass outcry from the country about this. Though these motorcycle gangs were already under surveillance because of known participation in consistent and organized criminal activity, as Darnell Moore notes at Mic, “the police didn’t don riot gear.” Moore further notes that “leather and rock music weren’t blamed,” and there hasn’t been any “hand-wringing over the problem of white-on-white crime.”