Merits of the Malcolm vs. Martin Debate
“I’m terrified by the moral apathy — the death of the heart — which is happening in my country” — James Baldwin
I started thinking about what kind of inaugural essay I wanted to write for Black History Month 2021. For inspiration, I sought after Netflix to watch I Am Not Your Negro, the 2017 documentary film based on the unfinished book by James Baldwin. From watching the film, Baldwin recalls the moments in his life when he found out the news of Malcolm X and MLK’s respective passing.
Naturally, this moment in the film catapulted a thought process for me to address the fabled barbershop debate about who is considered to be the greatest — Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Merits of the Debate Itself
Sometimes I imagine comparing Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X in the same manner that sports fans compare boxing legends Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis or even basketball legends Wilt Chamberlin and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Though, as reality would have it, the debate cannot continue in the same course as the quotidian GOAT debate in the sports world. The lines aren’t as readily demarcated. The stakes are completely different.
However, much like the sports realm; when it comes to the political realm, we do embrace the charisma, the gravitas, and the performance of each activist. Whether it is the callous lambasting of racist dogmas outlined by Brother Malcolm or the idyllic temperament for disbursing moral rhetoric by Brother Martin, both have their merits in the debate who is the greatest.
About Malcolm X (1925–1965)
Malcolm X grew up in a troubled childhood, his family suffered early on once his father was attacked and murdered by Klansman. His mother was committed to a mental ward which prompted him and his siblings to live in foster care.
About Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 — 1968)
Martin Luther King, Jr. grew up in a house that held strong moral principles. He was lauded for his public speaking efforts early on as a member of the debate team in high school. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his efforts in leading nonviolent protests and civil disobedience for social justice against systemic racism.
Make no mistake, both men effectively played well the hands that they were dealt in laying the foundation for the case against supporting white supremacy. They both knew how to articulate the cause, granted in their own respective ways, they knew how to find the pulse of the argument and tune in the frequency of the people.
The incorrigible approach of Malcolm X as he diagnosed the damage towards the Black American psyche from institutionalized racism is one that adheres to the intellectual palate of the critical thinker.
MLK’s philosophical approach on resolving global poverty is a claim many of barked louder than the bite marks appear. In his last written treatise, MLK discusses the misguided focus of America’s journey towards progress.
Both philosophies of Malcolm X and MLK glean on the merits of individualism. The rights which are bestowed, whether by universal law or corporeal law, are enacted upon so each citizen may attain freedom, justice, and equality.