It’s hard to boil someone down to one position, but I think it’s fair to say that Martin Luther King wanted America to deliver on its original promise: that all men are created equal and therefore deserve the same rights, access, and opportunities. His preferred method of doing so was non-violent resistance, essentially making himself into a martyr to show exactly how unfair America truly is. I like this paragraph from his “I Have A Dream” speech:
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
“Put up or shut up.”
Of course, non-violent resistance doesn’t mean that you fold at the first sign of hate. King kept guns for protection, and many of his peers did, as well. Owning a gun is their right under the laws of America, and it’s a right that’s well worth exercising, depending on your situation. It seems weird at first blush, but think it through: non-violent resistance doesn’t mean that you let someone kill you at their leisure. Non-violent resistance is a focused tactic, something you do intentionally. Self-protection exists apart from that, right?
Malcolm X is harder to boil down, and he’s been put into competition with MLK so often that it’s hard to define him as his own thing sometimes. I like these quotes, though:
This is to warn you that I am no longer held in check from fighting white supremacists by Elijah Muhammad’s separatist Black Muslim movement, and that if your present racist agitation against our people there in Alabama causes physical harm to Reverend King or any other black Americans who are only attempting to enjoy their rights as free human beings, that you and your Ku Klux Klan friends will be met with maximum physical retaliation from those of us who are not hand-cuffed by the disarming philosophy of nonviolence, and who believe in asserting our right of self-defense — by any means necessary.
“This a hands off policy. Y’all touch him, we riding.” –Young Jeezy.
I want Dr. King to know that I didn’t come to Selma to make his job difficult. I really did come thinking I could make it easier. If the white people realize what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear Dr. King.
“You can get with this, or you can get with that.” –Black Sheep.
I like these quotes because they both show a better picture of the relationship between King and Malcolm X, later El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, than the usual narrative does. America likes to place them in conflict with each other, but the truth was much more nuanced. They didn’t see eye-to-eye, but they were both working toward the same goal, and they knew that.
Malcolm was more willing to be the devil than Martin was. He was willing to be the demon that America deserved, while Martin was able to become something different, something softer. Both approaches have their merits, and they aren’t necessarily fundamentally opposed. If America resisted Martin’s soft approach, Malcolm made it clear that he was right around the corner with a harder approach. “Deal with him or deal with me.”
Personally, I identify with Malcolm a lot more than Martin. I’ve had a copy of “The Ballot or The Bullet” in my Dropbox for years now, and it remains one of my favorite things to read. There is a directness to Malcolm’s approach that I appreciate and try to emulate. “You better give me the respect I deserve or I’ma take it by force.” Malcolm is bigger than his rep as the white-hating, bigoted side of the civil rights movement. That’s too small and too inaccurate an idea for him.
But it’s that idea that led to the idea of Martin and Malcolm in competition, which led directly to the idea that Professor Xavier of the X-Men and Magneto of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants are the Martin Luther King and Malcolm X of the mutant rights movement.
It’s an easy comparison to make, considering Xavier’s position as angel and Magneto’s as demon, but it’s wrong on basically every single level. Professor X drafted children into a paramilitary unit under the guise of educating them, and then sent them out to fight other mutants. They’re essentially a self-police force for the mutant people. When you step out of line, they’ll step on you. This was later explored when X-Factor and Freedom Force became government-sponsored squads, a kind of walking, talking COINTELPRO.
Magneto is the other side of the fence. Where Xavier wants mutants to coexist with humans, Magneto is a mutant supremacist and terrorist. He murders humans, he brutalizes mutants, and anyone who stands in his way is found wanting and considered a traitor. Magneto is a murderer with ideals, when you boil it down.
Neither character bears any resemblance to Martin or Malcolm, outside of a short-sighted and frankly ignorant idea of what Martin or Malcolm represent. People have said it, but that doesn’t make it true.
Professor X uses violent methods to get what he wants and to police his people. Magneto uses violent methods to oppress another species and is an actual terrorist.
Martin & Malcolm wanted America to deliver on its promise. Professor X and Magneto are the hero and villain of an adventure comic. Any connection between the two sets of people is based on inaccurate data. Any comparison between the two has no leg to stand on.
There is no relation in tactics, approach, or personality.