Many people may see Malcolm X and Barack Obama as opposites of each other in the sphere of black political figures. While Malcolm pushed for black nationalism, didn’t renounce violence, came across as very militant and scared white people, Obama has pushed for an inclusive nation that includes people of all backgrounds, pushed a message of hope and change, and came across as very amiable and acceptable to white people.
However the comparison cannot be as cut and dry as that. Are we comparing the militant Nation of Islam disciple Malcolm X who railed against blue eyed devils or the Malcolm X who split with the Nation of Islam and renounced racism and met with Martin Luther King?
Even if we were to compare the nation of Islam’s Malcolm X to Barack Obama it is hard to cast them as opposites. Obviously one of the main differences between the two is the places and eras they grew up in. Malcolm X grew up in a time of segregation, police brutality, lynchings, and Jim Crow laws. These circumstances did a lot to shape his world view.
As someone whose father was killed by the KKK and whose world views were shaped by the NOI, Malcolm had a lot of hostility towards white people and America in general. Barack Obama grew up in the multiracial society of Hawaii and later in equally diverse, Indonesia, where he was minority in more ways than one, being both American and of African blood.
It wasn’t until Malcolm X went on a pilgrimage to Mecca that he abandoned the principles of racism upon meeting people of all colors who prayed to the same God as him and saw that they were good and decent people. Barack Obama grew up within that same diversity, with two white grandparents and a white mother who helped raise him, as well as with people from all sorts of backgrounds so he probably came to the realization of the futility of racism earlier in life.
However even the militant Nation of Islam has endorsed Obama. Farrakhan has spoken very kindly of Obama, even referring to him as the Messiah and the hope of the entire world. With the leading figure for black nationalism in America praising the man who is now the President of the country he once demonized, the black nationalism of Malcolm X may have been replaced by inclusion in the greater United States of America. This is not to say that the struggle is over, but that it has taken a different form and philosophy.
Obviously Obama’s message of hope, unity and diversity counters against Malcolm X’s ‘blue eyed devil rhetoric.’ However the views that Malcolm X had after leaving the Nation of Islam are more in line with Obama’s. Here are some quotes from Malcolm after his epiphany of race in Mecca.
I realized racism isn’t just a black and white problem. It’s brought bloodbaths to about every nation on earth at one time or another.
In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping black people. Something like this kills a lot of argument. I did many things as a [Black] Muslim that I’m sorry for now. I was a zombie then — like all [Black] Muslims — I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march.
I am not a racist…. In the past I permitted myself to be used…to make sweeping indictments of all white people, the entire white race and these generalizations have caused injuries to some whites who perhaps did not deserve to be hurt. Because of the spiritual enlightenment which I was blessed to receive as a result of my recent pilgrimage to the Holy city of Mecca, I no longer subscribe to sweeping indictments of any one race. I am now striving to live the life of a true…Muslim. I must repeat that I am not a racist nor do I subscribe to the tenants of racism. I can state in all sincerity that I wish nothing but freedom, justice and equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people.
The last lines that Malcolm X said sound like something out of the declaration of independence or a Barack Obama speech. Here Malcolm, like Obama and MLK is tracing his struggle to himself and black people in general to n American struggle, a struggle based on the same principles that America was founded on.
Many people have compared Obama to Martin Luther King. People have compared King to Obama on their similarities but most often compare King and X on their differences. Despite the fact that they employed different tactics and rhetoric, in many ways King and X had the same goals. Here are some things that X had to say regarding King
I’ll say nothing against him. At one time the whites in the United States called him a racialist, and extremist, and a Communist. Then the Black Muslims came along and the whites thanked the Lord for Martin Luther King.
Dr. King wants the same thing I want — freedom!
After leaving the nation of Islam, X decided that he would work with leaders in the civil rights movement but wanted it to become a global human rights issue, rather than a domestic issue. In many ways Obama’s struggle for global human rights can be traced to Malcolm’s.
Malcolm also was one of the first black leaders to talk about the importance of the black vote, claiming that it was it would take the ballot or the bullet to bring about true change. Malcolm also realized and preached about the importance of the black vote, one of the major factors that got Obama elected.
Malcolm’s own family has come out publicly for Obama. Malcolm’s daughter Malaak said
Actually, him and Michelle remind me of my parents, and what they have to face with children, and with the climate that we’re dealing with politically. She’s brilliant. My mother’s brilliant. He’s brilliant. My father was brilliant. And they’re still sticking to the community. So, no, they are not Betty and Malcolm. But they are the present day Betty and Malcolm.
Obama himself has said that he admired Malcolm and even used some of his rhetoric. Obama used the ‘hoodwinked and bamboozled phrase’ made popular in Spike Lee’s epic Malcolm X bio-pic. Spike Lee, one on the biggest proponent’s of Malcolm’s legacy, has been very enthusiastic of his support for Barack Obama.
Obama would talk about the impact of Malcolm X’s Autobiography on his life and identity in his own Autobiography, Dreams From My Father.
Only Malcolm X’s autobiography seemed to offer something different. His repeated acts of self-creation spoke to me; the blunt poetry of his words, his unadorned insistence on respect, promised a new and uncompromising order, martial in its discipline, forged through sheer force of will. All the other stuff, the talk of blue-eyed devils and apocalypse, was incidental to that program, I decided, religious baggage that Malcolm himself seemed to have safely abandoned toward the end of his life. And yet, even as I imagined myself following Malcolm’s call, one line in the book stayed me. He spoke of a wish he’d once had, the wish that the white blood that tan through him, there by an act of violence, might somehow be expunged. I knew that, for Malcolm, that wish would never be incidental. I knew as well that traveling down the road to self-respect my own white blood would never recede into mere abstraction. I was left to wonder what else I would be severing if and when I left my mother and my grandparents at some uncharted border.
Reverend Wright, an important figure in his life can be seen as Malcolm to Obama’s Martin. While the media may have put a wedge between the two, it is clear that Obama understands the anger that both Malcolm and Reverend Wright have displayed against America.
Reverend Wright obviously drew a lot of inspiration from Malcolm X. His whole infamous God Damn America speech drew from Malcolm’s famous ‘chickens coming home to roost’ statement after Kennedy’s assassination. Reverend Wright is not the opposite of Obama and definitely helped shape Obama’s worldview as did Malcolm. After the controversy of Reverend Wright’s statements, Obama spoke on the anger that both Reverend Wright and Malcolm X in his More Perfect Union Speech.
The anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.
Maybe because Obama grew up vastly different than Revend Wright or Malcolm X he is less cynical about racism and believes that progress can be achieved.
The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country — a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past.
So in no way is Barack Obama the ‘direct opposite’ of Malcolm X. Rather the two are complimentary figures. Malcom’s anger and militancy allowed white America to be more accepting of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. Malcolm came around before his death to incorporate his idea of Black Nationalism into the Civil Rights movement that set the groundwork for Obama’s presidency. Malcolm’s struggle developed into a struggle not only for black people but for oppressed people, a struggle that Obama has continued. Remember, like Obama, Malcolm X had his roots as a community organizer.
Here’s some final quotes to show the connection between Malcolm X and Obama
Malcolm X Was a Patriot and Died For This Country:
It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.
Malcolm X Realized The Factors For Change Before Obama:
Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.