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Malcolm & Real Progress

Episode Summary

“You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back 9 inches and pull it out 6 inches and say you are making progress. If you stick a knife in my back 9 inches and pull it out 6 inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it out all the way, then that’s still not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t pulled the knife out, much less healed the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.”

Phillip jumps right into this quote and mentions that this quote from Malcolm X inspired the progress does not equal justice t-shirt. Phillip and Taelor discuss how for some, this is progress, but they and Malcolm X would agree and say it is not enough. Phillip points out that part of where Malcolm X’s perspective comes from here is as a Black man living in the North. When the civil rights bill was passed, its impact was not the same in the North as in the South. For Malcolm X, passing civil rights was like wanting credit for lessening pain but not ending the conditions that cause pain.

Taelor also points out a distinction in what civility means. Taelor says that civility is not equal to love, kindness, or gentleness. Civility is sterile. Civility does not require much from us. Civility says, “I won’t do anything to hurt you more.” But it does not take that extra step of stopping whatever action is causing the hurt in the first place.

Phillip points out that the Good Samaritan is a good illustration of what restoration should look like. The Samaritan is not the one who robbed or harmed the man left for dead. Yet still, love compels him to help the man. This is revolutionary love. 

Phillip mentions that when talk of restitution comes up, people quickly say, “I didn’t do…” However, people also do not fully grasp what America has done to African-Americans. There is a failure to get the public issues like slavery and Jim Crow but even more a failure to understand what happened in secret. Taelor and Phillip talk here about how Malcolm X was surveilled by the FBI because he was galvanizing people to not accept anything less than to be treated with dignity. 

The discussion here shifts to how Malcolm X’s thoughts on progress are still relevant to what is happening in America today. Phillip, talking about CRT, says, “Anytime an area of study is viewed as all bad, somebody is hiding something.” Phillip mentions that Republicans, in particular, are not bringing up CRT to understand it but instead wish to use it to their own ends. Republicans seem more concerned with keeping people, especially kids, from learning the truth. By doing this, Republicans hinder progress by refusing to engage with reality and truth.

When people say things like, “Look at how far we’ve come!” they’re hindering progress by wanting to stop and focus on things being better but not fixed. But Democrats are also hindering progress by demanding congratulations for making things less harmful. Taelor calls back to Malcolm X’s quote and says this is like pulling the knife out 6 inches and expecting a thank you.

Taelor also mentions that one problem in the fight for progress is battling the fatigue that comes with demanding dignity. Taelor talks about the notable fatigue that has come since George Floyd’s murder. Many people were outraged by what happened to Floyd, but that outrage was not sustainable. And this is also how progress gets hindered. People become tired of fighting and celebrate the 6-inch knife.

The discussion then moves to how people are often swift to make judgments, whether they are about Jesus, Malcolm X, or George Floyd, without having all the facts first. Phillip points out that waiting for the facts does not have to be wrong if it is done in good faith. But once you have all the facts, action is required.  

Taelor and Phillip point out that for Black people to receive restitution would require white people to redefine how they understand America. This is why it is so hard for Black people to get restitution in America: we want to ignore the facts. Phillip says that people would prefer to violently defend what it means to be a patriot than wrestle with these facts because America wants to believe it is a hero. And the reason why America keeps talking about race and slavery is that we refuse to address the issue with actual progress. Taelor points out that part of that progress would be to educate people about what really happened as Germany does with the Holocaust. 

Taelor ends with the comment that what you are educated on affects what you can do. Phillip agrees and says that the actions of January 6, 2021, are what happens when you ignore history. Phillip ends by adding that we are always in the position of having to relearn history. And as long as we remain in this position, we cannot deal with reality.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree with Taelor and Phillip’s assessment that civility does not equal justice? Why or why not?
  2. How can we, especially as Christians, combat the fatigue of battling for real progress?
  3. Is it fair to say that progress is most often hindered by how far we are willing to go?
  4. What must Christians educate themselves on if we wish to help reach any kind of progress in terms of race relations in the church and America?

Phillip Holmes: Welcome to Make it Plain: a show where two Christians offer reflections on the words and life of Malcolm X. I’m Phillip Holmes.

Taelor Gray: And I’m Taelor Gray. We’re your hosts.

Holmes: All right. Before we dive into this week’s episode, we still need you to do a few things if you haven’t done them already. Visit our website,, and download the Make it Plain Season One Discussion Guide. So, we have summaries as well as a few discussion questions to help you dive deeper into the Make It Plain meta-verse. 

Gray: Meta-verse.


Gray: Yeah! I like it!

Holmes: And if you have been listening for a few episodes, or if you listened last season and you have not rated us on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, please do that as soon as possible. Our goal is to have three hundred total ratings by the end of the season on Apple Podcasts and at least one hundred ratings on Spotify. You can now rate podcasts on Spotify just in case you didn’t know. If you didn’t know, now you know!

