“Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.”
Those are the echoing words of Malcolm X, who would have celebrated his 90th birthday today, and they are both an inspirational push for self-responsibility and a harsh reminder of the pain and the struggle of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. His harsh methods were indicative of the harsh reality that most African Americans faced during those times, and often clashed with the more peaceful perspective of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But you can’t blame Malcolm X for adopting a more violent form of protest. In an age where it seems the most effective fight against brutality and disrespect is violent protest, we can certainly relate at least in some respect. Malcolm X himself was quoted as saying, “Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone: but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the grave.” Severe words for a severe time. In many ways, Malcolm X’s presence and ideals are alive and well in the world, both in modern culture and in the fictional stories that we fill our lives with. Back in the 60s, the writers and artists at Marvel Comics were aware of the ongoing struggle for equality, and their product was reflective of the Civil Rights Movement in itself. They created the X-Men and the ensuing conflicts were modeled after…you guessed it…Dr. King and Malcolm X. In this case, it was Professor X and Magneto — Magneto personifying the ideals of Malcolm X and his push for fighting fire with fire to achieve equality. Instead of fighting for African American rights, like Malcolm X and MLK, Professor X and Magneto fought for the rights of mutant kind.
“There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.”
Malcolm X’s imprint on the character of Magneto helped shape the stories and films that followed. But in no way should Malcolm X’s comparison be shamed or looked down upon. Magneto, in many ways, may be Marvel’s most misunderstood and misrepresented “villain.” We say “villain” because Magneto truly believes that his actions represent the greater good and betterment of man and mutant kind, and in many ways, Malcolm X was often misunderstood to be a “villain.” However, Magneto’s violent methods and willingness to fight rather than debate are almost a direct mirror of the man who Malcolm X was…a fighter who truly believed that his methods would bring about change. Had X’s life not been taken so soon, we might have seen more development and progress in his movement, and things might have turned out differently for African American culture.
“A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”
The greatest gift, in this writer’s opinion, that you could ever give someone is a timeless, legendary story. In numerous ways, Malcolm X has been living on through our various takes and renditions of his methods and ideals for 50+ years. His preaching and methods still ring true in today’s society, where discrimination, police brutality, and equality are still ever ebbing and flowing with the times. Things will change….they always change…but there are still the roots of those who paved the way for us who followed. Their ideas and their means to inspire change will often be met with debate, but the fact is that Malcolm X’s inspiration still lives on today. Often, fictional writing is overlooked for not being a “real” representation of the world and its ideals. But in truth, it’s the easiest way to share messages and lessons for those of us who are willing to dive in and embrace these stories.
“I want to be remembered as someone that was sincere. Even if I made mistakes, they were in sincerity. I can deal with a person that’s wrong, as long as they are sincere.”
No matter your beliefs, you cannot deny the power and the strength that Malcolm X personified. He was a pioneer in the fight for African American rights, and his message lives on. Whether you’re reading the pages of X-Men comics, flipping through movies on Netflix, or just watching the news…his voice is there.
“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
Happy Birthday, Malcolm X. Thank you for being a fearless pioneer for not just African Americans, but for minorities everywhere. The world is still growing, but is a better place because of your efforts and the minds who have followed. R.I.P.