Why We Should Stop Contrasting And Comparing Malcolm X With MLK
The daughters of the civil rights icons helped set the record straight via Facebook Live.
May 19, 2020 at 9:23 pm
Malcolm X Day annually celebrates the iconic leader’s birthday on May 19.
Malcolm X, a prominent civil rights leader and activist, is often taught as a militant foil to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, in a May 15 Facebook live hosted by GirlTrek, an organization that promotes healthy lifestyles among Black women, Ilyasa Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter, and Dr. Bernice A. King, Dr. Martin Luther King’s daughter, had a discussion over the misperception of their families’ legacies that Dr. Bernice King called: “desperately needed and overdue.”
During the intimate discussion between the daughters of the civil rights movement, King admitted she dislikes people comparing their fathers against each other. Shabazz agreed.
“There’s always these divisive tactics,” Shabazz said. “When we think of Booker T. Washington … and W.E.B DuBois, you know we’re taught to choose one over the other, instead of being grateful for the significant contributions each made with all of the trauma around us. Same thing with Tupac and Biggie Smalls,” she said.
“But when you have George Washington and Thomas Jefferson,” she continued, “it’s ‘oh look at these great men’ … but when it comes to our men, we have to choose one over the other instead of recognizing their significant sacrifice and contribution, in spite of the terrorism that we have endured and come and shined out of.”
She concluded, “These two men took the time to sacrifice their lives and stand truth to power head-on.”
Alicia Garza, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, added to the conversation that she believes that much of what is taught about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X is rooted in stereotypes. Shabazz and King agreed, saying that teaching a false dichotomy between their fathers misrepresents their contributions to the movement.
“It’s an age-old trick. Divide and conquer,” King said. “That’s what we have to overcome Ilyasah.”
“Yes we do, my love,” Shabazz replied.
Their amicable relationship is a surprising and refreshing act of sisterhood, despite the adversarial legacies of their families. In par with GirlTrek’s #DaughtersOf Campaign, designed to uplift the matrilineal traditions of Black women, they explained their families’ have been longtime friends.
“My mother and her mother loved each other. I’m so grateful that they found a sisterhood within one another. Bernice and I can have conversations,” Shabazz said.
“It happened organically, we’ve been on different platforms together,” King added.
When asked how they became friends, Shabazz and King clarified the misleading information surrounding their families.
“We have been misinformed that you have to choose and that they were enemies. That is not true, that is a farce, that is a part of this misinformation and miseducation that creates these ridiculous divisive tactics, that we’re focusing on things that don’t even matter,” Shabazz stated.
In life, we find it easier to tell stories when we pick a side. But life isn’t always black and white, as King explained: “[We have to] find a way to find threads of truth, amongst all, and weave that into a whole.”
Instead of focusing on Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.'s rivalry, schools should focus their narratives onto the issues they dedicated their lives to, like mass incarceration, education, police brutality, voting rights, community development and speaking truth to power — issues the Black community is still fighting for today.
As Shabazz said during the Facebook Live, “At some point, we have to come together, create strategies, move forward, and get this boot off our neck.”
King added, “It’s not who you’re with, it’s what you are with.”
Use this Malcolm X Day to learn about his values and contribute to them. You can do this by committing to voter registration, uplifting the Black community or supporting Black businesses and rewarding entrepreneurship.
Moreover, let’s use this Malcolm X Day to put this rivalry to rest. Their families are tired of the divisiveness it creates, we should be too.