One cannot speak about racism in America and fail to mention the two great legendary persons like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. These are the famous and the most eloquent proponents of the Afro-Americans’ rights in the history of war against racism in the USA.
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The freedom and cultural heritage that African Americans enjoy today are actually the result of the contributions of these two great persons. Their philosophical approaches might have been different and sometimes viewed as contradicting, but their ultimate intention was to liberate the blacks from the whites. King’s approach was a peaceful one whereby his belief was founded on his philosophy that whites and blacks can live harmoniously with one another.
On the other hand, Malcolm’s approach was propelled by a philosophical idea that whites are inherently evil, and self-defense is the only weapon to liberate the African Americans, although, he is believed to have changed this position thereafter (Howard-Pitney 6). Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how the philosophies of King and Malcolm evolved over time, and why the King’s approach is viewed to be more effective.
Both King and Malcolm are distinguished leaders whose philosophical ideas were considerably influenced by their childhood environment. Their background actually explains the source of their dissimilarities as portrayed in their pursuit of the freedom for African Americans from the Caucasians. On the one hand, King was brought up in a Christian family that embraced the love of all children irrespectively of the skin color (Howard-Pitney 4).
King received a quality education, and because of his intelligence he earned his doctorate at a tender age. It is after King’s venture into Philosophical studies that his views on freedom and nature of man began to take a new direction. His family roots contributed greatly to the formation of his character, including, in particular, such traits like calmness, kindness, and courage to liberate his fellow people. All these traits are well portrayed in his revolutionary speeches that he gave all around America with intention of uniting both races.
Conversely, Malcolm was born in a ‘chaotic’ family, whereby his parents did not live in a harmony. Malcolm struggled so much with bitter feelings first because of the ill treatment the Afro-Americans received from the Caucasians, and secondly, because of the witness of his mother being assaulted by his father. After his father’s death, Malcolm together with his numerous siblings and their widowed mother lived in deplorable conditions, where even daily meals and education were almost impossible things (Howard-Pitney 6).
The year 1939 was tumultuous not only for Malcolm but his family as well since this is the year his mother suffered a mental breakdown. Now, it was imperative that Malcolm and his siblings could not provide for their needs. A white family took care of Malcolm until he was in the eighth grade at the very point that he dropped out of school. After that, Malcolm started participating in the street crime so as to provide food for him. These crimes finally led him to jail where he met a fellow Muslim inmate who influenced him greatly.
The above disparity in the backgrounds of King and Malcolm explains the root cause and the power behind their philosophical thoughts that shaped their lives thereafter. King who was born in a peaceful environment carried out a peaceful non-violent activity by his revolutionary speeches and philosophical arguments. The atmosphere that he enjoyed in his family formed in him positive attitude towards his struggle for freedom.
Referring to his peaceful family, King once said, “I have never experienced the feeling of not having the basic necessities of life” (Howard-Pitney 36). In many cases, King encouraged his followers not to engage in any destructive activity but create an environment where peace and harmony were at home among the whites and the enslaved blacks. The idea of harmony and respect of all human beings is a result of his Christian foundation as well as the philosophy of Gandhi that he encountered later on in his life.
King says that he became a minister not because he felt so qualified or as a result of any extraordinary experience but it was to answer a call that he felt deep within him to render his service to humanity regardless of color or race (Howard-Pitney 57). It is this positive attitude of encouragement that created an atmosphere in which even the Caucasians seemed to like his ideas. This is the underlying belief that shaped not only his life but his philosophy as well.
King’s non-violent movement soon won the hearts of many people both black and white. Many people loved listening to his eloquence, a desire that compelled them to follow him wherever he was addressing the people. In the process of listening to him, many come to appreciate his ideas.
This explains the reason why King was more effective than his contemporary Malcolm. On many occasions as King traversed America selling his bid of peace, respect of all, and the desire to obtain equality among blacks and whites, he was heard to encourage especially the youths to embark on handiwork, to do anything that did not compromise their moral principles as they engaged themselves in a mature leadership.
Consequently, King changed the minds of numerous individuals by encouraging them to work hard so as to alleviate their lives. Thus, it is believed that African Americans are so hard-working till the present day because King instilled in them the culture of handiwork. He wanted them to know, that by hard work they would win respect from the whites.
Similarly, the philosophy of Malcolm finds its shape from the melancholies encountered during his childhood. The experiences coined by the burning of their only home, an incident that led to the death of his father, the trauma caused by seeing his mother go throw a mental breakdown left him in a state of desolation, hatred, and vengeance.
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This is the tread that his philosophy followed. Malcolm hated the whites to an extent that he called them devils (Howard-Pitney 55). Malcolm was propelled by bitterness to fight for freedom by use of violence. His philosophy was based on the belief that it is only by self-defense against the white’s oppression together with the separation of the two races that was going to liberate the blacks.
His revolutionary speeches provoked rivalry between the blacks and whites. To realize how bitter Malcolm was, one can think over his saying: “White America must now pay for her sins… White America is doomed” (Howard-Pitney 102). This portrays Malcolm as a man already prepared to take responsibility for the outcome of his actions, even if this meant shedding his own blood as long as he fought for the rights of the African Americans.
However, when Malcolm broke his relationship with the Islamic movement after the visit to Mecca, his philosophy changed and he began to advocate unity among both races. He began to mend his former reputation in which he had called for violence, hatred, and ravage. He encourages the blacks to have self-respect and be proud of their heritage.
After a critical analysis of the two great activists’ philosophies, we are now in a position to establish who had more effective ideas. This also enables us to judge the sincerity of their motives as well as the source of zeal and strong will that is found in both.
As presented above, Malcolm is portrayed as a man who has faced a lot of difficulties in life. His childhood predicaments clearly give directions of his future activities and thoughts. Malcolm’s bitterness and desire for revenge can be clearly viewed in his revolutionary speeches. Therefore, we can say that his motives were not purely to liberate blacks but a desire to revenge as well.
King, on the other hand, is a calm person who has nothing to revenge for but a desire to go against anger and share love to all human beings since they shared the same nature. He believed that nothing good could be achieved by revolt characterized by violence and hatred between the two races, but instead by mutual respect and love. His approach is partially welcomed by both races although some Caucasians considered him as an enemy.
Howard-Pitney, David. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and the Civil Rights Struggle of the 1950s and 1960s: A Brief History with Documents, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004. Print.