The Autobiography of Malcolm X | Study Guide

Malcolm X and Alex Haley

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The Autobiography of Malcolm X | Chapter 14 : Black Muslims | Summary

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Summary

The chapter begins by looking back a few months before the incident with Johnson Hinton that ended Chapter 13. In 1959 a black reporter, Louis Lomax, asks Malcolm if he will consent to be filmed for a television show, the Mike Wallace Show. Elijah Muhammad grants permission and a crew begins filming Nation of Islam gatherings in several cities. At about that same time, a doctoral student, C. Eric Lincoln, includes research into the Nation of Islam in his thesis. He gets a contract to publish his thesis as a book. (In 1961 the book was published as The Black Muslims in America.) As a result the Nation of Islam begins to get wide publicity.

Malcolm begins writing a newspaper column for the Harlem newspaper Amsterdam News. He learns to take photographs and starts a Nation of Islam newspaper, Muhammad Speaks.

The television program airs with the title "The Hate That Hate Produced." The show is "edited tightly into a kaleidoscope of 'shocker' images," including "strong-looking, set-faced black men, our Fruit of Islam" and white-scarved, white-gowned Muslim sisters of all ages," as well as Muslims in temples and Muslim-owned businesses. Malcolm compares the show's "shock mood" to a famous 1938 Halloween radio broadcast by Orson Welles, which announced men from Mars had landed on Earth.

Following the television broadcast of "The Hate That Hate Produced," newspapers and magazines express outrage over "hate-messengers," "black supremacists," "hate-teachers," "violence-seekers," and "black racists." After the outrage from the media, some of the black critics of the Nation of Islam speak up. Malcolm says they are collaborating with the white man. He calls them "'house' and 'yard' Negroes," comparing them to a slave master's favorite slaves.

With all the attention on the Nation of Islam, Malcolm gets many interview requests. In response to the criticism Malcolm "trie[s] to pour fire on fire in return." He says the white man is trying to hide his own guilt by attacking Elijah Muhammad. He says it is hypocritical of white segregationists to oppose black separatism. He also finds it absurd for "the white man" to ask "the black man" whether he hates him. He compares this question to "the rapist asking the raped, or the wolf asking the sheep, 'Do you hate me?'"

Everything reporters bring up as progress, Malcolm knocks down with examples from history. He criticizes the 1954 Supreme Court decision integrating schools, saying it is nothing to celebrate. At the same time the decision announced desegregation, "it told whites 'Here are your loopholes.'" He also publicly criticizes black leaders. The typical black leader, he says, is "a professional Negro ... his profession is being a Negro for the white man." He speaks in favor of separation of the races and against Christianity. He also grants an interview to Alex Haley, who would go on to interview him for The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Much to the Nation of Islam's displeasure they become known as "Black Muslims." They hold mass rallies, for believers and nonbelievers alike. Elijah Muhammad fears someone will attack him at a rally, but he nonetheless addresses the enthusiastic crowds from the stage. He tells the assembled black people they built the nation in slavery. The slave masters alienated them from their history and culture. He asks why black people should not have their own nation. The FBI sends spies to infiltrate the Nation of Islam, and Malcolm sometimes succeeds in converting them. The Nation of Islam also successfully converts many addicts. "Kick that habit," a Muslim would tell the addict. "Kick Whitey off your back!"

Elijah Muhammad develops a respiratory illness, and on his doctors' advice moves to Arizona. He warns Malcolm about his growing fame. He says, "You will grow to be hated when you become well known." He tells Malcolm "people get jealous of public figures."

Analysis

The comparison between the television documentary and the "men from Mars" radio broadcast is a good one. Allegedly, people panicked in 1938 when Orson Welles performed a fictional news broadcast on the radio that reported on Martians landing on Earth. White audiences reacted to "The Hate That Hate Produced" as though Black Muslims were an alien, enemy force. However, the documentary's "shocker" images, as Malcolm describes them, sound quite ordinary. They include "Muslims in [Muslim-owned] restaurants, and other businesses" and "Muslims and other black people entering and leaving ... mosques." Just showing black people living life, or black people assembled together, seemed to be enough to cause a stir.

In 1964 black writer James Baldwin made a similar, if opposite, comparison to Mars. "White people are endlessly demanding to be reassured that Birmingham is really on Mars," he wrote. He was referring to the civil rights struggle in Birmingham, Alabama, and the violent reaction of white southerners. National newspapers carried pictures of police using fire hoses and dogs to attack black protestors. The violence included the bombing of a Birmingham church, in which four black girls were killed. Baldwin's point is white people wanted to think Birmingham was an alien and bizarre culture, as distant as Mars. In fact, Baldwin wrote, there was "no distance, morally or actually, between Birmingham and Los Angeles." Malcolm's comparison points to a similar logic. Instead of accepting that black people have lived in the United States for 400 years, Malcolm X's white critics would like to think of the Black Muslims as an invading army.

Malcolm re-creates one of Elijah Muhammad's speeches to believers in this chapter. Even though some of the teachings Malcolm describes elsewhere in the book might sound bizarre, Elijah Muhammad had a grasp of the reality of black lives in the United States. The people in his audience may or may not have descended from a tribe named Shabazz, as he claimed, but he is correct that the slave masters prevented slaves from knowing their history and preserving their culture. The conditions of slavery in the United States separated families and put people who spoke different languages together. Familial and cultural heritage were destroyed in such conditions. The story of the big-headed scientist asks black listeners to take a lot on faith. But when Elijah Muhammad says "You would not recognize your tribe's name if you heard it," he is telling an obvious truth. Likewise, when Malcolm X tells listeners "we have been suffering, all our lives," his listeners can easily confirm that in their own lives.

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