It is interesting that Americans do not invoke Malcolm X the way they invoke other civil rights leaders. Where ideas about American militarism go, X’s contributions were piercingly insightful but lamentably overlooked when the man lived. For that they deserve greater attention today.
But first a word on X’s sporadic anti-Semitism and anti-white fulminations, both of which lead some people to ignore everything else X had to say. If we believe it fair to judge historical figures on the basis of their most contemptible sympathies alone, then X is indeed irredeemable. But then, so too are Gandhi, Plato, and Aristotle irredeemable for some of their nefarious beliefs. For that matter, the ideas of four of the United States’ first five presidents are worthless, and for much greater reason than X’s are; after all, Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe all owned human beings, whereas X did nothing so barbaric.
If we instead opt to examine X in his nuanced totality, we find not a kook but a winsome human rights activist with a lot of wisdom to share. As a black nationalist during the Cold War, he took no stock whatever in American militarists’ humanitarian pretensions. When many others did not, X questioned the “integrity” and “sincerity” of leaders who tackled problems that were not theirs to solve. Even “liberal” interventionists who genuinely desired progress in foreign lands were not heroes in X’s book. The American meddlers “minding somebody else’s business way over in South Vietnam,” X declaimed, were unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst.
Malcolm saved his admiration for Africans vying to “establish their own independent nations” and working to “create a future for their people” without the involvement of intruders. He noted positively that when “the people in Africa and Asia get some power of their own, they get a mind of their own. They start seeing with their own eyes and listening with their own ears and speaking with their own mouth.” He admired leaders like Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, a CIA target whose anti-colonial disposition disturbed the departing Belgians in 1960. X went so far as to call Lumumba “the greatest black man who ever walked the African continent,” for Lumumba “didn’t fear anybody. He had those people so scared they had to kill him.” X also commended members of the Organization of African Unity for trying to extinguish colonial “vestiges of oppression and exploitation being suffered by African people.”