Malcom X and the Black Revolution

Malcom X is one of the most renowned human rights activists of the 20th century era and is well recognized for his participation and contribution to the African American civil rights movement. His tendency to stress the global perspective he gained from travelling internationally through the emphasis of a “direct connection” between the struggle of African Americans for equal rights and the liberation of African countries from colonialism has been of particular concern for historians. One common example of such connections is his reference to the Algerian resistance in the situation at Harlem and other black ghettos in the United States. Malcolm said that Harlem was much alike to the case of Algeria in that both were police states that harbored the presence of what was seemingly occupation forces. Succinctly, the black revolutionary held the view that the conditions in Algeria were the same as those experienced in Harlem. This paper assesses the historical significance of his claims by comparing his views with the views of Cabral and Covington, as well as the themes portrayed in the films The Battle of Algiers and The Spook Who Sat by the Door. Throughout this analysis, Malcom’s perspectives differ greatly with those of Covington who directly opposes the black revolutionary’s notions. On the other hand, Cabral expresses his advocacy of anti-dogmatism, revolutionary nationalism, anti-imperialism, and presses the need for greater ideological grounding as far as activism is concerned.

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Firstly, Covington begins his writings by introducing the Algerian struggle and the reason behind its fame and recognition against a backdrop of other numerous weighty revolutions in the globe. Citing Fanon’s writings as one of the very reasons why the public is vividly aware of the Algerian revolution, he remarks that the essence of publicizing the case of Algeria has only been to glamorize the concept of struggle. He writes, “….one of the basic problems of this kind of mass aeration of the Algerian struggle has been to further over-romanticize the concept of struggle….” (Covington 245). He proceeds to examine the Algerian revolution deeply by investigating the reasons of its success, whether any parallels exist between Algeria and ‘black America,’ as well as between the approach of the French colonialist’s army and the one utilized by United States Army and the national guard. In other words, Covington is directly assessing the validity of Malcom X’s claim.

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The very first of Covington’s evaluation deals with the military approach used in destabilizing the subjects. According to him, the case of Algeria involved five major military-related steps: (1) creation of a gap between insurgents and foreign assistants, (2) destruction of larger gorilla groupings and regular forces, (3) guarding of communication and fundamental administrative and economic centers, (4) mass resettlement of communities, and (5) rehabilitation of the brainwashed rebels (Covington 246). These tactics, he cites, are inapplicable in Harlem because of its setting (Covington 247). Referring to the designated forbidden zones that were used in Algeria to create a line of defense, he claims that such “line of were established around Harlem, with adjacent areas evacuated, the search for rebels would then just become a problem of systematic searching in a control area” (Covington 247). He is keen to particularly mention the main reasons for the success of the Algerian revolution. They include religion, a sense of community, land base, and outside basis of support. Notably, none of these elements are relatable with the African American community in America (Covington 251). Thus, Covington concludes that the idea of importing techniques of revolution from the Algerian case to the case of Harlem were unfruitful.

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Amilcar Cabral in his writings takes a different approach by taking the position of a revolutionary theoretician with an aim of introducing new perspectives to African American communities concerning the struggle of freedom and liberation. Particularly, his views present the focus on the creation a maximum national unity against colonialism, although his strategy is not conformist but rather progressive. Throughout his question-answer sessions, he demonstrates that the question of freedom and independence can be broken down to tiny digestible elements that can assist different communities to understand the unique nature of their struggles as well as how different they are from each other. This excerpt illustrates his basic analytical technique “…. You see, I think that all kinds of struggles for liberation obey a group of laws. The application of these laws to a certain case depends on the nature of the case….” (Cabral 12).

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Evidently, Cabral is taking a different approach from that taken by Malcom X by examining the dynamics that shape the struggles of each community rather than comparing two communities on the basis of wider themes. With regard to his anti-imperialistic ideas, Malcom’s teachings clearly demonstrate that he is passionate about extinguishing the policy of extending country’s power through colonization or use of military force. What is more, he is an ardent activist of equality as far as racism is concerned. His approach is nevertheless quite progressive as can be judged from his word “…In combating racism we don’t make progress if we combat the people themselves. We have to combat the causes of racism…” (Cabral 2). All in all, Cabral uses a diplomatic and tactful approach to the theme of African American Civil rights movements and demonstrates that the struggles of one community are not directly comparable to those others.

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Apart from the insight of Covington and Cabral, there is more to be taken from the films The Battle of Algiers and the Spook Who Sat by the Door concerning the struggle for independence in Algeria and the civil rights movements in the USA. The Battle of Algiers has been critically celebrated and often selected by states and insurgent groups alike to suggest that social change is rather a product of collectives, but not of individuals. As Daulatzai (60) notes, the film “does not center the use of an individual protagonist who forces audience identification with that individual…the film privileges a larger collective…- the Algerian people.” Thus, the movie’s link to collectivism fueled the Third Cinema Movement, which decried the Hollywood model of cinema, neocolonialism, and the capitalist system. Indeed, The Battle of Algiers later became a center of influence within debates about African American cultural politics and representation. On the other hand, the The Spook Who Sat by the Door, which is adopted from a 1969 of the same name, emerges as a representation of racism, oppression, violence lived by African American communities and thus was used as a satire of the civil rights movements in the U.S. during its era. The influence of these two films in the African American Civil rights movement is better explained by Daulatzai (60), who cites them as samples of blax-ploitation films. He writes “the thematic and ideological relationships between….the two films…are particularly compelling” because they gave cinematic voice and empathy to decolonization and the Thrid Cinema movement. 

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In conclusion, it is evident that the view of Malcom X concerning the association between Harlem and Algeria does not coincide with the perspectives of Covington and Cabral. Covington examines the validity of Malcolm’s claim and disagree on the basis of basic elements that exists in both situations. He states that the main reasons that led to the success of the Algerian revolution, including religion, a sense of community, land base, and outside basis of support, are inapplicable in the case of Harlem. On the other hand, Cabral uses a different tactic to contrast elements of the civil right movement in the U.S. and the struggle of independence in Africa. He points at the different aspects that shape a particular community and uses the differences to proclaim that societies should not be merely compared. Rather, they should emphasize on individual components in order to come up with progressive solutions.

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