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Mykcal Marshall


Words can influence and move a group of people to fight for what they believe in. There have been several influential leaders throughout time. These men and women have changed the shape and direction of our world. Their influence and passion has made it possible for people to fight against injustices. Within this group of leaders there are several different styles and approaches to uniting people and fighting for a cause. Some of these leaders and their styles are ubiquitous, while others only have a few paragraphs in the history books. The civil rights movement in the United States and the civil unrest in Jamaica had two different types of leaders. The first was the civil, peaceful and universally excepted leader. Bob Marley and Martin Luther King Jr. encompassed these qualities. On the other hand, the militant, revolutionary and controversial leaders also played a major role in these movements. Peter Tosh and Malcolm X were the characteristically hostile leaders of each of these movements. Although, all four of these leaders were effective in their own ways, ultimately, it was only the peaceful and socially "accepted" leaders that had a lasting impact and were able to create, what seemed like, permanent change.

The similarities between Peter Tosh’s life and Malcolm X’s are uncanny. They both went about change in a way that was exclusive and unsettling. In the end it is clear that in order to impact people significantly one has to play by the rules that the dominate society sets up. Bob Marley and Martin Luther King Jr. did this. The change and "justices" that Marley and King fought for seem somewhat misleading. Although took steps towards equal rights they did this on the white man’s terms thus making their "justices" seem more illustrious then they actually were.

Both Malcolm X and Peter Tosh had similar upbringings in that they both experienced the hardships of growing up poor without their parents.

Peter Tosh grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. This area is located outside of the larger Trenchtown and is known as a "ghetto." Without the guidance of either of his parents, Tosh was raised by his grand-aunt until he was fifteen years old. Similarly, Malcolm X’s father was murdered when Malcolm was only six and a couple of years later his mother was taken from their home and put into an institution. Consequently, Malcolm was raised by various people and also did not receive parental guidance. I think this lack of guidance contributed to the bitterness and contempt that they felt towards the world around them.

Peter Tosh and Malcolm X became extremely resentful and cynical at an early age. They both felt cheated and wronged by the racism and political injustices that they were surrounded by. The challenges that they had to face at such an early age shaped the way in which they both viewed the world. They both believed that they were victims of the system that was created by the white man in order to keep the black man down. It is from these experiences that led both Peter Tosh and Malcolm X to become the revolutionary leaders that we know them as today.

"You have to know how to penetrate people, because most people love music. You have to get into dem, to make them rock to the music, and in the meantime push them with words to where they say, ‘let me listen to what I been rockin’ to,’ so he starts really listening and he finds the words serious, and them get in touch so much it becomes part of dem." Peter Tosh believed that by drawing the public in with the music, he would eventually be able to open their eyes to the injustices that were occurring around them. Most people, although aware of the inequality that existed, did not do much to change the environment around them. Reggae music was an avenue for Tosh to inform the public of the wrongs that were being committed by the dominant white society. Fortunately, people like Peter Tosh and Malcolm X were passionate about dispelling the apathy that is so rampant among most people. Peter Tosh realized however, that he could not be too forceful in trying to spread his insights and views. He knew that if he were subtle about the change that he was trying create he would be able to attract more people to his side instead of scaring them away.

Malcolm X and Peter Tosh were "brash, uncompromising and incendiary." (Griffin, The Gazette) While Bob Marley and Martin Luther King Jr. sang and spoke about peace, Tosh and Malcolm X demanded justice and equal rights. Tosh once said, "peace is the diploma you get in the cemetery, there can be no peace if justice is not being served." (Maclean’s Toronto Edition, 2) Their words echoed the anger and became their driving force. Malcolm X believed that people like Martin Luther King did nothing more than create a façade of justice. In the beginning of his career as a preacher he believed that what the black people needed was the complete separation from the whites. Only by completely removing oneself from the oppressive system that keeps one down will it be possible to gain the equal rights and justice that one is fighting for. All of the hate that had been building up inside of Malcolm finally had an aim as soon as he realized that there was something that was keeping him down.

Peter Tosh also shared this same view of the white man and the system he controls. Tosh pointedly refers to this "system" as the "shitstem." In an interview Tosh once said "…Our people have been divided for years under this shituational, religionistic, trickological bullshit. But it’s through the generations that we have to be observers, see what’s goin’ on to learn how to diagnose the symptoms to extract the disease and the germs from out of it, ‘cause so much things going on in the world." Tosh believed that it was crucial to be aware of your surroundings and not to be complacent about the way that the system has oppressed you.