Gray: Super dope.

Holmes: So, please go and do that. That makes a huge difference.

Gray: Yes, Sir. It is very important. It’s something that matters. So, please do participate. Leave a comment. Tell us how you feel. We’re going to keep the train going. 

Holmes: All right. Taelor, you want to…

Gray: Yes.

Holmes: …take us there?

Gray: Yes. All right. We’ve got a good one today, and this quote is going to give us some really good conversation. So, Malcolm says this:

“You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you’re making progress. If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s not progress. If you pull it out all the way, then that’s still not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even pulled the knife out, much less healed the wound. They won’t even admit that the knife is there.”

Holmes: Yo.

Gray: Deep, bro. What do you think, man? What are your first impressions when you hear something like that?

Holmes: Facts.

(Gray laughs)

Gray: Facts only. Yes.

Holmes: Facts.

(Gray laughs)

Holmes: I think this was actually the quote that inspired progress does not equal justice that we have. Because I think the problem is that America never really tried to…there was no transitional justice. There was no repair of what had been done wrong. They took some obvious laws that were on the book—

Gray: Right.

Holmes: We oftentimes talk about the difference between the north and the south. And what Malcolm was fighting—even though people pit Malcolm and Martin against each other—the media did—the reality is that what King was fighting for and what Malcolm was fighting for was very different. Because you have to remember, Malcolm didn’t live in Jim Crow south.

Gray: Right.

Holmes: So, him being able to drink out of the same fountains and—

Gray: Right. Right.

Holmes: —and go to desegregated schools…Malcolm went to a white school when he was in junior high or something like that. So, Malcolm already knew that there were going to be bigger problems once something like the Civil Rights Bill was passed. 

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: …the Civil Rights Act was passed. And so, Malcolm is always pushing. Because he’s saying, listen. What you’re doing is fine, but this man is not fighting the battle that is going to change anything for people in the north. Because, again—in the south—King talks about this in his famous NBC interview (you can also find a transcript of that transcript on, by the way)—but King talks about this in his interview. He says, listen. When the Civil Rights Act was passed, people in the south could see a difference in their life, right? They were, like, yo…like, we can drink out of this fountain now. We can go in here and eat and not have to worry about anything. Right? We can vote.

Gray: Right.

(Holmes laughs)

Gray: Right.

Holmes: Right? So they saw all these differences. Malcolm was like, brother didn’t do nothing for us.

Gray: Right. Right.

Holmes: Things are still hard. Racism still exists. Injustices are still taking place.

Gray: Right. Right.

Holmes: And I think this is partially what he’s getting at here. You can’t—again—you can’t…and this illustration, man. This imagery that Malcolm uses—right?

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: …is on point. 

Gray: Yes. 

Holmes: Because he’s trying to get you to see it’s not enough for you to stab a man in the back and take it out nine inches. No, you gotta take it all the way out. And he was like, even then you ain’t done.

Gray: You gotta address the wound. 

Holmes: You gotta get that man to the hospital and dress the wound—get him healed—right?

Gray: Yeah. Yeah.

Holmes: You can’t just say, oh…stabbed you in the back, take it out…oh man. I’m sorry I did that. I won’t do it again.

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: Right? And then move on. No. Because that has had an effect. That has harmed him.

Gray: That’s right. To take the illustration to another conclusion is to say, all right. I’m going to take the knife out a few inches, and then I’m going to wait for you to give me a round of applause. 

Holmes: Right. Right. Right. Right. 

Gray: Aren’t you happy? 

Holmes: Right.

Gray: It doesn’t hurt as much as it did, right? So, I want you to give me credit for making your pain a little bit less. But at the same time, this thing is literally still protruding from my skin.

Holmes: Right.

Gray: And even as it comes out all the way, I’m bleeding in front of you. Man, this idea of justice is kind of the fullest extent of what we can deem progress to be. And I think folks who have different definitions of progress—less painful for some is progress in and of itself. The whole idea—the whole concept—of civil rights… I don’t know if we can look at civility in the context as love. Or in the same context as kindness or gentleness. You go down the fruits of the spirit, like peace…civility seems kind of sterile in the midst of all that. It doesn’t really require much of you except to just be somewhat decent. For some people, that’s just holding your breath. I won’t say anything to hurt you even more. I’ll do whatever I can to just make sure we survive this moment.

And so, if you think that’s progress, then you have no interest in actually making it right. 

Holmes: Yeah. Because this illustration is on point. Think about it. Let’s say that somebody stabs you in the back, right?

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: And then they’re also holding you captive, right?

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: And then they say, all right. I’m going to take off your chains, I’m going to take the knife out of your back, and then you’re free to go to the hospital. 

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: Right.


Gray: Right. You’re free to go. 

