The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Autobiography of Malcolm X Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Malcolm’s new political strategy revolves around two main points: an international perspective on the struggle of African Americans in America, and a turn towards orthodox Islam. Unfortunately, there is not much enthusiasm for an international approach, and orthodox Islam is too foreign to catch on in America’s black Christian communities. Therefore, Malcolm tries to focus more on a broad social justice approach, but his audiences largely take a “wait-and-see” attitude towards his stance.
Malcolm has always touted his ability to connect with regular black people on the streets of America’s cities as one of his strengths, but that time may have finally come to an end. His message has become too foreign for others who have never traveled abroad to jump at the idea of following him.
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While in the Holy Land Malcolm had felt whole for the first time in his life, like he was truly standing before the Creator. In that space, he had recalled many memories from his childhood, along with all the time he had spent in solitary confinement, envisioning large crowds before him. He also thought back over his time serving Elijah Muhammad in the Nation and how he had believed in him as a divine figure, rather than just as a man.
By saying that the Holy Land made Malcolm feel “whole,” the text already starts to allude to his imminent death. If his life has been made “whole,” then it must be nearly “complete” temporally as well.
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In short, Malcolm had come into his own as a thinker and felt ready to address African Americans’ issues from his own enlightened perspective. Yet the mainstream press now largely ignores his more nuanced views and simply blames him for the unrest happening in many urban ghettos in the summer of 1964. And while he rejects responsibility for that unrest and doesn’t endorse physical violence, he sympathizes with the rioters’ anger, which gets him labeled as “the angriest Negro in America.”
Malcolm increasingly finds himself in a “Bermuda triangle” of media coverage. Everything bad happening within America’s cities is blamed on him, while all of the messages he sends out are simply swallowed into the void. His righteous anger is seen as just the typical behavior of a stereotypical poor, angry black man.
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Malcolm continues to try and clarify his position as not being against all white people but as only against white racists. He says that he is for violence only if there is no other solution, and says that non-violence in that case would be a non-solution. Yet by saying that white people have committed crimes against black people that might provoke violent responses, he is labeled “a revolutionist.”
After having met so many real “revolutionaries” while traveling abroad, Malcolm is certainly open to the idea of violence as a last resort, but his rejection of the label “revolutionist” is an act of humility and respect to those real revolutionaries.
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Malcolm then quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. (without naming him) who spoke about how “our nation was born in genocide” against the native population. This violence is upheld as a righteous conquering of the land, while any violence that goes against white society is condemned.
Violence is not a concrete term that applies equally to everyone in society’s discourse. This discrepancy in the way we discuss violence is a perfect example of the double standard within a racist society (an idea that still certainly applies today, when breaking shop windows during a riot is seen as “violence” while attacking unarmed Native and Black Americans is not).
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According to Malcolm, Christianity may have been founded in the Middle East, but once it spread through Europe, it became entangled with ideas of empire and white supremacy. Under the banners of the Crusade and then later under Christian colonialism, Europeans invaded and dominated Africa by force. Instead of force, Malcolm believes true leadership and love spring from the “spirit.”
Malcolm is no longer simply critiquing white Christian society as responsible for racial oppression. Instead, he is now trying to imagine a new way to organize society around values other than conquest, power, and domination.
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Reflecting on the spread of Christianity throughout the world, Malcolm now sees the rise of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism as rejections of European society and colonialism. In America, he believes that only Islam can unite black people, as Islam has a long history of confrontation and successful rejection of European imperialism.
When he talks about these religions rejecting Western values and colonialism, Malcolm is referencing the political revolutions and decolonizing projects happening throughout the Third World at this time.
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Now, Malcolm sees the decline of Christianity’s influence and its spiritual emptiness in America as signs of the end of Western civilization. He sees the biggest reason for this decline as Christianity’s inability to recognize or combat racism. This may be Christianity’s last chance to repent for the sins committed under its name, including slavery, rape, and murder. Unfortunately, he does not think white society is prepared to ask for forgiveness and find a way to remedy its effects.
In his analysis of Christianity in the West, Malcolm agrees with the opinions of many conservative Christian ministers that the West is in moral decline. But Malcolm sees this as an opportunity for the creation of a new society that is free of ideas of domination and exploitation—ideas that have become inextricably linked to Western Christianity.
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After returning to America for a while, Malcolm again goes abroad for 18 weeks, in which he meets many foreign and religious leaders. While abroad, he has a conversation with an American ambassador who tells him that he only sees and prejudges on race when he’s in America. Malcolm asks if he thinks this is because of the “American political, economic and social atmosphere,” and the ambassador says yes.
This interaction with the ambassador shows how much Malcolm has grown. He not only is willing to have an extended conversation with a white man on racism, but is willing to agree that racism actually a societal (rather than in ethnic or biological) problem.
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While abroad, Malcolm is well aware that he is being followed by a US intelligence agent. So one morning while at breakfast, he gets up and confronts this man, asking if there is anything he would like to know. Their conversation quickly turns ugly as the agent accuses Malcolm of being un-American and possibly a Communist, not to mention a “Black Muslim.” Malcolm tells the “super-sleuth” that he has changed his religious affiliation.
Unlike his previous interaction with the ambassador, Malcolm’s discussion with the agent doesn’t go anywhere. The agent is unwilling to rationally discuss things with him, and instead simply throws accusations in his face—showing the consistently antagonistic relationship the U.S. government maintained towards most black leaders during the Civil Rights era.
