Malcolm argued that non-violent resistance was proliferating
Malcolm X’s Message to the Grassroots was a public speech aimed at encouraging African-Americans to mobilize against the white man to achieve racial justice. Given in 1963, the speech responded to the first half of the Civil Rights Movement, which included the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Sit-In Movement, and the March on Washington. These sub-movements were forms of non-violent resistance, an ideology espoused by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Malcolm X’s speech discussed the inefficacy of Dr. King’s non-violent ideology, and pushed for the unification of the black community towards a violent revolution. In response the white community’s repression of blacks’ attempts to bring the issue of segregation to the forefront, Message to the Grassroots argued that non-violent resistance was proliferating racial inequality, and that violent confrontation was necessary to facilitate tangible results in the fight for equality.Primarily, Malcolm X’s speech was motivated by the discrepancy between Dr. King’s non-violent ideology and whites’ tendency to violently retaliate. Up until X’s speech, the Civil Rights Movement had not resorted to violent confrontation because of Dr. King’s assertion that violence was immoral and “thrives on hatred rather than love.” As such, Dr. King’s weapons of protest were neither guns nor bombs, but boycotts and college students occupying white-only café seating. During the indictments of the Montgomery Bus Boycott participants in 1956, the majority-white Alabama jury claimed, “distrust, dislike, and hatred,” were being conveyed to the white community, “which for more than a generation has enjoyed exemplary race relations.” Even though Dr. King’s peaceful protest came from a place of love and understanding, the jury’s claim signified that whites saw the boycott as an act of spiteful defiance, and the defensive language put the protestors in an antagonistic light. Further, the jury noted, “If we continue on our present course of race relations, violence is inevitable.” This New York Times article represented not only the effects of black underrepresentation in jury decisions during the Civil Rights Movement, but how the white community played the victim to justify segregation instead of addressing the underlying issue of equality. Despite the legal implications, the white community’s swiftness to crack down on peaceful protests was out of fear; As long as the black community continued to resist, there was the looming threat of eventual violent uprising.Nevertheless, Dr. King opposed violent resistance and aimed to achieve integration by focusing on the emotional appeal of his platform, even though the white community refused to acknowledge it. In an interview with Dr. King in The Washington Post and Times Herald in 1958, journalist Ralph McGill stated, “‘There will be many future decisions but too few of them will have a Dr. King to provide leadership which stays within the law and thereby manages to become effective.'” In reference to Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her bus seat, McGill praised Dr. King’s ability to turn his ideology into a movement within the black community, but not its effectiveness at touching the hearts of the white community and changing the law. Non-violent protests continued two years later with the Greensboro Sit-In, the first of many sit-ins across the South. Greensboro mayor George Roach’s response to the situation echoed the Alabama jury from the Bus Boycott, as he warned, “If this situation is allowed to return to the brink of violence, the city government … will be forced to act swiftly to avert any threatened disorder.” The responses to the boycott and the sit-in spoke to each other, and followed a common theme of white victimhood and the desire to avoid violence in order to keep the peace. The participants of the sit-ins, on the other hand, feared they were targets for white retaliation, and detailed anxieties of being “arrested, and even taken from jail and getting lynched.” Non-violent protestors’ awareness of the possible grim repercussions indicated that though they protested from a place of not wanting to antagonize the white man and instead help him see justice, they knew their lives were at stake. Malcolm X capitalized on these ideas and responded to Dr. King’s philosophy in Message to the Grassroots by arguing that in non-violently resisting, the black man remains subservient to the white man. Connecting the successes of historical revolutions to bloodshed, one of X’s assumptions in his speech was that there cannot be a victorious revolution without violence. Blacks’ fear of white violence gave him the foreground to argue against non-violent protest because of its inexpediency. X countered protestors’ fears of retaliation by arguing that blacks had historically been devoted to the white man, and were taught “peaceful suffering” by whites to quell minority uprising and uphold the racial hierarchy. In a comparison of the “house Negro” and the “field Negro,” X alluded to Dr. King as the former: a racially-oppressed human being who, whether consciously or otherwise, “identified himself with his master.” By claiming that the “modern house Negro loves his master,” X confirmed Dr. King’s assertion that nonviolence is rooted in love and understanding for the oppressor. This connection helped bolster X’s argument that nonviolence was ineffective because it used historical precedent to show that acting from a place of love was a form of submissiveness. Though X did not address the bus boycott or sit-in movements directly, his argument implied that non-violent resistance propagated racial inequality by failing to disrupt the historical power structure of whites over blacks, achieved by whites through violence. As a solution, therefore, X contended that blacks ought to mobilize and use violence to confront the white community as they had never done before in order to achieve racial justice. Finally, in addressing the March on Washington that had happened only months before he gave his speech, X gave a concrete example of whites had subdued the black fight for equality and disguised it as performative allyship. According to X, the march was motivated by angry black revolutionaries, or the “grassroots,” but the intended effect had been quelled by the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership which introduced white philanthropists to the movement and reduced its strength. Though X saw this intervention as infiltration, Dr. King saw it as positive integration and a step away from white apathy. Just three days after the March, Dr. King stated in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor that the March bestowed in his brothers and sisters “a greater sense of dignity,” and that it was no longer “a struggle between blacks and whites but a struggle of justice against injustice.” X’s response refuted Dr. King’s interpreation of the March in that it still represented a struggle between blacks and whites, because white performative allyship reduced the effect of the “black steamroller that was going to come down on the capital.” Closing out his speech with this example helped X impart on his audience the need for black separatism because the March illustrated integration as a paradox; though Dr. King portrayed it as a step in the right direction, integration actually kept blacks in the same position of the racial hierarchy. Ultimately, Message to the Grassroots dissented from the non-violent resistance movement and revealed the harsh reality of how white allies had been quieting the voices of marginalized people. In response to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Sit-In Movement, and the March on Washington, Malcolm X maintained that Dr. King’s non-violent ideology was not creating tangible change because on a deeper level, it came from a place of not wanting to provoke the white man. X vehemently proposed that African-Americans mobilize towards violent confrontation to finally rupture the racial hierarchy that had oppressed millions of people for centuries. Though X had different means to his ends, his passionate rhetoric and resilient attitude reflected his shared faith with Dr. King in the community over the individual, and that with a united front, change is possible.