Holmes: I feel like that’s probably what America has done, right? So now you’re bleeding and limping to try to get to the hospital. You’ve also got—once you get to the hospital you also got medical bills.

Gray: Facts.

Holmes: If you make it. 

Gray: If you make it. 

Holmes: If you make it. Right?

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: So, that’s going to cost money.

Gray: You might have to wait to get seen. 

Holmes: Who would say that that man is a good man? For taking the knife out of your back and letting you go free?

Gray: It’s just, like… Okay, again, we’re back to the Scriptures. What if this example traveled to the Good Samaritan? The guy’s lying on the ground, beat up and wounded, and it’s like, oh, yeah. Let me at least wash off this particular part of clothing that’s dirty. You know? Hey. Hope everything works out for you, buddy. And I keep on pushing. Or, I’m going to put some ice on this bruise for this moment, but I don’t know how you’re going to make it the rest of the journey. I’ll see you later. 

There’s this kind of partial addressing of the actual situation. The revolutionary perspective of the Good Samaritan parable is that this is what restitution…this is what it actually means to address the wound. This is what it actually means to help the person who’s in the actual circumstance. And it takes a lot of effort. It takes a lot of sacrifice. But ultimately what’s being extended is love. Revolutionary love.

Holmes: And here’s what’s so revolutionary about that. The Good Samaritan is not even the person who caused the harm in the first place.

Gray: Yeah, that’s the offense. That’s the offense of the audience, and they’re just like…

Holmes: But—no—but I think the reason why that’s so applicable in our day and age is because most people would say, I wasn’t there. I ain’t doing nothing. My people didn’t hold your people in chains. Right? And my people didn’t discriminate against you. Or, like, I’m not responsible for what my granddaddy did. I’m not responsible for what Pappy did. Right? 

There are all these types of excuses. I think part of it too, though, is this: we don’t fully grasp what has been done—both historically to the African American community—both publicly, right? We know about slavery, right? And we know about Jim Crow laws and various injustices that took place. We just talked about slavery and Jim Crow—these are two high points, right? But stuff was happening the entire time. 

Gray: Right. Right.

Holmes: The only reason we even—Jim Crow is noticeable, is because people spoke out and said, we ain’t gonna take this no more. Right?

Gray: Right. Yep.

Holmes: We want to be free. We want to be treated equally. 

Gray: Yep.

Holmes: The only time black people have ever really…the only historical events we talk about when it comes to the oppression of black people are when black people actually stood up and said, enough is enough.

Gray: Right.

Holmes: Right?

Gray: Right. Right.

Holmes: But there’s also the other stuff that is taking place covertly through the federal government with the FBI. I mean, when you look at what the FBI has been involved in, especially under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover, and the stuff that he got away with. My wife and I just watched Judas and the Black Messiah.

Gray: Okay. Fred Hampton.

Holmes: I didn’t know. I did not know that brother’s story. I was also appalled—just angry—when I found out that this brother was twenty-one years old.

Gray: Twenty-one, man. Twenty-one. And headed in a direction to address this kind of universal effect of injustice. That was his trajectory. It was universal. Power to the people was not just a rallying cry to animate black folks. It was a rallying cry to animate marginalized members of society across the board. 


And I think it’s such a tragedy in the sense that you get to see the priorities of the American system. It’s not about any sort of equitable experience in this country. And it’s to say that this group of people can actually have their wounds addressed is going to cause other groups of people wounds. That’s the fear, or at least the tactics of fear are to say, oh, these people are feeling better or feeling more empowered, then it’s going to put these other folks, who have not ever had to care about this stuff, at risk. And their lifestyle is going to be ultimately—they’re going to suffer in some sort of way. So, that’s the impetus behind silencing a voice like that. 

But, I mean, Malcolm in the very same way was a voice that was being surveilled by the FBI because he was actually starting to galvanize people around the ideas that they don’t have to suffer anymore, and they can actually lay claim to a part of this American system that has ultimately been inaccessible to them.

And this baseline level of dignity is maybe the first pursuit. How about you look at this knife that’s in my back and acknowledge as a human being that that’s not okay. For a person to literally have a knife nine inches into their back. So, I guess your capacity for compassion, love, caring for another individual is on display, to say, oh, you know what? I want to help. So, what it looks like for me to help is to take it out a little bit.

Holmes: Mmhmm.

Gray: The entire illustration points to the inhumanity of the black experience in this country. It’s to say that we actually are okay with your suffering. 

Holmes: Right. 

Gray: We’re okay with you having to make your own way, even though we can clearly see that damage has been done. 

And I didn’t even know—you know—I didn’t even think of going this direction, but I’d be interested to get some of your thoughts on this because maybe we’re going to get into a little bit of trouble as we continue through this content. But, man, we’re back to this whole discussion around CRT. And a lot of what you said earlier had to do with the lack of education. Whether or not people know truly what black people in this country have been through. 

