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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
of being “good”.
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
to the white people.
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.
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
Press, Inc., 1965.
——- “The Ballot or the Bullet.” The Borzoi College
Reader, 2nd Edition. Ed. Charles Muscatine and Marlene
Griffith. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1974.