Martin Luther King Jr.

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How do "The Three Evils of Society" by MLK and "The Ballot or the Bullet" by Malcolm X critique American capitalism and income inequality? What solutions to poverty do they propose?

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In "The Three Evils of Society" and "The Ballot or the Bullet," King and Malcolm X understand Black people as a colonized group within the US, because they are exploited and the wealth they create is transferred to white people. Both understand that autonomy and self-determination spring out of economic freedom: political freedom means nothing without access to physical resources. Economic and political freedom cannot exist without one another, but both writers understand the vital importance of economics.

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Both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X understand domestic colonization as the situation in the United States in which one dominant group exploits other, less dominant groups within their borders for the gain of the dominant group. Usually, in colonization, another country is taken over and its people are exploited for the benefit of the ruling nation. Both King and Malcolm X, however, understand Black people as group within their own country who are exploited. King also expands this group to include Puerto Ricans, Appalachian white people, and other oppressed sub-groups in the US.

Both King and Malcolm X understand that income equality is necessary for Black people to achieve political equality and vice versa: the two are tied together. King, in fact, says in "The Three Evils of Society" that racism, poverty, and war are three intertwined forces that keep people down and that must be addressed all at once.

King says that political equality is meaningless without economic autonomy. He quotes Frederick Douglas, who stated that without economic opportunity, freedom from slavery is the freedom to be hungry and homeless. King says difficult political battles are ahead: civil rights cost elites nothing, but economic equality does.

Malcolm X makes largely the same point in "The Ballot or the Bullet" when he says that Black people must pursue Black self-determination: they have to make their own money, run their own businesses, and keep the money circulating in their own community so that they can create a pool of wealth. But he also understands the importance of political equality, advising Black people to target their votes as carefully as they would a bullet in order to achieve their precise aims.

It is impossible to decouple political and economic freedom, as the two go hand in hand. King and Malcolm X understand and advocate for both but place their emphasis on the vital importance of economics.

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Both “The Three Evils of Society” by Martin Luther King and “The Ballot or the Bullet” by Malcolm X frame their critique of American capitalism and income inequality as a rejection of domestic colonization. Explain your understanding of this idea. Further, what do MLK and Malcolm X say about self determination and autonomy? What solutions to poverty do MLK and Malcolm X advocate? What do you think is more important, economic freedom or political freedom? Can one exist without the other?

In Malcolm X’s speech “The Ballot or the Bullet,” you might notice elements of “domestic colonization” when he states that white people are “running all the stores” in the Black community. In a sense, Malcolm X is saying that one group of people is controlling or managing another group of people. It’s similar to colonization—only instead of a country forcibly taking over and running another country, it’s white Americans imposing their will on Black Americans.

If you review the paragraph in which Malcolm X elucidates the “economic philosophy of black nationalism,” you should be able to identify his solutions to this domestic colonization and the poverty that it produces. Your answer might include something about control. For Malcolm X, it seems crucial that Black people have control over their own community and economy.

It’s almost as if Malcolm X is calling for Black people to declare independence from white people. Once they gain the power to manage and run their own communities, poverty should decline, since the money spent in Black communities will stay in Black communities.

In “The Three Evils of Society,” Martin Luther King Jr. addresses poverty as well. Yet King’s summation of poverty in the United States includes other races and groups. He acknowledges that Black people represent the “vast majority,” yet he also cites the poverty of Latino people, Indigenous people, and Appalachian white people.

Unlike Malcolm X, it seems like King’s solution to poverty includes the government. King wants the nation to spend “billions of dollars” to tackle poverty and penurious living conditions. King seems to think that economic and political freedom and justice can be achieved by applying forceful pressure to the government. While Malcolm X appears to leave open the possibility that the government could become sincere supporters of Black justice and freedom, his speech seems to primarily depict America as a colonial power that Black people shouldn’t place much faith in.

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