Timeless Teachings: Malcolm X Pt. III | Extremism Vs. Moderation

I recently read a blog about extremism in America.


The writer and I don’t share the same political ideology, so off the jump, I knew there would be some points they made I didn’t agree with. The one thing I noticed most from their writing was the need to equate the extremism we see on American’s far-right to the extremism we see on the left. I’m actually writing a piece on right-wing extremism so I’ll save my energy (and your attention span) for that, but just know…

Anyway, this piece isn’t to necessarily combat their piece, so I’m not going to link to the piece or mention who the writer is, but I wanted to examine this notion of false equivalency in terms of extremism here in America. I was actually listing to an old speech from Malcolm X where he debated the topic of Extremism Vs. Moderation.

Lucky for us a recording of the entire 2-hour debate is on Youtube, so I’ll link that bad boy below. Malcolm X’s section of the debate was only about 34 minutes, so if you don’t have the patience to listen to the entire debate, go ahead and skip to, 1:13:14.

Below I highlight some of the key quotes that stood out to me in regards to the two types of extremism we have here in America.

Oxford Union Debate

 Oxford University Student Union in the United Kingdom – December 3, 1964

I think the only way one can really determine whether extremism in the defense of liberty is justified, is not to approach it as an American or a European or an African or an Asian, but as a human being. If we look upon it as different types immediately we begin to think in terms of extremism being good for one and bad for another, or bad for one and good for another. But if we look upon it, if we look upon ourselves as human beings, I doubt that anyone will deny that extremism, in defense of liberty, the liberty of any human being, is a value. Anytime anyone is enslaved, or in any way deprived of his liberty, if that person is a human being, as far as I am concerned he is justified to resort to whatever methods necessary to bring about his liberty again.”

Most people usually think, in terms of extremism, as something that is relative, related to someone they know or something that they’ve heard of, I don’t think they look upon extremism by itself, or all alone. They apply it to something. A good example—and one of the reasons that this can’t be too well understood today—many people who have been in positions of power in the past don’t realize that the power, the centers of power, are changing. When you’re in a position of power for a long time you get used to using your yardstick, and you take it for granted that because you’ve forced your yardstick on others, that everyone is still using the same yardstick. So that your definition of extremism usually applies to everyone, but nowadays times are changing, and the center of power is changing. People in the past who weren’t in a position to have a yardstick or use a yardstick of their own are using their own yardstick now. You use one and they use another. In the past when the oppressor had one stick and the oppressed used that same stick, today the oppressed are sort of shaking the shackles and getting yardsticks of their own, so when they say extremism they don’t mean what you do, and when you say extremism you don’t mean what they do. There are entirely two different meanings.

“When the people who are in power want to, again, create an image to justify something that’s bad, they use the press. And they’ll use the press to create a humanitarian image, for a devil, or a devil image for a humanitarian. They’ll take a person whose a victim of the crime, and make it appear he’s the criminal, and they’ll take the criminal and make it appear that he’s the victim of the crime.

“This is the role that the press plays, if you study back in history different wars, always the press, whenever a country that’s in power wants to step in unjustly and invade someone else’s property, they use the press to make it appear that the area that they are about to invade is filled with savages, or filled with people who have gone berserk, or they are raping white women, molesting nuns, they use the same old tactic year in and year out.”

Usually when a person is looked upon as an extremist, anything that person does in your eyesight is extreme. On the other hand, if a person is looked upon as conservative, just about anything they do is conservative.

“As long as a white man does it, it’s alright, a black man is supposed to have no feelings. But when a black man strikes back he’s an extremist, he’s supposed to sit passively and have no feelings, be nonviolent, and love his enemy no matter what kind of attack, verbal or otherwise, he’s supposed to take it. But if he stands up in any way and tries to defend himself, then he’s an extremist.

“Another example is the Supreme Court’s desegregation decision that was handed down in 1954. This is a law, and they have not been able to implement this law in New York City or in Boston or in Cleveland or Chicago or the northern cities. And my contention is that any time you have a country, supposedly a democracy, supposedly the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” and it can’t enforce laws, even in the northern most cosmopolitan and progressive part of it, that will benefit a black man, if those laws can’t be enforced, how much heart do you think we will get when they pass some civil rights legislation which only involves more laws. If they can’t enforce this law, they’ll never enforce those laws.

Any time you live in a society supposedly and it doesn’t enforce it’s own laws, because the color of a man’s skin happens to be wrong, then I say those people are justified to resort to any means necessary to bring about justice where the government can’t give them justice.

“I don’t believe in any form of unjustified extremism. But I believe that when a man is exercising extremism, a human being is exercising extremism, in defense of liberty for human beings, it’s no vice. And when one is moderate in the pursuit of justice for human beings, I say he’s a sinner.”

In fact, America is one of the best examples, when you read its history, about extremism. Ol’ Patrick Henry said “liberty of death”—that’s extremism.

The young generation of whites, blacks, browns, whatever else there is, are living in a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change, people in power have misused it, and now there has to be a change. And a better world has to be built and the only way it’s going to be built is with extreme methods.”

Malcolm X | Born May 19, 1925, Omaha, NE – Assassinated: February 21, 1965, Audubon Ballroom


  1. When Black Americans act lawfully in pursuit of their rights under the Constitution they are seen as “agitators” or “militant” never as “patriots” or citizens demanding its government perform according to its law.

    Liked by 1 person

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