I know there were many problems and evils in the life and legacy of Malcolm X. But I still can’t deny that I find things that he has said to provide more wisdom than anything I hear lately from politicians and journalist and academicians of any race.
Today someone reminded me that next month is Black (or African-American) History Month. It made me do some searching and I came across this document.
“The Constitution of the United States of America clearly affirms the right of every American citizen to bear arms. And as Americans, we will not give up a single right guaranteed under the Constitution. The history of unpunished violence against our people clearly indicates that we must be prepared to defend ourselves or we will continue to be a defenseless people at the mercy of a ruthless and violent racist mob.”
This isn’t only Malcolm X’s opinion. It is history. As reported in Reason Magazine:
“San Francisco civil-liberties attorney Don B. Kates, Jr., an opponent of gun prohibitions with impeccable liberal credentials (he has been a clerk for radical lawyer William Kunstler, a civil rights activist in the South, and an Office of Economic Opportunity lawyer), describes early gun control efforts in his book Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptic Speak Out. As Kates documents, prohibitions against the sale of cheap handguns originated in the post-Civil War South. Small pistols selling for as little as 50 or 60 cents became available in the 1870s and ’80s, and since they could be afforded by recently emancipated blacks and poor whites (whom agrarian agitators of the time were encouraging to ally for economic and political purposes), these guns constituted a significant threat to a southern establishment interested in maintaining the traditional structure. Consequently, Kates notes, in 1870 Tennessee banned “selling all but ‘the Army and Navy model’ handgun, i.e., the most expensive one, which was beyond the means of most blacks and laboring people.” In 1881, Arkansas enacted an almost identical ban on the sale of cheap revolvers, while in 1902, South Carolina banned the sale of handguns to all but “sheriffs and their special deputies–i.e., company goons and the KKK.” In 1893 and 1907, respectively, Alabama and Texas attempted to put handguns out of the reach of blacks and poor whites through “extremely heavy business and/or transactional taxes” on the sale of such weapons. In the other Deep South states, slavery-era bans on arms possession by blacks continued to be enforced by hook or by crook.”
Malcolm didn’t just address the issue of the right to self defense, but he also laid bare the way the establishment was convincing African Americans that they were guilty for even owning a firearm.
“Never let them be brainwashed into thinking that whenever they take steps to see that they’re in a position to defend themselves that they’re being unlawful. The only time you’re being unlawful is when you break the law. It’s lawful to have something to defend yourself.”
Of course, the way Malcolm talks about the threat of racists and “crackers” make me wonder if he might be exaggerating to start trouble. I don’t know. But I do know that every time our 24-7 Secret-Service-guarded politicians discuss the issue, they act like they know that we should be just relying on the police for our protection, and really don’t need guns. It is not for me to judge what threats Malcolm X or his friends faced from Whites or anyone else. The point is he had what we all have regardless of race: the right to arm ourselves against the threats that we perceive. Period.
This post is by no means a general endorsement of Malcolm X. But when compared to other prominent African-American leaders of the civil rights era, I have to wonder if he was only hated for his faults or maybe he was feared for some of his virtues. It seems quite clear that the rhetoric used to shame people like Malcolm X is now being used against anyone who believes in the Second Amendment.