Like many human persons, Malcolm X, during the course of his life, changed, so that there is an “early version” of Malcolm and a “later one.” The early Malcolm X did, in fact, view the white man as “the devil.” But after visiting the holy land of Mecca, he had “a change of heart,” moving away from the Black Muslim movement and having a greater appreciation of Islam itself, which he calls “the real religion of Islam,” a religion for people of all colors, whether they are black or white.1 The later Malcolm X clarified his views on race-relations, saying,
“So before I get involved in anything nowadays, I have to straighten out my own position, which is clear. I am not a racist in any form whatsoever. I don’t believe in any form of racism. I don’t believe in any form of discrimination or segregation. I believe in Islam. I am a Muslim.”2
For the later Malcolm X, a human being should not be judged, receive a “blanket condemnation,” on the basis of the color of his or her skin. Rather, says Malcom,
“The yardstick that is used by the Muslim to measure another man is not the man’s color but the man’s deeds, the man’s conscious behavior, the man’s intentions.”3
In fact, Malcolm goes even further, saying,
“But when you just judge a man because of the color of his skin, then you’re committing a crime, because that’s the worst kind of judgment.”4
It is the “worst kind of judgment,” precisely because it is a gross injustice to any human being.5 Such a judgment is superficial and rash, a judgment or verdict “without a hearing in court,” to condemn a human for his or her color or skin pigmentation.
The earlier views of Malcolm X about the whites were shaped by some incorrect teachings that Malcolm had received. The later Malcolm himself admitted as much, observing,
“[P]rior to going into the Muslim world, … Elijah Muhammad had taught us that the white man could not enter into Makkah in Arabia, and all of us who followed him, we believed it. And he said the reason he couldn’t enter was because he’s white and inherently evil, it’s impossible to change him. And the only thing that would change him is Islam, and he can’t accept Islam because by nature he’s evil.”6
For Malcolm, his earlier teachings contributed greatly to his negative views about whites. But the later Malcolm, due to his fuller conversion to the religion of Islam, regarded color as secondary to being a person. As he explains,
“[I]n Asia or the Arab world or in Africa, where the Muslims are, if you find one who says he’s white, all he’s doing is using an adjective to describe something that’s incidental about him, one of his incidental characteristics; so there’s nothing else to it, he’s just white.”7
While, of course, Malcolm would admit that a human being’s color is important, his or her humanity, the fact of being a person, is even more important. In other words, color, such as being white, is, says Malcolm, “incidental,” meaning “secondary,” to being a person.8 That is the philosophy Malcolm brought back with him to the United States.
On that point, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., both of whom were prominent civil rights leaders, agree. For instance, in his sermon on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, King says,
“If the Samaritan had considered the wounded man as a Jew first, he would not have stopped [to help him],” for the Jews and the Samaritans had no dealings. He saw him as a human being first, who was a Jew only by accident [i.e., external or outer properties of a human being]. The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers.”9
Americans today, living in the 21st century, regardless of the color of their skin, need to take a lesson from Malcolm X, the Minister of Islam. For example, white Americans should not consider themselves superior black Americans, because both whites and blacks are persons. Nor should black Americans consider themselves inferior to anyone. Therefore, for the Malcolm X, Americans , whether black or white, are persons, being equal in worth or human dignity.
When Malcolm X was murdered, he did not hate whites. In fact, Malcolm’s speech from which I have quoted was given a week before his own death. As Malcolm struggled to better understand race-relations in America, he was guided by love. He had love in his heart for all people, even whites, while he “fought” to advance the civil rights of his black brothers and sisters – in Islam and people of all faiths.
1.Malcolm X. 14 February 1965, 2010. Speech at Ford Auditorium. Black Past. [Web:] https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/speeches-african-american-history/1965-malcolm-x-speech-ford-auditorium [Date of access: 25 January 2022].
9.Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press, 2010), pp. 24-25.