Note: This post uses religious symbolism for secular purposes. It is not a tool of proselytization.
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 7:13-14 New International Version (NIV)
Obviously, the non-violent Civil Rights activists’ contemporaries weren’t all in agreement about what strategy should be used to achieve equality. Many oppressed blacks resisted the pacifist, Christ-modeled approach. They advocated, if necessary, defensive and retaliatory violence against white oppressors and some, such as the Nation of Islam, preached doctrines of black supremacy. These groups were angry and they were obviously justified in harboring that rage. While anger was certainly an understandable sentiment (I, admittedly, lack the character that black non-violent activists displayed in the face of abject hatred), given the immeasurable oppression blacks faced, these other groups’ approach still involved violence and a binary view of the world, which included calls for black supremacist violence and segregation. If progress is to be made, might cannot be the operative mechanism. Dr. King and Gandhi proved this.
Dr. King was right. Violence is not the way. It is not an element of the narrow trail to prosperity, peace and life. Rather, it is a perverter of humanity’s innate divinity and a prime staple of the broad road to destruction. Nevertheless, the wisdom that activists like Malcom X brought to the table cannot, and must not, be discarded. To say that these activists, who DID opt for the broad road of radicalism, DID NOT do invaluable good is to adopt a perverse misreading of history. This is (once more) somewhat counterintuitive, at least on the surface. It’s an anomaly that showcases the non-binary world that we live in; easy categorization can often be a symptom of oversimplification. Few figures of the twentieth century are more fascinating than Malcolm X. He is a great example of how extreme views and politically incorrect rhetoric can be a necessary catalyst for incremental progress. Sometimes pilgrims of the narrow path only arrive there after lessons learned on the broad road. While Dr. King’s vision of equality aligns more closely with my ideals, I find it easier to relate to Malcolm X. If I experienced what he did in life, I would respond in a similar manner to my political enemies – savagely.
Malcolm Little was born in 1925 to loving parents. When Malcolm was only six, white supremacists burned his family’s house down because his father was an advocate of black revolution. His father was murdered soon after. Malcolm eventually dropped out of high school and turned to a life of crime. He was arrested in 1946 and spent ten years in prison, which led to his conversion to the Nation of Islam. In order to celebrate his African heritage and repudiate the name given to him by his ancestors’ slave holders, Malcolm changed his last name to ‘X.’ After his release, Malcolm quickly became a rising star within the Nation of Islam and was a vocal advocate of its black nationalist narrative. He eventually believed that the Nation of Islam was a corrupt organization and its leader, Elijah Muhammad, was not a righteous captain. Malcolm then renounced his former views, but before he did, he was known for saying:
An eye for an eye is the default form of human justice (and the one that Jesus, Ghandi and MLK repudiated directly). There’s probably no idea more intuitive to human sensibility. You’ll notice that Malcolm’s slogan features the proportional response that Dr. King lacked. Here’s an interesting comparison: the Church of Satan has Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth that govern their brand of self-deification. This is the final one:
Malcolm was, by nature, opposed to centrist thinking and was annoyed by having to cater to moderates. Undoubtedly, he gravitated towards being an idealogue (prime characteristic of the ‘broad’). He managed to break free of the radical ideology that shaped his entire worldview. Right before his assassination, Malcolm repudiated racism and segregation and expressed regret for his endorsement of black supremacist ideology. His death was an international tragedy and the world was robbed of an indispensable voice; his philosophy’s evolution was snuffed out before it reached its apex. If MLK was Christ, Malcolm X would’ve been St. Paul. While MLK steadfastly clung to path of righteousness, Malcolm X spent some time persecuting the cause that he’d eventually champion.
While it’s easy to condemn Malcolm X for the anti-pacifist outlook displayed in the previous quote, it’s important to remember that Malcolm X was filling a void in the national black community. He provided a coherent, compelling manifestation of the community’s collective rage. Anger is healthy, necessary and the productive expression of anger actually lowers the rate of violence in individuals and, as a result, lowers violence in communities. The classification of anger as a benefit is another instance of counterintuitiveness. The anger that Malcolm X embodied wasn’t always productive and wasn’t always unifying. Nevertheless, many of his ideas informed by that emotion needed to be articulated and EVERYONE benefited because of his voice.
Malcolm was a strong leader that gave blacks a sense of pride in their heritage. He reminded them that they were not lesser and that they SHOULD be enraged by the abuse of fellow blacks. He reintroduced native African culture to black communities and highlighted its beauty. He correctly pointed out to blacks that beauty does not have to be defined by Western standards; the children of Africans were perfect just the way that they were. They didn’t need to conk their hair, which was a sadistically painful process, or alter their appearance to be considered attractive or intelligent or legitimate. Undoubtedly, Malcolm X said some repugnant things in his career, but Americans must not throw the baby out with the bath water. His righteous anger gave a sense of pride to a population of people that had been robbed of it for centuries. That pride was necessary for change to happen.
Malcolm X provides an instance where pilgrims of the narrow road have benefited from a broad-highway traveler’s ideas and experiences, WITHOUT adopting all of them. The mere fact that Malcolm X wasn’t a flawless human being doesn’t mean that we all couldn’t learn something from him. The ability to learn from someone’s wisdom without adopting his biases, harmful ideologies or false beliefs is a prerequisite skill to conquer the narrow path. The inability to filter out beneficial information from a person’s entire body of work (which is always filled with imperfections and blemishes) is a staple of those addicted to the broad path’s ideological purity. They cannot synthesize ideas or address logical gaps in their own worldview, they can only repeat dogmatic sound-bytes gleaned from social media.