KORA with Malcolm X

On February 4, 2012

By Tenzin Nyinjey

On Sunday mornings, I often visit Tsuklakhang. However, unlike popo-las and momo-las walking around with prayer wheels and rosaries in their hands, I carry an I-pod and a backpack filled with a laptop and books. Apart from having an opportunity to read a few lines, while taking rest on a boulder in the mountains that echoes with melodies of chirping birds, the books in my backpack gives an added advantage—they shower me with that extra bit of weight on my shoulders, resulting in a sort of good physical exercise much needed by those of us who are engaged in so-called intellectual labor.

As I walked up, I took the task of listening to one of the most inspiring speeches of Malcolm X, less well-known among us, but who was as influential as the Great Martin King in black civil rights movement in 60s America. Ballot or the Bullet lifted the spirit of twenty two million blacks in the US to fight for their legitimate rights to vote in the presidential and congressional elections, in the process freeing the whole community from white American supremacy.

One of the key aspects of the speech that made a dent in my consciousness was Malcolm’s stress on taking actions. He said to the round of applause of his audience, ‘we blacks have had too much of sit-ins, its time for us to stand up and show some spine… it’s either ballot or the bullet… you have to pay a price for freedom… if you are not willing to pay this price, don’t talk to me of freedom.’ And Malcolm was true to his words. In the end he chose live bullets—liberty and death—over tyranny, like our compatriots in Tibet protesting against Chinese occupation.

Malcolm gave me an interesting idea about the way forward to unity among oppressed people.  He said for the 22 million blacks in the US, the key to real unity is not through religion but ‘black nationalism.’ He advises all his followers to put their religion—whether they are Muslims, Christians, agnostics and atheists—in their ‘closet’ and when dealing with their fellow blacks in the streets, they should do it through the medium of ‘black nationalism.’

I felt this notion of ‘black nationalism’ is something we Tibetans, the Chinese and the world can learn from if we are interested in what His Holiness often calls as ‘knowing the reality of the Tibetan freedom struggle.’ Protests inside Tibet since the Chinese invasion of Tibet are not concerned with religion alone, as the Chinese and some sections of international media thinks. Ultimately, the protests, as His Holiness said, are a manifestation of ‘Tibetan nationalism’, euphemistically called ‘Tibetan spirit,’ that is they are related to Tibetan people’s fight for basic rights to live as a distinct nation and people.

This becomes clear when we see that all the protests in Tibet involve not just monks and nuns, but farmers, nomads, young students and even Tibetans belonging to the communist party. In fact, one interesting anecdote His Holiness narrated during a press conference in 2008 was the case of many Tibetan party members secretly coming to India to seek his audience and even prostrating in front of him.

It should be stressed here that Malcolm’s notion of ‘black nationalism’ had nothing to do with that extreme blind xenophobia of the nineteenth-century European nationalism, which caused so much bloodshed and suffering culminating in two World Wars. Malcolm’s ‘black nationalism’ does not mean that blacks are ‘anti-white,’ but that they are ‘anti-exploitation,’  ‘anti-degradation,’ and ‘anti-oppression.’ Tibetan nationalism, in the same vein, does not mean that we are ‘anti-Chinese.’ It simply means we are ‘anti-exploitation,’  ‘anti-degradation,’ and ‘anti-oppression.’ And like the blacks suffering at the hands of whites during Malcolm’s era, Tibetans in Tibet suffer political oppression, economic exploitation and social degradation at the hands of Chinese.

While listening to his speech, which was no less than musical art to my ears, I wondered what inspired Malcolm to free himself from the shackles of superficiality (that greatest of all vices in the words of Oscar Wilde), listlessness and lethargy we ordinary people often suffers from.  And Malcolm indicates an answer to this in his speech. Like Gandhi, among many other influences, Malcolm alludes to the importance of reading books that helped him reflect and eventually gave him the courage to stand up for himself and his fellow blacks for freedom. He said, ‘the white men made a mistake by letting me read their history books!’

The writer works at Kashag Secretariat, Central Tibetan Administration.

(The views expressed here are that of the author and shall not be regarded as views and policies of Central Tibetan Administration.)


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