Community Action against Racial and Pedagogical Oppression: The Cases of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Paulo Freire

The 1960s marked an unprecedented development of ideologies and social movements, which aimed to provide alternative perspectives and solution to the increasing problem of civil disorder and restlessness among various sectors of the society, particularly those differing in race, gender, age, and even educational attainment and social class.

Two of the most prominent movements that have been formed and developed during this period are the civil rights movement and the educational reform. The civil rights movement that has become popular and powerful during this period traces its roots from the issue of racial discrimination against black Americans. Educational reform, on the other hand, was spurred from new ideologies that came along with the dominance of the new socialist movement, which looks at the oppressive nature of the current social order extant in the educational system of America at the time.

This paper discusses the works of three significant individuals who have contributed to the development of the civil rights movement and educational reform in America. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X served as bastions and role models of the movement against racial prejudice and discrimination against black Americans. Their contributions to the movement are discussed by an analysis of their speeches seeking the black Americans' emancipation from the social bondage of racial prejudice. Paulo Freire, meanwhile, discusses the oppressive nature of the educational system by conceptualizing a framework, which he terms as the "banking concept of education." The texts that follow are discussions of each discourse written by these three individuals, and how each discourse contributed to increasing social awareness among the American citizenry during the period and helped create social changes that ultimately characterize the pluralist kind of society that American society is at present.

One of the most popular proponents of the black American civil rights movement is Martin Luther King, American clergyman who is well-known for his advocacy of nonviolent protest against racial discrimination. His staunch belief that the struggle for racial equality is reflected in his speeches, of which the most significant is his acceptance speech for his award as the Nobel Prize winner for peace in 1964.

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, King reflects on the current state of the civil rights (black American) movement in America. In order to understand the situation that King mentions in his speech, it is important to put it into context -- that is, in the context of the current situation of the black American society in the country at the time.

In the year 1964, America had a new president in the person of Lyndon B. Johnson, who replaced John F. Kennedy after he was assassinated. Johnson's new position as the President of the country is met with challenges, as the country embarks in a new cultural revolution, where marginalized sectors such as the women, youth, and black American sectors are beginning to assert their rights as members of the citizenry. In effect, the black American movement is happening at the same time that the women's and youth movement were also actively asserting their right to equality in the dominantly white and patriarchal American society. Johnson is met with criticism by the black American movement because he hails from the South, the region where slavery thrived for many decades, and continues to be so even during the 20th century. In addition to this fact, America is also plagued by violence caused by blatant displays of racial discrimination, where black and white Americans' differences and conflict are expressed through violence and threats to one's safety.

This is why King's thrust is to pursue the 'unpopular' path -- that is, to continue with the protest against racial discrimination in the most peaceful way possible. Peaceful demonstrations are, in fact, one of the main reasons why King deserved to become the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize: "I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaimed the rule of the land... I still believe that We Shall overcome!"

Indeed, King's belief is strengthened by the fact that he believes that emancipation of the black Americans form racial discrimination is already at hand, primarily because the black American movement leaders had a dialogue with Johnson, discussing the passing of the bill called the Voting Rights Bill (which later became the Voting Rights Act of 1965). King's hopes for the success of the black American struggle has increased with this new privilege and right given by the government. In the persona of King, black Americans have learned how to demonstrate and protest against a social injustice in a nonviolent manner.

Malcolm X, meanwhile, differs from King's style of persuasion and adopts a different kind of ideology when it comes to advocating the rights of black Americans in America. As an African-American activist and Muslim member, Malcolm X is known for his radical views about the emancipation of black American prejudice and discrimination in the country. Where King discouraged the use of violence as a form of protest, Malcolm X endorses it, even going so far as to insinuate or directly mention in his speeches how violence can possibly happen if the white Americans do not recognize the black Americans' natural right to be treated equally in the society.

The call for violence as action of protest is evident in his speech, "The Ballot or the Bullet," which was delivered in the same year that King has delivered his speech about nonviolence as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (1964).

In the speech, he calls for violence as the only way in which action can be done by the white American society to recognize that, in fact, they are on equal standing with the black Americans. Malcolm X persuades his audience (fellow black Americans) by informing them that the white Americans have, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, given something to the black Americans that are already 'theirs' -- their rights. He elucidates this point clearly in his speech: "How then can you thank him for giving you only part of what's already yours? You haven't even made progress, if what's being given to you, you should have had already. That's not progress." This passage asserts that it is not gratitude that one must feel for the white American society for giving the 'privilege' that is the Voting Rights Act, since this 'privilege' is already a natural right of all people, whether they are black or white, citizens of the country or not.

He also proposes a separate black American movement, which he calls black nationalism, an informal movement and ideology wherein black Americans shall seek autonomy from the white American society. The logic for the establishment of this informal movement and ideology is because, Malcolm X argues, "[t]he white man is more afraid of separation than he is of integration. Segregation means that he puts you away from him, but not far enough for you to be out of his jurisdiction; separation means you're gone. And the white man will integrate faster than he'll let you separate..." Thus, black nationalism seeks to bring a "new interpretation of the entire meaning of civil rights," where a "new thinking is coming in." This new movement is a violent protest against racial discrimination and oppression, where the choice is between "ballots" or bullets," that is, "liberty" or "death" for the black Americans.

Paulo Freire also offers a critical look at his analysis of the educational system prevalent in societies during the 20th century. In his discourse, the "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," Freire introduces the "banking concept" of education. In discussing this concept, he looks at the oppressive, even antagonistic nature of teacher-student relationships in the educational setting. In his critical analysis, he asserts that it is only in providing a "humanist" perspective to teaching (among teachers), where dyadic exchange between teachers and students are encouraged and at the same time, with emphasis on knowing the appropriate teaching technique or method to use in accordance to the social environment of the students.

This central theme of Freire's discourse is supported by the fact that education has become "an act of depositing," where information or facts that are taught in class are transmitted and not shared by teachers as an opportunity for a learning experience for the students. In illustrating the act of depositing in education, he provides a description of activities that lead to the oppression of students by their teachers. These activities include, in general, where the teachers transmit knowledge that they know to the students, but there is no spontaneous interaction between the two. That is, once information is transmitted, the teacher expects students to accept this fact or information irrevocably, giving them no opportunity to question and critically think about it. This, in effect, leads to the oppression of…