Malcolm Little was born in Ohama, Nebraska on May 19, 1925. He was the son of Louise Little and Earl Little who was a Baptist minister and supporter of Marcus Garvey, a Black Nationalist. From a young age, Malcolm Little was surrounded by civil rights activism and racial discrimination. After the Civil War ended in 1865, amendments to the constitution were supposed to give equal rights to African Americas, but unfortunately, they didn’t terminate discrimination against black people. Towards the middle of the 20th century, the Civil Rights Movement was in action, and it called for an end to the social injustice that Black Americans faced. Black Nationalist Malcolm X, in his novel, The Autobiography of Malcolm X recounts his life and role in the Black Muslim movement. He addresses the racism in a society that results in races being oppressed by other races. Malcolm X’s purpose is to share his perspective, opinions, and experiences so that his audience can come to an understanding of the role that race plays in America. In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X proves that his argument of race in America has changed from wanting to blame racial oppression on white people to believe that all races in America can be unified after his trip to Mecca.
At the beginning of the novel, Malcolm Little uses his childhood experiences to argue that white people are responsible for racial oppression. When Malcolm was a child, his experiences with white people further made him believe that the suffering he faced was in their hands. While growing up, Malcolm Little was taught to dislike white people after what they had done to his family. During Malcolm Little’s early life, racial segregation and oppression were escalating in the United States. Racial tensions were continuing to rise between the black population and the white population in America. Influenced by the racial tensions during this time, Malcolm was further influenced by the idea that black people were suffering from white people. He explains, “White men burned my house down, white men murdered my father, white men separated me from my family, and white men have and are trying to kill me. I want you to think about all of the evil whites have caused you and tell me you don’t hate them” (Malcolm X 34). Malcolm uses the repetition of the words “white men” to further emphasize that all of the harm that has been done to him and his family has been from white men. He articulates that white people are the cause of his suffering, and by repeating these words, he explains the prevalent role of white people in racial oppression. Since Malcolm is able to emphasize that white people are responsible for the oppression of other races, he intends to make his audience, especially his black audience, enraged by making them reflect on the idea that white people play such a huge and negative role in the racial oppression they face. He also attempts to scare them by telling them all of the wrong white people have done. Additionally, since Malcolm is specifically addressing his black audience, he is able to build trust from them by establishing the fact that they have shared values which are reflected in his experiences as a black person himself. Therefore, he is able to portray himself to his audience as someone who has experienced racial oppression from white people and further uses his experiences to show his audience that he is trustworthy. Shaped from his childhood, Malcolm Little believed that white men only wanted to keep black men oppressed.
However, while Malcolm was in jail, his perspective on race in America slowly began to shift when he was introduced to Islam. Islam included having a negative image of Christianity because it was believed to be the white man’s religion. Malcolm states, “This white man’s Christian religion further deceived and brainwashed this ‘Negro’ to always turn the other cheek, and grin, and scrape, and bow, and be humble…. And to take whatever was dished out by the devilish white man” (Malcolm X 166)”. Malcolm explains that the Christian religion has only brainwashed black people, and has done a lot of damage to them. His usage of syndeton by adding the word “and” between phrases, slow the sentence down which allows him to make it seem like the list of everything the black people have done for the “devilish white man” is a lot longer. He uses specific words such as “deceived” and “brainwashed” to evoke fear from his audience. Malcolm is able to evoke terror and outrage from his audience by making them recognize that white people have done so much to black people and the list of all that black people have done to please white people just continues to go on. Malcolm’s view on Christianity further proves his argument that white people are responsible for racial oppression, but it also later helps him use Islam as a way to soften his view on race in America.
By addressing Christianity, Malcolm is also able to point his audience in the direction of the religion of Islam and emphasize to them that it is necessary, and which he later believes is the solution to having racial unity. Malcolm says, “Here in race-torn America, I am convinced that the Islam religion is desperately needed, particularly by the American black man. The black man needs to reflect that he has been America’s most fervent Christian – and where has it gotten him? In fact, in the white man’s hands, in the white man’s interpretation… where has Christianity brought this world? (Malcolm X 376). While looking towards Islam for hope, Malcolm was guided to look negatively at Christianity. He uses a rhetorical question to ask his audience if Christianity has actually done anything for black people. He guides his audience to the right answer which is that Christianity has brought nothing to this world. By making the answer to his rhetorical question very clear, he’s able to emphasize that Islam is needed, particularly by black Americans. Malcolm makes his audience think about the fact that since Christianity has gotten the world nowhere, they should look towards Islam instead. Malcolm is later able to learn that Islam is the solution to racism and if everyone can come together under one religion, all races can live in unity. Islam softens Malcolm’s view on race in America because it later shows him in Mecca that unity between races is possible.
Malcolm’s trip to Mecca influences him to shift his views on race in America as he believes that it is possible for all races to be united. When Malcolm X is in Mecca, he experiences what he’s never been exposed to before; all races getting along. He explains, “My pilgrimage broadened my scope. It blessed me with a new insight. In two weeks in the Holy Land, I saw what I never had seen in thirty-nine years here in America. I saw all races, all colors, in true brotherhood! In unity! Living as one! Worshiping as one!” (Malcolm X 369). Malcolm X explains that since he saw all races getting along under Allah, it is possible for all races to get along. By using specific words like” brotherhood”, “unity”, and “one”, Malcolm uses an approving diction to create an optimistic and cooperativeness tone. He further emphasizes that all races can be unified and have a brotherly bond. By creating an encouraging and positive tone, Malcolm is able to speak to his audience by creating this image of unity, and giving them hope of being able to have a brotherly bond with other races. Malcolm’s beliefs prove that Mecca has changed his perspective on race in America as he is more willing to listen to other opposing views rather than rejecting them and he learns that white people aren’t biologically racist, but they are influenced by a society that makes them racist.
Before traveling to Mecca, Malcolm had only been exposed to hatred towards white people. However, towards the end of his novel, Malcolm was able to accept other perspectives. He was effectively able to prove that his argument of race in America has changed from wanting to blame racial oppression on white people to believe that all races in America can be unified after his trip to Mecca by appealing to his audience’s emotions and making them reflect on specific ideas in their lives. At the beginning of the book, Malcolm reaches the audience’s emotions by making them feel angry and enraged to make them think against white people. At the end of the book, he reaches his audience’s emotions by making them create an image of unity between races which gives them hope to reach a peaceful coexistence with other races. Specifically, towards the end of the novel, Malcolm further urges his audience to take action to reach racial unity. He is able to use Islam to unify his audience and show them that they can have similarities through religion. This gives his audience a sense of hope as they believe what Malcolm is saying about living peacefully with other races. Malcolm successfully appeals to his black audience’s emotions because of his experiences as a black man himself, which further allows his black audience to trust him more as someone who is trying to show them how race plays a role in their society. By effectively appealing to his audience’s emotions, Malcolm X is able to effectively show his audience how his perspective on race in America has changed from wanting to blame racial oppression on white people to believe that all races can be unified under the religion of Islam.