Study Guide

The Autobiography of Malcolm X Prejudice

By Malcolm X and Alex Haley


My father was also belligerent toward all of the children, except me. [...] I actually believe that as anti-white as my father was, he was subconsciously so afflicted with the white man's brainwashing of N****es that he inclined to favor the light ones, and I was his lightest child. Most N**** parents in those days would almost instinctively treat any lighter children better than they did the darker ones. (1.12)

How do you think this prejudicial treatment by their own parents makes darker skinned black children feel about themselves?

Thinking about it now, I feel definitely that just as my father favored me for being lighter than the other children, my mother gave me more hell for the same reason. [...] She went out of her way never to let me become afflicted with a sense of color-superiority. I am sure that she treated me this way partly because of how she came to be light herself. (1.24)

Malcolm's mom acts in the complete opposite way of his father. Why do you think she does this? How does prejudice negatively affect those even on the "positive" end of discrimination?

But I can distinctly remember hearing "crazy" applied to her by them when they learned that the N**** farmer who was in the next house down the road from us had offered to give us some butchered pork—a whole pig, maybe even two of them—and she had refused. We all heard them call my mother "crazy" to her face for refusing good meat. It meant nothing to them even when she explained that we had never eaten pork, that it was against her religion as a Seventh Day Adventist. (1.78)

While this may not seem racist at first, you have to look at the context. What does crazy mean? It means acting without rational motives. However, Malcolm X's mother was a Seventh Day Adventist and had food restrictions that prevented her from eating pork. So, was she crazy? Do you think they would have called her crazy if she were a white Jewish woman? We don't think so.

I don't care how nice one is to you; the thing you must always remember is that almost never does he really see you as he sees himself, as he sees his own kind. He may stand with you through thin, but not thick; when the chips are down, you'll find that as fixed in him as his bone structure is his sometimes subconscious conviction that he's better than anybody black. (2.24)

Malcolm has made this statement several times throughout the book. Actually, he is often taken advantage of the prejudice displayed by the white people around him. Can you spot all of these moments?

It didn't take me a week to learn that all you had to do was give white people a show and they'd buy anything you offered them. It was like popping your shoeshine rag. The dining car waiters and Pullman porters knew it too, and they faked their Uncle Tomming to get bigger tips. We were in that world of N****es who are both servants and psychologists, aware that white people are so obsessed with their own importance that they will pay liberally, even dearly, for the impression of being catered to and entertained. (5.28)

In another example of how prejudice affects all of the people involved negatively, we have this situation where the white customers are convinced to part with more of their money because they enjoy performances that confirm their racist stereotypes. Who wins here? Nobody.

"Red, I'm a Jew and you're black," he would say. "These Gentiles don't like either one of us. If the Jew wasn't smarter than the Gentile, he'd get treated worse than your people." (7.86)

It's kind of funny how this was an insult and a statement of solidarity rolled into one.

Similarly, just let some mayor or some city council somewhere boast of having "no N**** problem." [...] I'd say they didn't need to tell me where this was, because I knew that all it meant was that relatively very few N****es were living there. That's true the world over, you know. Take "democratic" England—when 100,000 black West Indians got there, England stopped the black migration. Finland welcomed a N**** U.S. Ambassador. Well, let enough N****es follow him to Finland! (15.30)

Why do you think the only areas that had no problem with black people were ones that hardly had any black people living there? What changes when the black population increases?

The white Southerner was always given his due by Mr. Muhammad. The white Southerner, you can say one thing—he is honest. He bares his teeth to the black man; he tells the black man, to his face, that Southern whites never will accept phony "integration." The Southern white goes further, to tell the black man that he means to fight him every inch of the way-against even the so-called "tokenism." The advantage of this is the Southern black man never has been under any illusions about the opposition he is dealing with. (15.34)

Malcolm makes it seem that there are only two options: obvious racists, and covert racists. This leaves us wondering whether it's possible to simply not be racist. What do you think?

Constantly, wherever I went, I was asked questions about America's racial discrimination. Even with my background, I was astonished at the degree to which the major single image of America seemed to be discrimination. (18.10)

At the time the major news in the United States was the Civil Rights Movement. So international television stations were probably filled with images of the brutality shown to peaceful protesters. No wonder discrimination is the first thing that all of these people ask about.

Why, here in America, the seeds of racism are so deeply rooted in the white people collectively, their belief that they are 'superior' in some way is so deeply rooted, that these things are in the national white sub consciousness. Many whites are even actually unaware of their own racism, until they face some test, and then their racism emerges in one form or another. (18.100)

Two words: Stephen Colbert.

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