Malcolm X's early experiences with racism shaped his thinking throughout his lifetime

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Malcolm X

Malcolm X's early experiences with racism shaped his thinking throughout his lifetime. As a child growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, Malcolm was witness to the near lynching of his father and the burning of his family home by Klansmen. Later, his father was killed and his mother was committed to a mental institution. Malcolm and his siblings were split up by child welfare and for awhile he was forced to live in a reform home run by racist white people. Malcolm moved to Boston in his early teens and soon found himself in trouble with the law. In 1946 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for burglary. It was in prison that he began to turn his life around. In his autobiography, Malcolm recalls that, "I had sunk to the very bottom of the American white man's society," until "in prison- I found Allah and…it completely transformed my life." (150) He became involved in the Nation of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad. It was at this time that Malcolm took his first step towards his belief of non-integration with the white people of America. When he was released in 1952, he renamed himself Malcolm X in keeping with Elijah Muhammad's belief that American blacks should give up their "slave names." The "X", he said, "Replaces the white slave-master name imposed upon my paternal forebears by some blue-eyed devil." (203)

Malcolm X believed that integration wasn’t the answer to American Negro’s problems. He believed that “no sane black man really wants integration! No sane white man really wants integration!” (250) It is this belief that Malcolm X proceeded to share among his fellow blacks. At this time in the United States there was a major drive for racial integration; however, Malcolm X was calling for racial separation. He believed that the civil rights gains made in America were not true and sincere. He criticized those African Americans who used nonviolence in order to achieve integration and advocated self-defense in the face of white violence. He urged black people to give up the Christian religion, reject integration, and understand that the high crime rate in black communities was the result of African Americans following the decadent mores of Western, white society.

The Muslim leader Muhammad preached that history had been "whitened." He claimed that the white man was the devil who kept non-whites down. Malcolm learned from Muhammad and followed in his footsteps. Malcolm remembered his grade school teacher who “laughed through [the black history section] practically in a single breath” (30). Malcolm knew that if the black community could come together and build a communal pride in their own history, that they could overcome their poverty. Malcolm also believed that it should be done separate from the white community. If blacks were to integrate, he believed, they would not be able to preserve their heritage, which had already been taken away by whites.

According to Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X’s writes, “since Western society is deteriorating, it has become overrun with immorality, and God is going to judge it, and destroy it. And the only way the black people caught up in this society can be saved is not to integrate into this corrupt society, but to separate from it, to a land of our own, where we can reform ourselves, lift up our moral standards, and try to be godly.” (250) Malcolm X believed that the solution of integration had already been tried, and it had failed. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, many integration “experiments” did indeed fail.

One such “experiment” was the forced integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. This crisis began when Arkansas National Guard troops, under orders from Gov. Orval Faubus, blocked entrance to the school for black students in September, 1957. After U.S. Federal Court ordered the troops removed, the black students entered Central High and completed the school year. Later, Gov. Faubus temporarily closed all city high schools. This led many white leaders to believe that although integration was the answer, it was not very well accepted by the white masses and that integration would be very difficult without the cooperation of white Americans. Another such example of a civil rights act that was not so well received occurred on December 1st, 1955. This was the day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man after a long hard day of work. This peaceful display of attempted integration caused an immediate uproar which led to a yearlong bus boycott by Martin Luther King Jr. These are two of the many attempts at integration that were not well received by the white community, and expressed their refusal to integrate with the black “mongrels” (260).

Malcolm X believed that there was one example that proved his point perfectly; the “Farce on Washington” (284). As Malcolm X says, “any student of how ‘integration’ can weaken the black man’s movement was about to observe a master lesson” (285). The Negro leaders had planned a march on Washington with which they would demand some concrete civil rights action by Congress. Money was soon donated by a white philanthropic agency, and they began giving advice to the marchers. Many famous white figures were invited to the march, and soon, many whites began announcing they were going too. The march soon crumbled down into nothing more than “an outing, a picnic” (286). This is a prime example of how integrating with the white people had weakened the black spirit and how the black people became easily brainwashed and controlled by the white masses.

The events leading up to Malcolm X’s anti-integration position clearly show that integration had been tried, and hadn’t worked according to plan. Sure there were advances in black civil rights, but at what expense? The American Negro’s lost a part of their heritage in trying to fit in with the American white male. This loss of heritage is something that can never be regained, and this is what Malcolm X’s was preaching all along.

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