And so, the whole conversation gets derailed when you just mention those three unholy letters. CRT. Oh. Don’t worry about it. That’s not of Christ. That is an anti-gospel, anti-holiness, anti-salvation message. It’s all condemnation. Et cetera. Et cetera. That’s the Boogeyman. 

But what about the opportunity to educate the new generations in society about the experience of black people?

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray: Maybe not call it CRT. You know, critical race theory in and of itself just seems like it derails the whole conversation. But more of an expansive educational opportunity to deal with what has happened in this country.

Holmes: Yeah. So, a few thoughts on that. I think that any time a person or a particular thing is painted as all bad—

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: —don’t engage it, don’t study it, run from it—somebody’s hiding something.

Gray: Yeah. Yep.

Holmes: Somebody’s hiding something. 

Number two: I think that when it comes to CRT, we’re not going to…the purpose of CRT isn’t for you to understand CRT (going back to point one). That’s why it’s not going to even really matter what you call it.

Gray: Yeah. Yeah.

Holmes: Right? Because they’re going to label it—

Gray: Right.

Holmes: —as CRT. Whatever it is. So, it’s gotten to the point where they are…if you had told me ten years ago that in the next decade, Republicans were going to be for book banning…

Gray: Man.

Holmes: I would have said…I probably just wouldn’t have believed you. I don’t know if I would have, like, fought? Because I don’t think I was ever that diehard, but I would have been like, nah, I don’t see that happening. Right? But I’ve begun to see that values are only as useful as they are convenient, or comfortable. Or are only deployed when they are convenient and comfortable. Or when they’re useful, right?

Gray: Mmhmm. Mmhmm. Mmhmm.

Holmes: So yeah. Values are only deployed when they are either useful, comfortable, convenient…and the point that I’m simply getting at is that there are no values that—I think—either party—but I’ve seen this even more clearly with the Republican Party… I think I kind of always expected this of the Democrats. But the Republicans have shown me that their values will move. Whatever is politically expedient. 

Gray: Hmm.

Holmes: And so Republicans—some Republicans—many Republicans today…now you’ve got these individuals talking about banning books—afraid that they’re losing their children because of these ideas. Instead of teaching them to engage the ideas and learn so that you can actually be persuasive in your arguments. Because in order to actually be persuasive, you have to make sure that you understand what the other person is communicating so that you can represent it accurately, and then… 

But it’s as if they’re afraid the kids are going to learn the truth. Right?

Gray: The truth. 

Holmes: The truth! So, with them banning history books, and with them not wanting to talk to their kids about racism—just racism in the past! Not even racism today—racism in the past! 

Gray: History!

Holmes: History! 

Gray: This is history.

Holmes: These are facts. These are things that actually happened. You got Moms for Liberty trying to avoid…but tell me, why are you sending your kid to a public institution if you want to control the curriculum? All right, that’s a whole other story.

(Gray laughs)

Holmes: So, my point…I guess my point overall is this, man: I would say we lost our way, but I’m starting to realize that we adopted morals and values if they served a purpose. 

Gray: Well, yeah. Let me quote The Mandalorian: “This is the way.” You know, Malcolm does a great job of exposing the hypocrisy of American ideals. But when you really take a look at it, this is what it was constructed to accomplish and to do. It is a propaganda machine for the purposes of power and militaristic economic dominance. 

So, I’m not surprised necessarily. The thing that disappoints me in the sense of, like, if I look at progress—how progress is stagnated or hindered on either side, whether it’s Republican or Democrat—I would say it’s clear to see that progress is stymied by the Republican Party because of the rhetoric and the boogeyman language and ultimately the indifference to the outcry of pain and suffering from those who are experiencing it. So, that’s clear to see from the Republican party. 

On the Democratic side, we’re back to Malcolm’s illustration, where the progress is stymied by the periodic self-righteous celebrations over very small pockets of solutions. So, they would be the ones who would literally stop the train of progress because a six-inch knife is better than a nine-inch knife. They’re so invested and focused around celebrating the little bit that may have been done to lessen the pain in some ways—and that stagnation can last decades. 

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray: So it’s like, we don’t need to do anymore because we can spend so much time celebrating what was done.

Holmes: Think about the mentality that you have to have in order to have that posture towards another person who has harmed you—who has abused you. So, to consider it merciful—right—for them to take the knife out a little bit. But not just—or take it all the way out.

Gray: Juneteenth! Here you go! Juneteenth!

Holmes: At some point, when it comes to our government and when it comes to our representatives, we got to get a bit indignant.

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: Because we’re human.

Gray: That’s right. But that’s so…even the emotional complexity of trying to make that case and not being heard—or being disregarded…because there’s fatigue associated with this pursuit of justice—or the pursuit of progress—to where you maybe identify…there’s an identifiable goal in the progression of justice. It’s not just like, we’re gonna solve the whole thing in one fell swoop. You know, it’s like, we can do this thing.