Both Malcolm and Tosh believed that it was wrong to judge the lifestyle of others. Although in many ways they were quite judgmental of the people around them they thought that the best way to convince people to follow them and listen to what they were preaching and singing about was to set the example for others to follow. Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam, taught Malcolm X that in order to convince people that their way was the right way was to show them what it has done for you instead of telling them. He used an example that had a great impact on Malcolm. Elijah Muhammad said, "One day, I remember, a dirty glass of water was on the counter and Mr. Muhammad put a clean glass of water beside it. ‘You want to know how to spread my teachings?’ he said, and he pointed to the glasses of water. ‘Don’t condemn if you see a person has a dirty glass of water,’ he said, ‘just show them the clean glass of water that you have. When they inspect it, you won’t have to say that yours is better.’"(Haley, 209)

Furthermore, Peter Tosh also believed that it was better to be righteous and hope that people will see this and then begin to follow. He says "…I am not here to check what a man is doing, I am just here to see that my hands are clean, seen?" (Holmes & Steffens, 8)

Tosh and Malcolm also had similar views on the impact that education had on children. In and interview Tosh described his beliefs about the educational system. He said, "You see the word ‘educo’ comes from Latin. ‘Educo’ means to bring out. Seen? So if I go to school to be educated, is to extract my concept of creativity, to brainwash me in bullshit, seen? And makes me a gradu-hate…" (Holmes & Steffens, 13) Education to Tosh is a corruption of the mind. The educational system incorporates the youth into the "shitstem" instead of giving them an education that will help them become intelligent individuals. Tosh’s song You Can’t Blame the Youth shows his bitterness toward the educational "shitstem."

…You teach the youths about Christopher Columbus and you said he was a very great man

You teach the youths about Marco Polo and you said he was a very great man

You teach the youths about the Pirate Hawkins and you said he was a very great man

You teach the youths about the Pirate Morgan and you said he was a very great man

So you can’t blame the youths when they don’t learn, you can’t fool the youths

You can’t blame the youths of today, you can’t fool the youths…

Malcolm was also extremely disenfranchised with the effect that the educational system had on him. He recalls from his seventh grade history class "…I remember, we came to the textbook section on Negro history. It was exactly one paragraph long. Mr. Williams laughed through it practically in a single breath, reading aloud how the Negroes had been slaves and then were freed, and how they were usually lazy and dumb and shiftless. He added, I remember, an anthropological footnote on his own, telling us between laughs how Negroes’ feet were ‘so big that when they walk, they don’t leave tracks, they leave a hole in the ground.’" (Haley, 30) After expressing a desire to his teacher to become a lawyer, Malcolm was quickly shot down. His teacher explained, "…one of life’s first needs is to be realistic about being a nigger. A lawyer--that’s no realistic goal for a nigger. You need to think about something you can be." (Haley, 38)

Fortunately, Peter Tosh and Malcolm X were bright and motivated because if they had not challenged the system and been skeptical of the information they were receiving they would have ended up like most of the blacks; victims of the oppressive system.

Religion and spirituality for Tosh and Malcolm were also very similar. They both saw the Christian faith and its church to be another oppressive system or "shitstem." They both saw the white man’s religion as a tool to brainwash the blacks. Tosh said, "…because everyone who try a-go to church, and they were trying to teach but they weren’t teaching, they was brainwashing. Since I would never call that teaching…" (Holmes & Steffens, 3) Moreover, in a speech Malcolm X gave he said, "My brothers and sisters, our white slavemaster’s Christian religion has taught us black people here in the wilderness of North America that we will sprout wings when we die and fly up into the sky where God will have for us a special place called heaven. This is white man’s Christian religion used to brainwash us black people! We have accepted it! We have embraced it! We have believed it! We have practiced it! And while we are doing all of that, for himself, this blue-eyed devil has twisted his Christianity, to keep his foot on our backs…to keep our eyes fixed on the pie in the sky and heaven in the hereafter…while he enjoys his heaven right here…on this earth…in this life." (Haley, 205) This is why, eventually, the Rasta and Muslim faiths became so important to both Tosh and Malcolm X. These Religions were started by blacks and were aimed at supporting and furthering the position of blacks in the world. I think it was necessary for them to find a spiritual source that had its roots with blacks. The empowerment that the Rasta and Muslim faiths gave to Tosh and Malcolm gave them more strength to stand up against the injustices that surrounded them.

They both believed, although Malcolm somewhat changed his stance at the end of his life, that blacks should separate themselves from the white devil. Only through this separation would they be able to become completely free. Tosh once said, "When I say ‘come together’ I’m talking about Africans comin’ together, not everybody, ‘cause everybody together it don’t fuckin’ work." Malcolm also believed that the black people needed to only rely on themselves to change their situation. They needed to keep the white man out so that they could begin to repair all of the problems that the white system had created for them.

