King was right about people. Malcolm X was right about systems. And systems have their own way of sublimating people, regardless of their individual nature or intentions. Its why you can’t look to change systems by appealing simply to people’s individual conscience. They are part of the social ecosystem for sure, but its like trying to combat climate change through changing light bulbs and recycling.
Chris Hedges lays out a provocative analysis about the comparative importance of both figures, yet leaving little doubt as to which one he believes should be considered more relevant to our situation today…
Malcolm X , unlike Martin Luther King Jr., did not believe America had a conscience. For him there was no great tension between the lofty ideals of the nation—which he said were a sham—and the failure to deliver justice to blacks. He, perhaps better than King, understood the inner workings of empire. He had no hope that those who managed empire would ever get in touch with their better selves to build a country free of exploitation and injustice. He argued that from the arrival of the first slave ship to the appearance of our vast archipelago of prisons and our squalid, urban internal colonies where the poor are trapped and abused, the American empire was unrelentingly hostile to those Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth.” This, Malcolm knew, would not change until the empire was destroyed.
King was able to achieve a legal victory through the civil rights movement, portrayed in the new film “Selma.” But he failed to bring about economic justice and thwart the rapacious appetite of the war machine that he was acutely aware was responsible for empire’s abuse of the oppressed at home and abroad. And 50 years after Malcolm X was assassinated in the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem by hit men from the Nation of Islam, it is clear that he, not King, was right. We are the nation Malcolm knew us to be. Human beings can be redeemed. Empires cannot. Our refusal to face the truth about empire, our refusal to defy the multitudinous crimes and atrocities of empire, has brought about the nightmare Malcolm predicted. And as the Digital Age and our post-literate society implant a terrifying historical amnesia, these crimes are erased as swiftly as they are committed.
“Martin [Luther King Jr.] doesn’t have the revolutionary fire that Malcolm had until the very end of his life,” Cornel West says in his book with Christa Buschendorf, “Black Prophetic Fire.” “And by revolutionary fire I mean understanding the system under which we live, the capitalist system, the imperial tentacles, the American empire, the disregard for life, the willingness to violate law, be it international law or domestic law. Malcolm understood that from very early on, and it hit Martin so hard that he does become a revolutionary in his own moral way later in his short life, whereas Malcolm had the revolutionary fire so early in his life.”