But if you get stuck on the party around accomplishing this one thing, then it could feel like we’re back to square one talking about dignity. You thought this was all we wanted? You thought this was all we were about? We just wanted a national holiday to lament (laughs) about something terrible?

And yet there’s a—so, the fatigue—I mentioned that because there is measurable fatigue since the George Floyd moment.

Holmes: Mmhmm.

Gray: Where there was this initial burst of energy, and corporations and companies were coming out, like, Black Lives Matter. And people were rioting in certain cities and putting picket signs in their lawn who had never said a thing about black liberation. From that moment—of course, the conditions probably caused some of that initial emotional reaction, because people were trapped in the house. 

But that wasn’t sustainable. It wasn’t sustainable. So, you push through maybe this piece of legislation that gives a mulligan, but then the real legislation that is impactful, that people have been looking to pass as a result of what happened to George Floyd, is dead in the water. 

Holmes: Right. 

Gray: You know? So—again—we’re celebrating a six-inch knife versus a nine-inch knife. Or, I guess I’ll give a mulligan. We got the knife all the way out in some ways. I don’t believe we did. But it is not worth celebrating. It is not worth the stymied trajectory of progress which says now we gotta look at some of the deeper issues—to your point—about what caused this. 

If I’m gonna get as far as taking you to the hospital, then we now have to look at the hospital system and the way that they care for injured victims like you.

Holmes: Mmhmm.

Gray: Will you receive the same level of care as another participant?

Holmes: Or the same level of access?

Gray: And how will you pay for it?

Holmes: Right.

Gray: You know, how will address the way that you live your life going forward?

Holmes: Right. Because you didn’t just stab me in the back. You took away my ability to make any income to be able to pay for this hospital bill. 

Gray: What about the recovery process? What if you hit a major nerve and one of my legs don’t work anymore?

Holmes: It’s one of those illustrations that just keeps going. 

Gray: It keeps going! And the fact of the matter is, we’re still at the six-inch knife. Because there will be people who say, well, it’s better than it was before. You know, it’s (laugh)…it’s not—you can’t go get a drink of water.

Holmes: I’ll thank God, but I won’t thank you.

Gray: It’s them.

Holmes: I think that’s what they get confused. 

Aren’t you grateful?

Yeah. Grateful to God. Not to you, though. Because you didn’t do anything.

It’s almost like that expression we used to use. Whatcha want—a cookie? You did what you were supposed to do.

Gray: Reasonable service.

Holmes: Right.

Gray: Reasonable service. And yet, you want me to stop and have a party with you. You know, like, okay. You guys put on a bunch of kente cloth and kneel for ten minutes in the places where different forms of legislation get decided.

Holmes: Right. 

Gray: What do you want us to do as a result of that?

Malcolm’s illustration, I think, is profound. And this is a quote he said in many places. Because it kind of gets a root at the conscience of America. Or—

Holmes: Yeah. Because I think at this point, we’re at a place where people won’t even acknowledge the wound. They’re almost denying that the knife was ever in the back.

Gray: And that’s his point. 

Holmes: Yep.

Gray: That’s his point. And (laughs) it’s just true! It’s just true. Again, we’re back to the whole educating folks in school. Because here’s the thing. We can have a certain view of our elected officials right now. This is why the whole conversation around what we educate our kids about is so important. We can keep kicking against the wall with these same politicians who have been there for generations, or we can educate new ones who have access to new creative mechanisms. Their imagination may work differently if they’re taught differently. 

So, we can hope for progress in the young minds who gain this information, and maybe have a sense of compassion and humility to design something different by the time they come of age. And that’s a generational effect. All we have to do is teach them what happened. And then we get to—we don’t have to keep arguing with the same senators and the same congresspeople and the same presidents. There will be new minds who say, wow. This happened in our country? Has anybody done anything?

Holmes: This is most peoples’ reaction to Malcolm X. Like, oh. That’s who he really was? That’s what he really said? Oh. He wasn’t pro-violence. He was pro-self-defense.

Gray: Man, the parallels are crazy, man. Because this is peoples’ reaction to Christ.

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray: So, someone says, I’m not a Christian because of XYZ. And it’s like, have you read the Gospels? 

Holmes: Yep.

Gray: Did you know this was said? This was addressed? And this was the actual social circumstance where this was going on? 

Well, no. I didn’t hear any of that. I heard propaganda and rhetoric, which totally turned me off to the idea of being found in the community of faith.

And it’s just like, well, let me reintroduce you to the actual Word that gives you a fully-formed perspective around whether or not you choose to follow him, or you reject him.

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray: But don’t just reject an idea.

Holmes: And that’s our problem. We’re swift to make judgments without having all the facts, right?

