Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
The Viet Nam Generation Big Book
Volume 5 Number 1-4
This text, made available by the Sixties Project, is copyright (c) 1996 by Viet Nam Generation, Inc., or the author, all rights reserved. This text may be used, printed, and archived in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of U.S. Copyright law. This text may not be archived, printed, or redistributed in any form for a fee, without the consent of the copyright holder. This notice must accompany any redistribution of the text. The Sixties Project, sponsored by Viet Nam Generation Inc. and the Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, is a collective of humanities scholars working together on the Internet to use electronic resources to provide routes of collaboration and make available primary and secondary sources for researchers, students, teachers, writers and librarians interested in the 1960s.
Perspectives on Malcolm X
Horace Coleman, Huntington Beach, CA
Malcolm was intelligent, logical and eloquent. He experienced racism and was aware of it. Prejudice, racism and discrimination hurt him. His reactions to his experience changed his outlook and his behavior. These things changed his life. And his life changed us.
When he was a gangster he was a capitalist, a literal robber baron. When he was a prisoner he was a philosopher and a student. When he was a Black Muslim he was a racist. He was also an effective community organizer and a charismatic, soul-saving religious leader. When he became a Moslem he was a humanist, an ambassador without portfolio, and a statesman without a country. He was an internationalist when he died, obsolete without having been fulfilled. He is not, however, a failure.
Malcolm had the often unintended "revolutionary" effect of frightening both the establishment and the oppressed. He spoke of self-defense and whites heard racial violence. He--and the Black Panthers before their FBI-aided self-destruction--legitimized the concept of physical self-preservation. Both the youthful and flamboyant Panthers and the older, wiser Malcolm stopped short of asking the next logical question. If it is inherently moral to defend myself against my enemy, is it not also correct and necessary to attack my attacker? Most of us are still not ready to answer this question.
Yet, historically, how else do people acquire territory or change their economic and political status? Industry, invention, commerce, cash and philosophy alter the now. Force makes most things possible and sustainable. "Negroes are scared of revolution," Malcolm said. Then he told us exactly what it was we feared. By frightening and antagonizing Caucasians, he frightened and threatened the white and black power elites. He was the left hook, right upper cut combination to Martin Luther King Jr.'s right cross. As events and research have shown us, "street nigger" Malcolm was as saintly as "bourgeoisie" Dr. King. Do not be mistaken--both men were valuable and heroic. But where King followed a trend, Malcolm set one. Is this Malcolm's legacy?
- An international perspective and place for Afro-Americans.
- The practice of a nonwestern, nonChristian philosophy and religion.
- Critical self-appraisal and denunciation of the current slave mentality and integrationist fantasies.
- The courage to search, know, and speak your mind.
Although we have been given these gifts before, Malcolm's street theology spoke clearly to the black masses. He reached those of us not of the mythical middle class. He touched the ones unable to find comfort in the traditional black religion and outlook and the promise of soon, sometime, in heaven. His words shook the souls of the mindless middle class and the professional civil rights groups. The power and appeal of both King and Malcolm ultimately came from their philosophy and their ferocious raps.
King spoke of the long laboring dreams of integration, brotherhood, and acceptance by America. His ultimate public beliefs were in God's justice and American good will (faint hope there). Malcolm told a tale of independence, self-respect and resistance to the self-defined and self-identified enemy. They both were very correct and profoundly wrong.
The "white man" is not a devil--he's not that powerful--and even your brother will do you wrong. However, "Negroes" are afraid of revolution. Slaves and the slavery-scarred are extremely conservative, overly cautious. They're afraid of rattling the cage and finding that the bars are loose and freedom--and responsibility--is possible and close. And we fear the idea of having to physically confront and defeat what appears to be "the greatest nation on earth," militarily powerful and economically strong.
We all know that all empires die--some of old age, some from disease, suicide, debauchery, and some from the wounds of wars won and lost. What's needed are ways to speed the process and avoid the falling debris. Things as they are, the Constitution, the Congress, "the Law," the lawyers, love of our fellow man and woman don't mean diddley for large segments of this population. What have truth, justice and the American way done for Native Americans?
