Open Letter to a Negro Student at Harvard
(A lecturer on Government, Martin Kilson is spending year's leave as a visiting professor in the Institute of African Studies of the University of Ghana.)
Yes, Malcolm X's murder was big news here as elsewhere in the world. I was not surprised at what you said about some of the Negro students taking Malcolm's death as a loss to the wider protest movement, for there was something worthwhile in his post Black-Muslim attempt to secularize and rationalize certain black nationalist symbols.
I was, however, quite dismayed at other features of the reaction of some young Negroes to Malcolm's murder. In particular, I was disturbed by their belief that the Negroes in the Muslim Movement could not possible have done Malcolm in, but that "Mr. Charlie" must have done it through the CIA, FBI, or some other devious mechanism. I quote you one instance of this viewpoint I have received from a mutual friend:
The black community here was jolted by the horrible act, but the crackers can hardly conceal their jubilation, or at least good-riddance attitude. You should have seen the newspaper comments and television announcements. All of them right from the beginning have intimated that the Black Muslims killed him, which is so easy to be-live because of his rivalry with them. But some of the spooks" have grave doubts about the whole story. James Farmer has announced that he feels that Malcolm was the victim of an international plot. Ther are several fishy things that make it difficult for any honest person to believe anything.
No doubt a good many "crackers" were happy that Malcolm X had left the scene; but this does not necessarily mean that they pulled the trigger, or that a Negro could have possibly pulled it. This same attitude was widespread in the response of African newspapers to Malcolm X's murder, and the newspaper of the so called radical African governments like those here in Ghana (which have a tremendous influence throughout Africa) where certain beyond question that whites engineered Malcolm's murder.
Well C--, it just may be that "the man" did do Malcolm in, though I doubt it. But never mind. What really bothers me is the simple-minded view of reality behind the tendency to blame "the man" for everything bad that happens to black men. I am fed up with this "goddamn-white-man" outlook. It is cheap, irresponsible, and has nothing to contribute to the resolution of the nasty problems of race in this wretched world. It is high time we confront the fact that we are often responsible ourselves for a lot of bad things that happen to us; that blacks, at home and here in Africa or in Haiti or where have you, are just as capable of dropping the hammer on each other, of shooting, killing, and maltreating each other in the brutal and stupid ways that human beings have dealt with each other since they rose up from the apes.
Surely no sensible man can deny the role white people have played in the oppressed status that has been our lot for the past three centuries. And it is necessary to confront white America with this sordid side of is history; we can no longer permit our white countrymen the cheap hypocritical stance they have taken on neurotic proportions for many white Americans.
But let me ask you a question: Would the racial story of mankind in these past centuries be any different if the tables had been turned and we black folk were in the white man's favored vantage point of power, bureaucratic organization, technological and scientific advancement? I, for one, doubt it very much. The human situation, I am trying to say, is a tragic one, however you look at it. Our shameful treatment at the hands of white folk loses its ultimate meaning unless it is seen in this context.
The history of our situation is so much more complex than the "goddamn-white-man" outlook would allow. The Black Muslim talk about "the blue-eyed devil who enslaved us" is really just so much nonsense. Africans, after all, willfully sold their kith and kin, your ancestors and mine, into slavery to the New World. What is more, the African chiefs and middle-men who participated in the slave trade were aware that thousands on each slave ship would die like dogs of diseases before reaching their destination in Brazil, Guiana, West Indies, or the American South. This, I'm sad to say, is little different in my reckoning from the Germans' participation in the Nazi regime, knowing that such participation meant death for millions of Jews and other people.
Whatever is required for men to cast each other to the dust for a psychological or material end, black folk have just as much of it as the white folk.
All this is to day that I have no doubt whatever that the Black Muslim movement, cheap, corrupt, and irrational as it is and as similar such have always been (exploiting the poor urban Negroes without shame or pity), had reason and will to do Malcolm X in. He represented a major threat to their influence and wealth (a few million bucks, so I'm told) and they were not going to let him tinker with it. Such use of violence by Negroes to protect petty establishments of corrupt influence and wealth is surely nothing new.
Well, C--, you must think as you like on these matters, but for me the "goddamn-white-man" perspective will not do. It is naive and incapable of producing constructive means for resolving the racial problems at home and elsewhere in the world. It is also dull, for the human situation is so much more fascinating than this perspective would ever allow.
* "Spooks" is an Ironic, in-group term used by Negroes in reference to themselves.--M.K.