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: Especially, you know, right—let’s wait for all the facts? But we don’t do our due diligence—to the hypocrisy of saying when someone is gunned down—you know, we need to wait for all the facts. Like, I’m sympathetic to that notion, but at the same time, I don’t see that apply to anywhere else. And again—

Gray: I’m sympathetic to—

Holmes: That value is brought up when it’s convenient and expedient.

Gray: Well yeah, I was about to say, I’m sympathetic to it in good faith.

Holmes: Right.

Gray: If you’re really going to go and look, and you’re really going to actually try to form a balanced perspective…

Holmes: But when all the facts come in, what do they say? It’s dismissed as a one-time thing, or as this thing that’s on the outside, right? It’s not really…okay, so once you get all the facts, what are you going to do with all the facts?

Gray: I’m waiting for the facts to justify the opinion I already have. 

Holmes: Right. And if they don’t, then I am going to say that this is an exception, not the norm. Right? I’m not going to—because you would assume—they never end up actually casting judgment. Because the judgment would create a narrative that is not comfortable or expedient for them. That would actually change the way that they look at our society. That would change the way that they look at our nation. And it would change the way they view America, right? There’s American pride that says this is a place where anybody can do anything. To some extent, that is true, but there are a lot more barriers for a certain subset of people. Sometimes they’re African Americans. Sometimes it’s simply poor people—period. Right?

Gray: Mmhmm. That’s right. That’s right.

Holmes: And America in a lot of ways—I have to say this—it’s not because of capitalism, right? What you see isn’t pure capitalism. Because capitalism has never existed in America. Martin Luther King was right about this. It is socialism for the rich and capitalism for everybody else. All right? The amount of money that America has given away, and the amount of things that America has subsidized—we don’t live in a capitalist country. America is not a capitalist nation.

Gray: You’re going to have to save this one for another episode because I got a whole lot to say. Capitalism is—when it’s applied subjectively in this country deserves the critique that it’s getting.

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray: That’s honestly what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a perspective that we have from the place that we sit and the experience that we’re currently in. And again, it’s like these polarizing—the solution is the Democratic Party. The solution is the Republican Party. The solution is socialism. The solution is cap—

It’s these false dichotomies. What is the more excellent way? Because clearly, you guys have no real investment in change. In actual progress. So what causes the hesitation for folks to actually, in good faith, look for all the facts is the fact that you’re going to have to act once you actually see what’s actually happening. And you can—

Holmes: Or you’re going to have to think first.

Gray: Well, you gotta think first.

Holmes: Because you gotta come up with a solution.

Gray: Man, I’m…see, again. You’re at the six-inch knife. Think? If that’s the first level? All you gotta do is think.

Holmes: We’re not even thinking.

Gray: Man. Keep the knife all the way in nine inches. I don’t even want to see…I don’t even see a victim right now.

Holmes: Yep.

Gray: And that’s Malcolm’s point. I love this quote, not just for what it contains, but for the numerous ways that it can apply. You know? Because at the end of the day, particularly for Christ-followers, we’re actually called to action in ways that we don’t feel are associated with Christ’s mission. And this is where you get into the whole justice conversation. What does it mean to actively engage in justice as a follower of Christ? Because you’ve got the separatists who say, all we’re supposed to do is stay away from evil (laughs). 

And then you have the activists who say, no, we actually have to participate in remaking society to bring glory to God.

And all of that discussion around the complexity of that is fine. And we may not see things the same way. But what we should be unified on is what’s true. What has actually happened? And if that—if we can’t get to that place where you said earlier—of dignity—which is what black people seem to always be contending for—then how can we trust the social circumstances that we’re in?

Holmes: Let’s wrap it up on this: why do you think it’s so hard for black people to receive any level of explicit restitution or repair as it relates to the experience that we’ve had in this country as a people? 

Gray: The first thing that comes to my mind is that it would cause people to literally have to redefine America in their minds. You have to revisit all of history in order to address it to the level that it needs to be addressed. You’re asking generations of people to give up their dream and their idea of America in order for this to be a society-wide effect. And I don’t think that people want to…they’ll violently fight for their version of patriotism.

Holmes: Mmhmm.

Gray: And this global application of how we are seen in the world, or how we affect the rest of the world’s ideas of democracy and fairness and equity—when you tell people, oh no, you have to redefine that—they’re going to fight for what they think should be the view and the—it’s reputation, bro. At the end of the day, if you tell me that I am a hero for all of these things that I’ve done…it’s like a conversation we were having in another regard. It’s like the superhero who does all the things, but then the huge, egregious thing that they have done also has to be contextualized with the heroic acts. It changes your view of the hero.

Holmes: Right.

Gray: And you don’t get to just look at him as a hero no more. 

Holmes: Right.

Gray: And I think America desperately wants to be seen as a hero in a certain regard. 

