Study Guide

The Autobiography of Malcolm X Philosophical Viewpoints: Pan-Africanism

By Malcolm X and Alex Haley

Philosophical Viewpoints: Pan-Africanism

My father was a big, six-foot-four, very black man. He believed, as did Marcus Garvey, that freedom, independence and self-respect could never be achieved by the N**** in America, and that therefore the N**** should leave America to the white man and return to his African land of origin. (1.2)

Marcus Garvey was one of the most famous proponents of black nationalism and Pan-Africanism. He advocated the return of the African diaspora (which includes African Americans) to Africa and the expulsion of European powers from the continent. He even created a shipping line to transport goods and people to Africa.

I have never understood why, after hearing as much as I did of these kinds of things, I somehow never thought, then, of the black people in Africa. My image of Africa, at that time, was of naked savages, cannibals, monkeys and tigers and steaming jungles. (1.21)

Why you think that, even though Malcolm X was an African American, he had this kind of view of Africa?

"Why shouldn't this white man who likes to think and call himself so good, and so generous, this white man who finances even his enemieswhy shouldn't he subsidize a separate state, a separate territory, for we black people who have been such faithful slaves and servants? A separate territory on which we can lift ourselves out of these white man's slums for us, and his breadlines for us. And even for those he is complaining that we cost him too much! We can do something for ourselves! We never have done what we could—because we have been brainwashed so well by the slavemaster white man that we must come to him, begging him, for everything we want, and need." (14.122)

Pan-Africanism advocates the creation of an independent black state because supporters believe this is the only way for black people to become economically independent. They believe that it is nearly impossible for black people as a whole to become economically stable within systems that are run by white people because black people will always be discriminated against.

"And we see again that not ideologies, but race, and color, is what binds human beings. Is it accidental that as Red Chinese visit African and Asian countries, Russia and America draw steadily closer to each other? (15.126)

Malcolm X is referring to the trend for black radicals to view Maoist China as an example of a Third World nation that has challenged the power of predominantly white nations. At this time many radicals believed that African nations and Maoist China were working together for the same goals.

Substantially, as I saw it, the organization I hoped to build would differ from the Nation of Islam in that it would embrace all faiths of black men, and it would carry into practice what the Nation of Islam had only preached. (16.172)

How do you think this decision is related to Malcolm X's trip to Mecca? To Pan-Africanism?

"An extremely important fact is that Malcolm X is the first Afro-American leader of national standing to make an independent trip to Africa since Dr. Du Bois came to Ghana. This may be the beginning of a new phase in our struggle. Let's make sure we don't give it less thought than the State Department is doubtless giving it right now." (18.50)

W.E.B. Du Bois was (if remember your African American history) a famous Civil Rights activist, Pan-Africanist, and author. He was actually the one who helped to organize several Pan-African Congresses that began the wave of African independence. So by comparing Malcolm X to W.E.B. Du Bois, this person is connecting him to a great legacy of Pan-African activists who took a great interest in Ghana and other African nations. It's sort of like saying that a new pop star is just like Madonna or Britney Spears. A serious compliment.

"How can you condemn Portugal and South Africa while our black people in America are being bitten by dogs and beaten with clubs?" I said I felt certain that the only reason black Africans—our black brothers—could be so silent about what happened in America was that they had been misinformed by the American government's propaganda agencies. At the end of my talk, I heard "Yes! We support the Afro-American . . . morally, physically, materially if necessary!" (18.66)

History tidbit: Portugal was the first European power to create a colony in Africa. At the time that Malcolm X was speaking, it was in the middle of a massive colonial war with Angola, Mozambique, and Portuguese Guinea over their independence. Just to give you an idea of how bad this war was, some people call the Portuguese Colonial Wars "Africa's Vietnam." Malcolm X isn't trying to say that the Civil Rights Movement is as bad as these wars, but that both are terrible things and shouldn't be happening.

Or right here in the Western Hemisphere—probably 100 million people of African descent are divided against each other, taught by the white man to hate and to mistrust each other. In the West Indies, Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela, all of South America, Central America! All of those lands are full of people with African blood! On the African continent, even, the white man has maneuvered to divide the black African from the brown Arab, to divide the so-called 'Christian African' from the Muslim African. Can you imagine what can happen, what would certainly happen, if all of these African-heritage peoples ever realize their blood bonds, if they ever realize they all have a common goalif they ever unite?" (18.101)

Did you know that the largest population of people from African diaspora is actually in Brazil and that these people would be considered Hispanic in the United States? Malcolm X's point is that if members of the diaspora would ignore religious and other categorizations besides African origin and join together as a political force they'd be pretty darn powerful.

Why Black Nationalism? Well, in the competitive American society, how can there ever be any white-black solidarity before there is first some black solidarity? (19.60)

Do you agree with that? Can there be severity between black and white people if black people do not have solidarity amongst themselves? Why or why not?

What makes the black man think of himself as only an internal United States issue is just a catch-phrase, two words, "civil rights." How is the black man going to get "civil rights" before first he wins his human rights? If the American black man will start thinking about his human rights, and then start thinking of himself as part of one of the world's great peoples, he will see he has a case for the United Nations. (11.52)

Let's look at those two words, civil and human. Civil means relating to the state a.k.a. the government. Human means, well, relating to all human beings. Obviously all citizens are human, so citizens of the United States should not need a separate law to be treated as human beings. Malcolm X is pointing out that since the United States was not treating African Americans as human beings according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the problem of racial oppression extends far beyond the jurisdiction of the United States alone.

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