In Tosh’s Red X tapes he states, "And I ask why am I black, they say I was born in sin, and shamed inequity. One of the main songs we used to sing in church makes me sick, ‘love wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.’" It was clear to them that Christianity was an attempt to incorporate them into the mainstream white society. The reasoning behind this is that if the black people adopt the Christian ideas and morals then they are more likely to remain subservient to the white man in hopes of receiving salvation after death. Tosh exclaimed, "A-whoa, living in the sky and all these kind of bullshit, y’see. And plenty people have been hooked on the fantasy, that’s why you have so much churches and businesses, cuz it’s a commercial business. The Lord God is for sale, come and buy your way to Heaven." (Holmes & Steffens, 6) The notion of the "pie in the sky" is a theme that is constantly seen in reggae music. Many Jamaicans see it as a façade created by the downpressor man to subordinate the blacks. They are forced to live in "Hell" while on earth but they are promised, by Christianity, that they will live in "Heaven" after this life. It is hard not to see how embittered they become when they look over at the white people and see them enjoying "Heaven" on earth.

Malcolm X also believed that Christianity did more to hurt black people than help them. In one of his speeches he said, "Brothers and Sisters, the white man has brainwashed us black people to fasten our gaze upon a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus! We’re worshiping a Jesus that doesn’t even look like us! Oh, yes…The blond-haired, blue-eyed white man has taught you and me to worship a white Jesus, and to shout and sing and pray to this God that’s his God, the white man’s God. The white man has taught us to shout and sing and pray until we die, to wait until death, for some dreamy heaven-in-the-hereafter, when we’re dead, while this white man has his milk and honey in the streets paved with golden dollars right here on this earth!" (Haley, 224) Malcolm saw straight through the claims that the white Christians were making.

I believe this is why both Tosh and Malcolm X were so fervent about the faith that each of them turned to. Spirituality is something that each of them felt strongly about and therefore it was essential for them to find a religion that would support both their spirituality and their values and ideas.

In his early years in the Wailers, Tosh wrote about the shroud that covered the black people’s faces blinding them from the truth. Conversely, Bob Marley was writing about jah love. From the very beginning it was clear that Tosh and Marley were on two separate paths. Tosh was not willing to follow the ‘shitstem’ in order to obtain the change that he was fighting for. Marley, on the other hand, tried to please all. The same comparison can be made between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Martin Luther King Jr. worked hard to integrate and incorporate blacks and whites while Malcolm X refused to align himself with the white oppressor. Unfortunately, because of the white man’s power, without his support it is almost impossible to create any lasting change. This is why today we are well aware of the impact that both Marley and King had on black people’s social position. They are highly publicized and highly regarded for being the most important leaders for blacks in both Jamaica and the United States.

Conversely, Tosh and Malcolm X have been excluded from receiving a lot of notoriety because they did not adhere to the social norms and rules that have been set up for them. It is hard to say whom the smarter leader and activist is. By following the rules of the people that oppress you, it is clear that one will never receive everything that they are in fact fighting for because the oppressor will never allow that. On the other hand, by following their rules it becomes easier to disseminate your message to a larger group of people. Also, it is more widely accepted and no one that is a part of the oppressive system will become offended enough to make you their enemy. In this case it would be more likely that, in some way, the changes one was fighting for would come about.

Although following the system is the best, or rather the most effective way to produce change it seems that it is like taking a step forward and then half a step back. By acknowledging the fact that the system, controlled by the white man, has to be followed you will never be able to completely stop the downpressor man. Peter Tosh and Malcolm X knew this and thus they did not adhere to any of the norms that had been set up for them by this "shitstem."

Peter Tosh and Malcolm X believed that for a person to truly be free, they have to first know the truth. They were also aware that the truth, or what they believed to be the truth, could be a dangerous thing. In the Red X tapes Tosh once said, "To have the truth in your possession you can be found guilty, sentenced to death." They were not afraid of sharing the "truth" that they had found. Unfortunately, it was the "truth" that they wholeheartedly believed that eventually led to their demise.

Strangely, both Malcolm X and Peter Tosh believed that they would be assassinate. In the end of his life, Malcolm X would never sit with his back to the door in any restaurant or room. Tosh also believed that he would "…[die] at the hands of assassins." (Maclean’s Toronto Edition, 1) They did not follow the norms set up by the dominant white society and therefore their words offended many and made them the targets of the downpressor man.

Eventually they both did in fact die at the hands of assassins and although the reasons behind Malcolm’s death are clear, Tosh’s, on the other hand, remains somewhat of a mystery. In the end though, it is evident that by not adhering to the rules set up by the white man they were unable to make significant and positive changes for black people. In this case it is important to ask yourself if it is possible to survive without following the white man’s rules? If Peter Tosh and Malcolm X were alive today, I believe, they would argue that if you do not follow the white man’s path you will end up dead, like them.

It is hopeful that in the future there will be more visionaries such as Peter Tosh and Malcolm X who are willing to fight for equal rights without abiding by the terms that the white system has set up. I believe that the only significant changes can come from the people that start to break down the dominant white system. Although leaders such as Marley and King have opened many people’s eyes to the injustices that are occurring, it is important that the change for black people is done on their terms and not on the white oppressor’s terms.


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