Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Right messenger, wrong message

I just watched Malcolm X: Make It Plain on PBS. There's no question he was both extremely intelligent and charismatic. If anything, that makes it sadder that for most of his public life he was preaching the wrong message.

One can certainly understand the despair of African-Americans, brought here in chains and, even when freed, still treated harshly. But the way out, it seems to me, is not to return hatred with hatred, and racism with racism. (Yes, in some situations, you've got to fight, but it's better to bring change through peaceful means, especially when many are already on your side; besides, starting a fight when you're outgunned is a poor strategy.)

As both the documentary and his autobiography suggest, Malcolm X's views were changing in his final years. If he hadn't been assassinated 40 years ago, but lived on, who knows where his thinking would have evolved.

His life--how he pulled himself up from troubled beginnings--still inspires. Unfortunately, I question if his message, as it's come down to us, has been a helpful one.


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