What did the black and whites think about the "black muslim" in "The Autobiography of Malcolm X"?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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If this question refers to what was thought at the time of the Autobiography, I think you will find some similarities in thought.  White society perceived the Black Muslims as a movement, a temporary belief system predicated on hatred. Remember the television show that Malcolm cites in the book, "The Hate that Hate Produced."  White society has a dismissively fearful attitude towards the "Black Muslim."  On one hand, they dismiss the Nation of Islam as a renegade religion that perceives whites as "devils" and wishes to do harm to them.  Yet, on the other hand, this is what causes fear in White society.  Namely, the idea that the Black Muslim will resort to violence in achieving their goals.  For his part, Malcolm X, later El Hajj Malik- El Shabazz, will counter both points in suggesting that the actions of discrimination, police brutality, and institutional policies that deny equality in opportunity are devilish entities.  He will also zealously argue that the "Black Muslim" does not advocate violence for violence sake.  Rather, he will artfully suggest that any person has a right to defend themselves when they are being attacked; "I do not call this 'violence.'  I call it 'intelligence."

For African- Americans, their view of the Black Muslims is a bit more nuanced. In the struggle for Civil Rights, many leading groups emerged.  The Nation of Islam was found primarily in the North, where racism was more "covert" or subversive.  There were not as many lynchings or Ku Klux Klan representations as in the South, where racism was a bit more obvious to identify.  Rather, the Nation of Islam focused on neighborhood decay, community neglect, denial of equal opportunity in both theory and practice.  Contrast this to the leadership in the South, with, for example, Dr. King.  This level of advocacy was marching, protesting with sit- ins, being harassed by police officials and facing jail time.  For many African Americans, this level of commitment to Southern racism proved to be a more compelling brand of leadership that that of the Black Muslims, who some felt "only gave speeches."  It should be noted, that both sets of Civil Rights Movement were challenging different aspects of racism, necessitating different approaches.  However, some African Americans felt that the Southern version of Civil Rights Leadership offered by Dr. King and others like him were "doing more" than the Black Muslim movement in the North.

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