Styles of dealing with ethnic groups and race relations change but little quantitative difference exists. For Indians the chain has gone from defeated foe, to concentration camp resident, to endangered species. For blacks the progress has been from chains to pseudo-slavery (sharecropping) to wage slavery. Slight variations tell the tale for Latinos, Asians, and other nonCaucasians. Euroamerican ethnic groups have progressed as they have been assimilated but Anglo and Americans of Northern European extraction still steer the ship. But the voyage has just begun.
Malcolm and Martin's strength lay in their ability to use the traditional tool of religion to attract an audience, build a following and guide it. They gave us the word from on high. Malcolm's rap was the stronger because it is rooted in known reality and called for help from those here and now to affect the here and now. Moaning "Free at last!" on your death bed is a victory statement only when your last enemy has just preceded you to your grave. The nature of Afro-Americans seems to make us call on God for solutions and help. This is so even though we know, in the biblical way, that we and "Ethiopia" have stretched forth our hands and drawn back stumps.
"Mainstream" Afro-American people use Christianity as their religion and philosophy. The "marginal" people, those whose conditions or outlooks put them in circumstances too tough for regular Jesus to handle, use stronger industrial strength charismatic (storefront) religion. A small number of us are following nonwestern religion. Even some "intellectuals" do this. Why not? Just as one person cannot serve two gods, can one god serve people who are essentially and fundamentally opposed to each other?
The need for and use of religion is not going to disappear. The nature of the human beast is not about to change. We need to change the type and form of religion we have. If King had a "kick-ass Jesus," or if Black Muslim Malcolm had followed one who had made and could accept, if not forgive or love Caucasians, we would have a different history. People of color must destroy Caucasian hegemony. We cannot do this while worshipping Caucasians, even in the form of a surrogate deity. Hegemony is an "in" word with certain people. All it really means is "preponderant influence or authority; especially of one nation over another one." The white folks can stay but that shit has to go. Then the people of color can fight among themselves, to victory, chaos, coalition or oblivion, and take the next step in the human voyage through time. That move may indeed be sideways or backwards but it will be our steps and our direction. What more can you aspire to?
We--all people of color--are in a war we are not winning but cannot afford to lose. In our neighborhoods--called ghettos--our warrior youth, weary of a long and seemingly lost struggle, kill themselves and each other in a foolish but understandable frenzy as they try to flee the battlefield of a forlorn life while creating lightly lamented deaths in an unlamented war. They do not know, and their elders refuse to believe or tell them, that we are in serious combat. We are all engaged in a struggle fought on many levels for things as different but necessary as prestige, meaningful existence, the elusive quality called happiness, sex. Sex for pleasure and for the ability to procreate successfully, and to bring another generation to adulthood to attempt to complete the cycle more successfully.
Hatred is not involved in this. Just our nature and human nature. All the tools of warfare have, are, and will be used against us--genocide, physical force, internment, occupation, economic sanctions, propaganda, subversion and sabotage and coalitions of convenience with our traitors and our weak allies. The quality of the struggle is the measure of the individual. No one loves a sore loser-or even a humble one. Just get yours, using the ethics you have developed and the tactics that win and work for you. Remembering all the while that justice is just a slippery definition of an abstraction and equality has never existed. Remember what you learned about tricknology?
We are stranded on enemy territory, folks. We must survive here, thrive here. The only options are:
If the question is: "rule, share power, or be ruled," what is your choice? Malcolm almost had the answer. And, in the long run, it was a better one than King's.
To Malcolm X from Horace K
Death is just a figment of your flesh.
A bad dream burying a bad day.
Most men's glory fades faster
than they rot.
And now you are detached.
Like the hanged man, cut down,
who no longer depends
on rope or hope
to link him to any thing or any one.
You are free.
You knew that once you wore that uniform
you could never take it off.
Even if worms and lime were chewing it.
The death's head hung over your head
and all you had was hair for a helmet.
Knowing that if you sow ashes
you raise coals.
So you left us your orders:
pass the truth to the children