“I am not a racist. In fact, I am against every form of racism and segregation, every form of discrimination. I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color.”

— Malcolm X

Feb. 21 marks the anniversary of the death of Malcolm X. To some people, he was the minister, to others he was a promoter of hatred and “black racism.” To many of us, Malcolm X is the necessary other voice that needed to be heard.

Sadly, a lot of people know nothing about Malcolm X, or they have been negatively educated about the minister. One thing is certain: no real celebration of Black History Month is complete without recognition of the minister Malcolm X. To celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and ignore Malcolm X is a skewed picture of Black America during the Civil Rights Era and today. We need both men to understand our task then and now.

King was committed to a hope that America would finally live up to its ideals and values presented in the U. S. Constitution. King was an integrationist: He believed that if Black Americans spoke like, acted like and participated in the systems of America, eventually America would accept Black Americans as its equals.

Malcolm X believed that true freedom for Black America would not be gained by the work of white America and its acceptance of Black people. The minister taught that freedom had to be accomplished by the efforts of Black people for Black people. Malcolm X insisted that Black America needed to engage in self-determination and self-development. He asserted that until Black people owned and operated their own businesses, became creators of their own economic lives and controlled their own communities, they would never achieve equality.

Think about it. How many hospitals, supermarkets and schools do Black people operate in Columbia? All Black life is determined by the actions of white Columbia. We do not circulate our wealth among other Black entrepreneurs. Instead, every dollar goes somewhere else instead of developing our own Black community.

It is understandable that many Black Columbians gravitate toward King’s integrationist thinking. Indeed, the vision of “the beloved community” is powerful and seductive. Clearly, King’s idea of “the beloved community” resonates powerfully in Columbia and across the country. And yet, Malcolm X’s idea of economic self-development must be reflected upon as well.

When we think cooperatively, both King and Malcolm X are American heroes. We need to demand —like King did — that America live up to its ideals of constructing a more perfect union. But we also need to take on the responsibility of developing a strong Black community that can work with the larger white community and not be totally dependent on it, as Malcolm X taught.

During Black History Month, and every day, Black America must not lose its guiding vision.

Malcolm X stated: “We have to keep in mind at all times that we are not fighting for integration, nor are we fighting for separation. We are fighting for recognition as free humans in this society.”

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