Monday, September 10, 2012

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King

I've been doing research for a few projects and keep coming across the Malcolm X/Martin Luther King debate. Last week I was walking through Crown Heights, when I stopped in on a arts gallery with paintings about protests throughout the world. The artist, Mildred Beltre, had several packets of Martin Luther King's speeches next to Malcolm X's, as if they were engaging in a dialogue by the close proximity they shared.

I took one speech from each and read through them on the subway. Two Black men were sitting next to me talking about the evils and corruption of the unions that controlled the Coca-Cola factory. One of the men was older and looked back on his troubles, while the younger one seemed to be living through the conflict. I wanted to hand them Malcolm X's speech to the workers about unity.

The main crux of the debate between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King revolves around love. How we as a people see and express love. How is love used and given? If love is seen as a burden, a passive allowed, taken by the strong, then Malcolm X's call to arms sounds appealing. As Blacks are continually called to 'love' those who seek to kill and beat them it seems demeaning and weak from this perspective. Love is like a mother or a vessel which allows itself to be filled.

If love is seen as strength, then Martin Luther King's position is more favorable. If love is stronger than hate, wiser than ignorance, bigger than fear, then love is the way. As King said, 'love is NOT bondage.'  Love is like a father or protector who guides and gives.

Of course love is neither one of these things. Love is God. It doesn't pick sides or gender pronouns. Love is total, all there is and the greatest force. The application of love to political movements is something done by man. Once love is taken from its God-like placed and used in the world of binary concepts then it must be one thing or the other: masculine or feminine, aggressive or passive, gay or straight, Black or White.

After all these years, the beauty of MLK and Malcolm X's argument is that they are both right deceptively and both wrong ultimately. And I have a feeling they both were aware of this. In the deceptive world of social movements, love can be big or small. It can be hunger strikes and sticking flowers in rifle barrels. Love can be Gandhi, bringing an empire to its knees from the lotus posture of meditation. And when the time is right, even Gandhi himself stood up and marched. But he didn't march to the capital or march to the army bases. He went to the sea. Deceptively he was fighting for the rights of Indians to make their own products such as salt and clothes and that was the reason for the march to water. But ultimately he was reminding people of that even an empire can't stop us from going to the water. He was tapping into people's instinctive power that is as vast as an ocean. He was walking to a body of water to bathe, eat, pray, and Be.

MLK's walks through the south had a similar tone of surface goal combined with a greater theme. Marching to the schools to prove that learning trumps even the greatest intolerance. Marching over the bridge to show that there is a path to bring people together. Sitting at the lunch counter to eat. Love can become a marching force as much as a sitting posture.

The two were reflecting different aspects of the same jewel. And as their lives progressed they moved toward each other. Reluctantly, Martin Luther King stood up for peace protests against the Vietnam War. He was slammed by many Black and liberal leaders for taking a strong stance against violence abroad. Conversely, Malcolm X had his epiphany on love at Mecca. And he realized that things weren't black and white any more than having to choose between night or day.

Love transformed both great leaders because it came from someplace higher.

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