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Then, on a hunch, Malcolm guesses that the man is of Jewish heritage. He tells him that while Jews have been very vocal supporters of civil rights, they have also played negative roles in African American communities by exploiting poor blacks in their business practices. Not only that, but when blacks move into white neighborhoods, the Jews in the community are always the first ones to leave.
This passage is an example of why Malcolm has been accused of being anti-Semitic. While he takes care to avoid racial stereotypes, he nonetheless attributes responsibility for certain behaviors to all Jews.
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During Malcolm’s time abroad, the 1964 presidential election is in full swing, and reporters constantly ask him for his opinion. While he says he has no preference between Barry Goldwater and President Johnson, he does “commend” Goldwater for his honesty. Goldwater is openly against civil rights, whereas Johnson presents himself as pro-civil rights, but has many segregationist friends in the South.
Malcolm’s response shows a contempt for electoral politics, which he sees as more of a show than not. If both candidates are probably racist, he reasons, then at least one of them is honest about it. This reflects his otherwise stated ideas about the American North vs. the South, or liberals vs. conservatives—both are racist, but one group hides it better than the other.
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Now conceiving of his movement as a Black Nationalist movement, Malcolm describes his continuing troubles with getting it off the ground. He has gravitated towards Black Nationalism as a multi-religious movement with an emphasis on black solidarity, but his previous affiliation with the Nation continues to hinder his efforts.
Unfortunately, all those years he spent with the Nation of Islam now make it very difficult for Malcolm to start building the broad coalition group he has been imagining.
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The issue, Malcolm writes, is a human one, in which both whites and blacks must do what they can. Whites must combat the racism of other white people, while black people must become aware of how they have been hypnotized into inaction by a racist society. This presents a stark contrast to the attitude he took with the white female college student years back (who asked him what she could do).
In this new approach, everyone (including white people) has a responsibility and a role to play in creating a just society. Everyone who is willing to take on that responsibility should be encouraged, rather than turned away or demonized.
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In regards to his new organization, Malcolm does not want to allow whites to join. On the one hand, they would be more effective at working within white organizations to combat racism. On the other, after seeing how whites in New York used to fetishize black culture and black bodies, Malcolm has an inherent distrust of white people who rush to surround themselves with black people. Not only that, but black organizations that welcome white people inevitably end up being led by those whites, which blunts their political message of black empowerment.
As he has said, Malcolm would like to coordinate efforts with white organizations to combat racism. However, the power dynamics and racist history within American society means that integrated organizations may be less effective (or less equitable) than partnered but parallel organizations.
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The most important factor in ending oppression for Malcolm is a commitment to “humanism and moral responsibility.” Otherwise, the riots and unrest will simply continue. He sees himself as having the same goal as Martin Luther King’s non-violent movement, even if their strategies and discourses vary. Either way, he does sense the impending threat of violence hovering over both movements.
Throughout the book, Malcolm has always avoided criticizing other black leaders by name, but King and his non-violent movement has always been one of Malcolm’s implied targets. Now Malcolm aligns himself with King, or at least finds something they have in common.
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Since he was a boy and saw his father and uncles die by violence, Malcolm has always had a feeling that his life would end similarly. This does not trouble him, he says, as he sees it as simply inevitable given his hot-headed temperament and fervent beliefs. But this does make him see his current actions as urgent.
Malcolm’s stoicism before his death, at least the way it is presented here, taps into a long tradition of writing about martyrs, and it particularly brings to mind the calm acceptance of Jesus Christ before his death.
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Malcolm has poured his time into this book so that it might act as a testimony on American society. His time in prison, given the social factors stacked against him, was simply inevitable. He hopes that the reader will understand how he came to see the white man as a devil, and how then he grew to have different views.
This passage, made especially poignant in light of his death, is Malcolm’s formal “apology” or explanation for the book: essentially saying, “Please forgive my faults and use my story for good.”
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Malcolm believes that in his early life, he fell as far as anyone can within American society, but that his fall also led to his eventual joy and happiness in Islam. He has fought as best he could for the black community. His biggest shortcoming, in his opinion, has been his lack of education. With the right opportunities, he might have become a great lawyer, or he might have been able to learn many different languages, including Arabic and Chinese. Even at this point in his life, Malcolm’s greatest personal desire is to have the opportunity to learn and study.
Here Malcolm ties together his love of learning and his decades-long fight for racial equality. His knowledge has allowed him to fight for black America on a variety of levels, and his only wish would be to have studied more so that he could have been even more effective.
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As previously stated, Malcolm is aware of the death threats against him and regards every day as a borrowed day. This death may come from the Nation of Islam or from white racists. Either way, Malcolm makes a powerful prediction: when he’s gone, the press will identify him with hate, which will conceal all the truth he’s been trying to spread.
Malcolm’s prediction about the media’s treatment of his memory will be proven correct. However, this book itself stands as a counterargument against those who would reduce him to simply “violence and hate.”
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Malcolm acknowledges that he has enjoyed confronting white society while trying to spread the truth. When he felt resistance to his ideas, he felt closer to the truth. And if one day it turns out that he has contributed to destroying racism in America, then he attributes all the credit to Allah, and all the failures to himself.
At the end, Malcolm shows his mischievous side by admitting to having enjoyed fighting the good fight, but he also makes himself into a sacrificial subject by taking all of his works’ failings entirely onto himself.
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