Before reading his book, I’d been under the impression that Malcolm X was some physical threat to white people; that he wanted us dealt with “by any means necessary.” After reading for myself, I realize that the only threat Malcolm X represented was to a beheading of the racist establishment that, to this day, keeps We The People separate and apathetic. Blown away is the slanted history of Malcolm X I inherited in high school and fully expanded is the sensationalized version I got from Spike Lee.
Not a good substitute for reading with your own eyes, here are four personal insights, among many, from Autobiography of Malcolm X that this nice white lady hopes my people would get.
Ending racism depends on white people.
Malcolm X’s views about white people evolved over the course of his life. Fresh out of prison where he was first introduced to Nation of Islam teachings, he spoke of white people as ethnically tarnished from the perversion of white supremacy - forever tainted by our own racist cultural inheritance. He taught that whites working towards black liberation diminished black people’s efforts towards empowering themselves.
Almost a decade later, after his second visit to the Islamic holy land of Mecca, he returned home with a different message about white folks. His final writings declare white Americans vital to the goal of black liberation.
“I knew, better than most Negroes, how many white people truly wanted to see American racial problems solved. I knew that many whites were as frustrated as Negroes. I’ll bet I got fifty letters some days from white people.”
Where white people must work towards black liberation, Malcolm X said, “is out on the battle lines of where America’s racism really is - and that’s in their own home communities; American racism is among their own fellow whites…The well-meaning white people…had to combat, actively and directly, the racism in other white people.”
He also encouraged us, “…to approach the black man’s struggle against the white man’s racism as a human problem, that we had to forget hypocritical politics and propaganda…both races, as human beings, had the obligation, the responsibility, of helping to correct America’s human problem. The well-meaning white people…had to combat, actively and directly, the racism in other white people.”
White people should support non-white peoples’ organizing. White people must advocate for equal representation of non-white peoples in all forms of governance.
My white brothers and sisters - Can we please face the fact that white people don’t have the answer for everything? Can we please understand that supporting black lives does not diminish white lives?
Malcolm X writes, “I tell sincere white people, ‘Work in conjunction with us - each of us working among our own kind.’ Let sincere white individuals find all other white people they can who feel as they do - and let them form their own all-white groups, to work trying to convert other white people who are thinking and acting so racist….we will meanwhile be working among our own kind, in our own black communities - showing and teaching black men in ways that only other black men can - that the black man has got to help himself. Working separately, the sincere white people and sincere black people actually will be working together.”
Non-white people doing great work must be given power and autonomy to solve issues that impact them and their communities like only they know how.
Groups of white men can not continue to make decisions for everyone else. Why do we have groups of white men right now deciding the fate of women’s health care and considering how to create law and order in the inner city with no one from the inner city seated at the table? White folks can help elect diverse voices, support non-white groups doing great work, and include non-white people in community problem solving.
Religious freedom matters.
Spiritual, physical, and emotional health are related. Oppressed peoples must have access to a healthy spiritual practice, as does all people, for physical and emotional health to manifest. For Malcolm Little, pursuit of a better life came from the Black Muslim teachings of the Honorable Elijah Mohammed. A painful childhood filled with interventions from small-town, Christian white folks in Michigan, left teenage Malcolm belittled, physically separated from his impoverished family, and feeling his only opportunity was to create a good hustle. Hustling resulted in jail time where Muslim teachings offered fresh insights and his first glimmer of real hope.
Mr. X’s religious beliefs morphed over the course of his life and became the cornerstone of his liberation and nationalist teachings. Strict Black Muslim codes to clean living mandated physical health and provided a community to support his family’s health, which in turn provided emotional health.
Without freedom of religion, Malcolm X may have very well stayed a hustler. Instead, self-imposed studies and interactions with different religions from all over the world revealed to him deeper meanings among humanity. “True Islam taught me that it takes all of the religious, political, economic, psychological, and racial ingredients, or characteristics, to make the Human Family and the Human Society complete.”
The fact is, one religion does not offer enlightenment to all people and even the holiest disciple can become perverted by fundamentalist intolerance. The freedom to pursue one’s own spiritual quest and experience the empowerment that comes from robust physical/mental/spiritual health should be encouraged. We must protect freedom of religion.
Any non-white people holding racism to the fire will be labeled “extreme.”
Towards the end of his life, Malcolm X said, “Sometimes, I have dared to dream to myself that one day, history may even say that my voice - which disturbed the white man’s smugness, and his arrogance, and his complacency - that my voice helped to save America from a grave, possibly even a fatal catastrophe.” Never was it Malcolm X’s desire to hurt white people but to startle us from a privileged slumber. And still today, even silent demonstrations from a black person about equal rights will earn an “extreme” label, not much different than it did in 1963.
In his life, Malcolm X did not agree with all contemporary black liberation strategies. After discovering that orders had been put out for his assassination he reflected, “The goal has always been the same, with the approaches to it as different as mine and Dr. Martin Luther King’s non-voilent marching, that dramatizes the brutality and the evil of the white man against defenseless blacks….it is anybody’s guess which of the ‘extremes’ in approach to the black man’s problems might personally meet a fatal catastrophe first - ‘non-violent’ Dr. King, or so-called ‘violent’ me.”
Malcolm X’s overt strategies made MLK’s sit-ins seem more middle-ground but moderate Civil Rights activists ended up dead too. White people today can go deeper than history class to become familiar with ranges of voices on the front lines of anti-racist actions. We must re-learn the histories of plenty civil rights strategies. We should question all images and stories fed to us about those fighting for racial justice now.
Even as I write this, recent events flash through my mind: Colin Kaepernick, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, the rise of Donald Trump, fuck the police, the shooting of police. Malcolm X’s words are poignant 50 years later. Still potent - they could lead to action among white people. I do not agree with everything Malcolm X said or did over his years but at least I am not operating under false assumptions about what he stood for.
We whites seem pretty fired up lately. Let’s venture into our own communities, families, and minds armed with essential Malcolm X insights; “Raw, naked truth exchanged between the black man and the white man is what a whole lot more of is needed in this country - to clear the air of racial mirages, cliches, and lies that this country’s very atmosphere has been filled with for four hundred years.”