February, otherwise known as Black History Month, often brings about the same collection of names annually: Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, George Washington Carver, Fredrick Douglass, Maya Angelou and other passive peoples of color. More often than not, the name “Malcolm X” does not make the cut. As a character of controversy, Malcolm has a certain association in American’s minds, which fluctuates with factors such as race and socioeconomic status. Black heroes are often painted in American history as people of color who silently resisted, and conformed to the white norm. Malcolm’s Garvey-esque mentality often casts him in a negative light, as a man against unity and peace. Americans do not realize when they make “Malcolm X” synonymous with “villain” they are playing in to the façade that the 1950’s media casted over X’s true purpose. Though a controversial character, Malcolm X is an American Hero, and a trailblazer for the black community. Without X’s radical views and outspoken tendencies, nobody would pay attention to his more passive brethren, and his ideals are justified when one takes a look into his treacherous past.
Malcolm had his first negative encounter with the white man while in the womb. Members of the Ku-Klux-Klan knocked on his mother’s door in the middle of the night, in search of his father. Had they been successful in their search, his father would have been lynched. While X’s father escaped his fate that night, he would ultimately be lynched six years later. The passing of his father sent Malcolm’s mother into mental regression, and she would eventually be shipped to a mental institution, leaving him and his ten siblings in the hands of the foster system. X dreamed of being a lawyer.
Despite his hometown of Lansing, Michigan suppressing the rights of African Americans, he still had a strong will, that was, until in grade eight, his teacher told him his ideal career was a pipe dream, not because he was unintelligent, but because he was black. He was suggested instead to “be a carpenter”. The encounter devastated X so bad, he dropped out of school, and resorted to a life of crime, which would eventually land him a spot in federal prison. While any amount of time would break the average individual, X used it as an opportunity to educate himself on black history. This is the first evidence of a heroic trait within Malcolm: resilience; he turned a devastating situation into a chance to improve. As a frequent flyer of the prison library, X was always buried in a book. He was always making sure his time wasn’t wasted.
“I read about the slave preacher Nat Turner,” he says, “Nat Turner wasn’t going around preaching pie-in-the-sky and ‘non-violent’ freedom for the black man”
X’s time in the penitentiary was also the start of his conversion to Islam. Word broke out about “A new religion for the black man” and Malcolm felt a connection to religion for the very first time. His experiences in and outside of prison would be the catalyst for Malcolm’s future of a Muslim Minister, and public speaker.
“What I want to know is how the white man, with the blood of black people dripping off his fingers, can have the audacity to be asking black people [why] they hate him?,” X asked.
X often referred to the white man in such a manner. This is what the media took and ran with. There was no mention of the passion and sense of self he was giving to African Americans. While the Civil Rights Movement deemed him a demagogue, he only spoke highly of them in return. Malcolm relentlessly pushed for black equality so much it killed him. When X spoke with animosity toward the white man, it was not toward the white individual, but rather toward white history. Though he mentioned this many times, such information would demolish the media’s false narrative, so the truth never stuck, leaving Malcolm to be conveyed as a monster, eliciting violence and separatism rather than his true passion, race equivalency.
Malcolm X’s advocacy would ultimately lead to his demise in February of 1965. His death would deem him a martyr for the black community, and his life’s work would be reflected in the Black Panther Party. His more radical route to equality should not deem him inferior to other more passive black heroes, because as he said in his early years, “If you want something, you had better make some noise”