Why do people look up to Malcolm X as a role model?

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A role model is a person who follows rhetoric with action; one who is able to lead others to institute change; one whose actions we can understand if not applaud.  While the Civil Rights movement had two strong leaders with disparate approaches, the mix eventually became a palatable one for social change. 

For many people, especially African Americans in the 1960s, Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little) represented a way to actively eradicate oppression.  While Dr. King was preaching passive resistance, Malcolm X advocated active, even violent, overthrow.  Dr. King, in Malcolm's opinion, was correct in his powerful argument, "Justice delayed is justice denied."  But unlike King, Malcolm X was not willing to wait any longer for equality, for he believed that whites would never give up their supremacy.  "Power never takes a back step - only in the face of more power," he insisted.  Anger, real, burning anger, would be necesary to ignite social change.  Sitting still in diners and boycotting bus routes did not, in Malcolm's opinion, strike the flint of anger strongly enough. 

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Malcolm X a Role Model?

Why do people look up to Malcolm X as being a role model, when he shows the total opposite of a role model in his autobiography?

I'm not sure there can be an opposite of a role model. What I might consider to be the perfect role model might be considered a horrible choice for someone else. For instance, a lot of young people look to Marilyn Manson as a role model of the iconoclast, who bends all the accepted societal norms. I, however, think he is a lunatic who gets too much attention.

Malcolm X spoke to a generation of people who were tired of being treated as nonpersons and who were willing to fight for their human rights. As such, he was and still is a role model for many.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with Jamie.  Malcolm X and MLKJ wanted the same things, they just didn't agree on the method or the swiftness of the action.

People may look up to Malcolm X because he didn't sit too long and brood, he acted.  He believed in actions and that they speak louder than words.  He is right, but unfortunately the consequences of his actions and the methods he used did more to harm his cause than help it.

Still, some people subscribe to the the adage:  DO SOMETHING, EVEN IF IT'S WRONG. LEAD, FOLLOW, OR GET OUT OF THE WAY.

Read the study guide:
The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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