Why do you have a picture of Malcolm X in your house?--This is a question that I've been asked several times by people visiting me. I have a framed 8x10 picture of Malcolm X on my writing desk. I guess I'm as curious about their question as they are about my picture. Is it that weird to have a picture of Malcolm X?
So, here's my answer in case you ever come to visit me and wonder why I have a picture of Malcolm X in my house. I read his autobiography (which I highly recommend) when I was in college and was greatly affected by it. It is a moving account and highly inspirational. I became somewhat obsessed with Malcolm X. You can ask my friends and roommates at the time how obsessed I was. That obsession has now tapered down to a deep admiration. I mostly admire his great courage.
He was attached to an important cause and because of his fierce loyalty to that cause, he lived in danger. He knew he was going to die, that he would be killed. Despite that knowledge that he was a marked man, he continued to defend that cause. The cause was greater than himself. So despite the danger to his life, the sacrifice to his family, he never stopped fighting for his people. To me, that is exceedingly brave and exemplifies a kind of courage I don't have. He said, "if you're not ready to die for it, put the word 'freedom' out of your vocabulary.' That level of bravery is beyond my comprehension. It is greater than me, and so I admire it.
But that is not all. We all know he said some harsh things. Of course I don't agree with everything he has said. Some may say he advocated violence, but he said: "We are nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us." He wasn't talking about violence, he was talking about self-defense. As my kids would say, 'they started it.' We all know the history, we know who started it. The government participated in violence and turned their heads when violence and lynchings were being perpetrated.
I don't advocate violence, I'm a pacifist in every sense of the word. I don't even let my kids play with guns or watch violent movies. I wouldn't even buy my son that Nerf gun he wanted for Christmas. I know, I'm harsh. I rarely think that violence is the answer, but just ask the American Revolutionaries if their freedom could have been obtained without violence. They obtained their freedom 'by any means necessary.'
Lastly, the aspect of Malcolm X that I most admire is his ability to admit that he was wrong in making sweeping indictments of white people. He did say some quite terrible things, that of course, I don't agree with. But how difficult would it be to stand in front of everyone and acknowledge that your words were wrong that you were unfair. That's exactly what he did. After a spiritual experience, Malcolm realized that his hurtful words against whites were wrong, and he stood in front of the whole world and admitted it. He then said he was willing to work with anyone, black or white, who wanted to advance the cause. The cause, itself, was righteous, but the words he used to defend it were not always so. He attempted to make amends for those harsh words against whites. I believe it takes great courage to admit you're wrong, and his admission was huge and public. Unfortunately, he was killed shortly after that and was not given the adequate opportunity to put his words to work. That reminds me of an account in the Book of Mormon. A group of young men attempted to destroy the Church of God, to lead people astray from the Lord. Like Malcolm, they had a spiritual experience which moved them to make amends, and they spent the rest of their lives dedicated to the Lord's work. We now believe that these were great men, missionaries, and true heroes. What if they had been killed shortly after that spiritual experience? What if they hadn't had the rest of their lives to prove their new found beliefs? If they hadn't been given the opportunity to redeem themselves, to build up the Church of God, what would we think of them today? Would we consider them righteous heroes? Would we question those who put up pictures of them in their homes?
So, yes, I have a picture of Malcolm X in my house. To me, it serves as a reminder of bravery, of courage to face death for a righteous cause, of the incredible ability to say: yes, I did wrong, but now let me do right.