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray: We don’t have to disregard the good things for the really messy and ugly truth. But the truth should be in there. One country that I always look at as a result of this kind of brutal honesty that affects the image and reputation is Germany. You’ve got to bear the image that people conceive of you because of the acts that you have done. 

Holmes: Yeah. And this is a part of the fabric of America, right? Germany had to own what they did. They made restitution—right—for what took place during the Holocaust. And as a country, we don’t think about Germany in that same light. We know the old Germany, right? It’s almost like an old Germany and a new Germany. I just don’t think that way about Germany, even though I know that it just happened—what—sixty years ago. Because they addressed it. They acknowledged it, addressed it, and then they moved on. And I think this is what America has refused to do. 

There was a podcast Jasmine and I were listening to about this small town in Kentucky. They have this reputation, and the mayor was interviewed and he was simply—because I think they ran a bunch of black workers out of town.

Gray: Curfew.

Holmes: Yeah. They ran a bunch of black workers out of town in the 1920s. Around 1920. And the mayor said that he was at this sort of U.S. postal convention or something like that. And this guy was showing him the ropes on how to do multiple different things. And this was in the eighties. And the guy who happened to be black who was giving the presentation. And he was very generous. He was like, you know, if you guys don’t understand this, I will come to your town. But he looked at the mayor and he was like, but I won’t come to such-and-such Kentucky (laughs). He was just like, I ain’t coming there. But what the whole episode was about was their failure to acknowledge what they had done. 

Gray: Hmm.

Holmes: There’s all these different types of narratives. The most popular one was that some black workers came into town and started causing trouble, and the white people ran them out of town. But that’s not actually what happened. These men were innocent, and they got threatened and pushed out of town, and someone may have actually gotten killed in this particular circumstance.

Whatever it was, it was awful, and black people avoid it to the point where their population even today is only like one or two percent African American.

Gray: Hmm. 

Holmes: And the only black people who are there are black people who came up from the coast after Hurricane Katrina. And this brother was like, I had no idea that this was what this particular town—so when I tell people that I live here… You know, there’s one girl who said she was riding with her mom. And this is how you know they know—even though they don’t acknowledge it, they know—she said she was riding with her mom and they had a flat tire. She was from this town, and an African American man helped them out, they got in the car, he was really nice, and asked, hey, where y’all from? Her mom didn’t tell him where she was from.

Gray: (laughs) Right.

Holmes: Her mom told him she was from some town twenty miles north. And she just kind of quietly looked at her mom, like, why y’all won’t tell this man where we’re from?

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: And that’s when she knew…

Gray: Hmm.

Holmes: I look at America’s refusal to fully acknowledge—I think partly because they would have to admit—to your point—who America and what America is. But I think it’s deeper than that, especially for people who live in the south. Because the south—again—is oftentimes blamed—we’re going to talk about that in the next episode.

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: But I think they’re gonna have to acknowledge their heritage.

Gray: Well, and to wrap it up, I can kind of make this personal. What you’re actually educated on affects what you do. Because knowing you, five years ago doing a podcast about Malcolm X would have been out of the question.

Holmes: Yeah wouldn’t have happened. Mostly because I just didn’t know. Right?

Gray: That’s the point.

Holmes: I was limited—to your point—by lack of knowledge. 

Gray: And actually taking the time to find out, to be educated—

Holmes: One hundred percent.

Gray: —to be resourced gets us to this table today. 

Holmes: Yep.

Gray: Because it’s worth knowing. It’s worth telling other people about it.

Holmes: One hundred percent.

Gray: So, education to me—like, what do I do with this sentiment, like, what’s the takeaway? The practice? I would advocate for this information being taught in schools. Because you can say there’s risk associated—well, there’s risk now in association with nationalism and a false view of who Christ is in a lot of these conservative spaces. And, so, I don’t want to hear about risk. And I won’t get in any more trouble then that (laughs).

Holmes: Oh, I got to end with this and I promise we’ll be done. This is…ignoring history is how you get January 6th. 

Gray: Okay. Yes.

Holmes: Because you have all of these white people thinking that they’re the victims being—because they don’t know. They don’t know, so they just think that, oh, all of these subgroups are popping up and all these people—no—we’re the oppressed ones. Because we were just minding our own business. We didn’t do anything. We’re innocent, and we’re just being—

You know. As a black man, I’m sensitive even—even though I feel like black men—this is a whole other conversation—but black men oftentimes atone for the sins of white men. Are punished for the sins of white men.

Gray: Mmhmm.

Holmes: Because white men have always been the most powerful class—quote-unquote—in this country. And the class thing—I have my qualms with it—but I didn’t create it—America did. Right? America made those distinctions. We wouldn’t be having conversations about races and classes if America didn’t create those things.

