Malcolm X: Avatar of Black Power
While Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) is largely credited and associated with popularizing the call for Black Power, Malcolm X is truly the foundational figure for who gave voice and representation to concept and practice of Black Power. Building on the philosophy of Marcus Garvey and teaching of the Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm outlined contours of what Ture and other black power advocates would build on and expand.
Malcolm expressed and articulated his concept of black power through philosophy and practice of black nationalism:
Political philosophy: black people should control the politic and politicians in their community. Malcolm believed that the “black man in the black community has to be re-educated into the science of politics so he will know what politics is suppose to bring him in return.
Economic philosophy: black people should control the economics of their community. As Malcolm asserted, the “philosophy of black nationalism involves a re-education program in the black community in regards to economics. Our people have to be made to see that any time you take your dollar out of your community and spend it in a community where you don’t live, the community where you live will get poorer and poorer and the community where you spend your money will get richer and richer. Then you wonder why where you live is always a ghetto or slum area”
Social philosophy: black people should unite to eradiate social ills in their communities’ such as drugs and crime and build vibrant and model communities. Malcolm argued that this philosophy instructed African Americans to work together and “remove the evils, the vices, alcoholism, drug addiction and other evils that are destroying the moral fiber of our community. We ourselves have to lift the level of our community, the standard of our community to a higher level, make our society beautiful so that we will be satisfied in our own social circles and won’t be running around here trying to knock our way into a circle where we are not wanted.
Thus, it was this philosophy of black nationalism which became the foundation concept and practice of black power after Malcolm death. Embedded in his philosophy was commitment to the practice of the three goals of black power: self-respect, self-determination, and self-defense.
Malcolm X strongly believed that African Americans could only achieve self-respect through grounding their identity in Africa. He asserted, “if we migrated back to Africa culturally, philosophically and psychologically, while remaining here physically, the spiritual bond that would develop between us and Africa through this cultural, philosophical and psychological migration, so-called migration, would enhance our position here, because we would have our contacts with them acting as roots or foundations behind us.” Further, he added, “when the African continent in its independence is able to create the unity that’s necessary to increase its strength and its position on earth, so that Africa too becomes respected as other huge continents are respected, then wherever people of African origins, African heritage or African blood go, they will be respected.”
Closely related, Malcolm argued that self-respect demanded that black people be willing to defend themselves. He especially castigated black men for not being more assertive in defending the rights of black people, declaring, “in areas where the government has proven unwilling or unable to defend the lives and the property of Negroes, it’s time for Negroes to defend themselves.” Underscoring the contradiction of black men fighting for American abroad, but being nonviolent in the face of violence at home, he stated: “if violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us and make us violent abroad. And if it is right for America to draft us ,and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country.”
Third, a theme that runs constantly through Malcolm’s black nationalism and is core to the concept and practice of black power is self-determination. Malcolm asserted “one of the first things I think young people, especially nowadays, should learn is how to see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself. If you form the habit of going by what you hear others say about someone, or going by what others think about someone, instead of searching that thing out for yourself and seeing for yourself, you will be walking west when you think you think you are going east, and you will be walking east when you’re going west…the most important thing we can learn to do today is think for ourselves.”
To be sure, the 1960s black power movement and its advocates were heir to Malcolm X and his black nationalism philosophy. The call and infusion of black power into the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee, the Congress of Racial Equality and other community and regional based organizations was the fruits of Malcolm’s effort to imbue a spirit and practice of black nationalism into the freedom movement. Proponents of black power drew inspiration and instruction from Malcolm’s philosophy and courageous representation and advocacy of black power.