Study Guide

The Autobiography of Malcolm X Race

By Malcolm X and Alex Haley


As the "n*****" of my class, I was in fact extremely popular—I suppose partly because I was kind of a novelty. I was in demand, I had top priority. (2.30)

This quote comes from a chapter titled "Mascot." Just like no one takes NFL mascots seriously, the people in Malcolm's high school like him because he's funny. You know, just like a mascot.

In fact, by then, I didn't really have much feeling about being a N****, because I was trying so hard, in every way I could, to be white. Which is why I am spending much of my life today telling the American black man that he's wasting his time straining to "integrate." I know from personal experience. I tried hard enough. (2.43)

What do you think Malcolm means when he says he is trying to be white? What would being black look like?

White customers on the shine stand, especially, would laugh to see my feet suddenly break loose on their own and cut a few steps. Whites are correct in thinking that black people are natural dancers. Even little kids are—except for those N****es today who are so "integrated," as I had been, that their instincts are inhibited. You know those "dancing jibagoo" toys that you windup? Well, I was like a live one—music just wound me up. (4.9)

Yes, in case you were wondering, that's totally racist. And no, not all black people can dance.

And we laughed about the scared little Chinese whose restaurant didn't have a hand laid on it, because the rioters just about convulsed laughing when they saw the sign the Chinese had hastily stuck on his front door: "Me Colored Too." (7.30)

Do you know the term people of color? It refers to all people of any race that other than white. So technically, this Chinese shop owner is correct. But why do you think the rioters laugh at their sign?

She had also noticed the color preference. I never could substitute in an emergency, she would tell me with a laugh, because I was too light. She told me that nearly every white woman in her clientele would specify "a black one;" sometimes they would say "a real one," meaning black, no brown N****es, no red N****es. (7.71)

Why do you think the clientele only want very dark skinned black people? Why do you think there is such a huge business in interracial prostitution to begin with? We have a theory that the clients are into the taboo of sexual relationships between races. So the darker the person, the more taboo, and the more satisfying the experience.

It was that a white man, a N****, and a Jew were given one wish each. The white man asked for securities; the N**** asked for a lot of money; the Jew asked for some imitation jewelry "and that colored boy's address." (2.10)

Jokes are often a good way to understand what society really thinks. So what does this joke tell us about society's perception of white gentiles, Jews, and black people?

And the way most N****es feel today, a mixed couple probably finds that black families, black communities, are even more hostile than the white ones. So what's bound to face "integrated" marriages, except being unwelcomed, unwanted, "misfits" in whichever world they try to live in? What we arrive at is that "integration," socially, is no good for either side. "Integration," ultimately, would destroy the white race . . . and destroy the black race. (15.62)

What do you think of this argument? It seems to us that Malcolm is not looking at the real problem. Is the real problem integration and mixed race marriages? Or is it the hostility of both black and white people to interracial marriage?

Anyway, I'd never seen anyone I ever spoke to before more affected than this little white college girl. She demanded, right up in my face, "Don't you believe there are any good white people?" I didn't want to hurt her feelings. I told her, "People's deeds I believe in, Miss—not their words." "What can I do?" she exclaimed. I told her, "Nothing." She burst out crying, and ran out and up Lenox Avenue and caught a taxi. (15.129)

This scene comes after Malcolm X explains that he believes the integration of white people into black activist groups often diminishes their effectiveness. So what does he expect them to do? Nothing.

That morning was when I first began to reappraise the "white man." It was when I first began to perceive that "white man," as commonly used, means complexion only secondarily; primarily it described attitudes and actions. In America, "white man" meant specific attitudes and actions toward the black man, and toward all other non-white men. (17.76)

We just thought it was cool that Malcolm X finally realized that race is a social construct. That's all.

Based on what I had heard of him, I had to believe him when he told me that as long as he was on the African continent, he never thought in terms of race, that he dealt with human beings, never noticing their color. He said he was more aware of language differences than of color differences. He said that only when he returned to America would he become aware of color differences. I told him, "What you are telling me is that it isn't the American white man who is a racist, but it's the American political, economic, and social atmosphere that automatically nourishes a racist psychology in the white man." He agreed. (19.43)

What is it about being in the United States that you think causes Malcolm's friend to suddenly be hyperaware of race? Why is it different from other countries? How do Americans construct and signify race?

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