(Gray laughs)

Holmes: And so, I’m using what this country created. Right? Another time. I’m about to wrap this up. But I gotta say this, man, because I think it’s important. I think that we are in a particular time where if you keep people from actually learning and knowing the history, you will create a generation that doesn’t understand, that can’t sympathize, and feels as if they’re being blamed for something that they’re not really responsible for. To some extent, I’m sympathetic to that ignorance. 

Gray: Hmm.

Holmes: Right?

Gray: Hmm.

Holmes: I’m sympathetic to that ignorance. I look at January 6th. I don’t get angry. I feel bad because they’ve been lied to. And they’ve been brainwashed to assume that black people, or whoever—we’re just angry for nothing. We’re just sad for—we’re just mad for nothing. And that we just want what they have, or that they’re owed something. Like, I feel sad—sorry for them first and foremost. Because—

Gray: I don’t. But…

Holmes: I—well—

Gray: I got you. 

Holmes: Well—

Gray: You’re from the south. You can see a range of how that could look.

Holmes: Yeah, there’s..there’s a range of it, because… again, man, we gotta talk about it. I hate to even end right there, but there’s something… Not feel sorry for them to the point where all they get is hugs and sympathy. But I do feel bad for them because you only know what you know. To an extent. Not saying—(laughs).

Gray: Now we’re in a conversation about privilege, but…

Holmes: You—

Gray: …we’re gonna have to really dive into this. 

Holmes: Yeah, I’m not ending on that.


Holmes: Because I got myself…I got you…I got you, producer. I promise you. 

(Gray laughs)

Holmes: Because I guess I’m trying to—I want to make sure I’m painting an accurate picture of what I’m saying and what I’m not saying. And I know that there are a lot of individuals who were raised like I was raised who were given access to limited curriculum, limited information, and for whatever reason, they’ve never opened up a book and actually done the investigating on their own. And I think that posture—we’ve all done that at some point in our lives. We’ve all been complicit in not investigating, but being prejudiced, right? And it’s not okay to stay there, but there is a certain level of, man, I feel bad.

Gray: Amen.

Holmes: Even though the information is readily available, I still do feel a little bad for you.

Gray: I mean, to be fair, I’m probably ninety-ten on the pie chart. Ninety don’t feel bad, but ten right where you’re at.

Holmes: You’re a pastor. You can’t help it. 

Gray: I will tithe that ten percent to that compassion—

Holmes: When you meet one and you hear the story, you’ll be like, dang—I feel bad. 

Gray: Oh, I’ve met them. 

Holmes: This ignorant (laughs)…

Gray: Oh, bro. Trust me. I’ve met them. Unfortunately, your ignorance means my pain.

Holmes: Right. And that’s why it’s not all sympathy.

Gray: Ninety-ten.

Holmes: But I do think that if we’re going to engage well—right? So here’s my final point. If we’re going to engage well, and actually reach across the aisle and help these individuals—it’s not our job to help these individuals, but it is our job to engage. We’re not trying to spoon-feed nobody. But if we’re gonna actually engage—because what we lack in our society more than anything else is civility. So, if we can at least understand—

Gray: Sure.

Holmes: —how if the script was flipped we could easily be in their place and in their situation—

Gray: Sure.

Holmes: —we can not treat them as a human. We treat them like they’re all bad and all evil. 

Gray: Yeah.

Holmes: And there’s a story there.

Gray: As long as we can—

Holmes: Unfortunately, we’re always in the position where we’re having to learn the story, but that’s the reality.

Gray: As long as we can acknowledge that civility is not justice. 

Holmes: No, civility is not justice.

Gray: As long as we can start that way. Because I totally hear what you’re saying. 

Holmes: Yeah.

Gray: And I know the heart behind it. So, it’s worth it. It’s worth engaging with both of our eyes open and being honest about where we hope to go.

Holmes: Yeah. We’ll talk some more. I’m looking forward to diving back in. I’m not done, but I gotta be done.

Gray: No, you’re not done. We’re definitely not done.


Holmes: All right. Thanks for tuning in to Make it Plain. For more resources related to Malcolm X, please visit our website:, or you can subscribe to the show at Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon, RadioPublic, Google, or via RSS and never miss a show. While you’re at it, if you found value in this show, again, we’d appreciate a rating on Apple and Spotify. Our goal is to have three hundred ratings on Apple Podcasts, and one hundred ratings on Spotify. You can also share the podcast with a friend. Also, be sure to visit our website and download our free resource, Make it Plain Season One Discussion Guide. The season two discussion guide is coming soon, and we’ll make sure we send that to you guys when it’s ready. 

Join us next week as we continue our reflections on the words and life of Malcolm X.

Gray: Peace out.

Phillip Holmes

Phillip Holmes is a marketing executive and owner of Highest Good Media. He and his family are members of Redeemer Church.

Taelor Gray

Taelor Gray currently serves as pastor at Linden Fellowship while doubling as a hip-hop artist. He and his wife have two children.