Friday, April 2, 2010

Anger II: A Little More on Malcolm X

I took a moment in the last post to poke at Malcolm X, as quoted by Don Hall, and I did want to mention a profound influence Malcolm X had on my life.

I'm actually a big sucker for speeches -- great flourishes of rhetoric like the one I cribbed from after HCR passed, or the one that nearly makes me cry sometimes, LBJ's speech on behalf of civil rights. The part that always gets me is when LBJ says, in his deep southern twang:
There is no Negro problem. There is no southern problem. There is no northern problem. There is only an American problem.
And I know that the moment I was 100% behind Obama was the moment when he cribbed the same speech:
Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.
So I definitely went through a phase where I was hell-bent to uncover all of the great American speeches and be sure to listen to them all -- really listen to them. I had them on my iPod (where they more than once came up on shuffle when I was trying to liven up a party... my social life, she suffers!), and I liked to walk or drive while letting the words really sink in.

Malcolm X's "The Ballot or the Bullet" speech was one of those landmark speeches I came across. And I was most interested by a passage that I had never heard associated with Malcolm X before, which goes like this:
The economic philosophy of black nationalism is pure and simple. It only means that we should control the economy of our community. Why should white people be running all the stores in our community? Why should white people be running the banks of our community? Why should the economy of our community be in the hands of the white man? Why? If a black man can't move his store into a white community, you tell me why a white man should move his store into a black community. The philosophy of black nationalism involves a re-education program in the black community in regards to economics. Our people have to be made to see that any time you take your dollar out of your community and spend it in a community where you don't live, the community where you live will get poorer and poorer, and the community where you spend your money will get richer and richer.

Then you wonder why where you live is always a ghetto or a slum area. And where you and I are concerned, not only do we lose it when we spend it out of the community, but the white man has got all our stores in the community tied up; so that though we spend it in the community, at sundown the man who runs the store takes it over across town somewhere. He's got us in a vise.

So the economic philosophy of black nationalism means in every church, in every civic organization, in every fraternal order, it's time now for our people to be come conscious of the importance of controlling the economy of our community. If we own the stores, if we operate the businesses, if we try and establish some industry in our own community, then we're developing to the position where we are creating employment for our own kind. Once you gain control of the economy of your own community, then you don't have to picket and boycott and beg some cracker downtown for a job in his business.
It's an amazing principle, that's based on the idea that any system can be transformed, given an understanding of the system. Unfortunately, history proved that it wasn't that easy -- probably for similar reasons to the "Move Your Money" campaign that doesn't appear to have much traction (reasons like me).

It's just a pity that this isn't what Malcolm X was known for -- or the parts of his philosophy where he talks about the social health of the community.