Please explain this quote "putting pressure on a people and then penalizing them for not being able to stand up under the pressure?"

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The quote reflects a sentiment that Malcolm X felt regarding the notions of freedom and opportunity for people of color in America during the 1960's.  Some background might be needed in order to effectively address this topic.  As racial tension and disharmony increased in the 1960's, a common refrain heard from politicians and defenders of the establishment was that racism was an invented and false claim.  Proponents of this argument offered the idea that there were no codified laws that specifically prevents African- Americans and other people of color from finding success.  The fact that there was no legal or stated wording of discrimination, these individuals argued, proves that there could not be racist or discriminatory practices on the part of government or society.  Malcolm X and other Civil Rights leaders debated the nature of this assessment.  These forces argued that while there might not have been specific language that prevented achievement for the people of color, there were institutional biases and practices that made it highly unlikely that equal opportunity was prevalent.  For example, they suggested that one examine the nature of neighborhoods in America at the time.  Garbage pickup, street and sanitation work, educational facilities, and public service facilities were inherently different and inferior in many neighborhoods populated with people of color/ African- Americans.  They also suggested that the years of segregated practices under Plessy v. Ferguson had left a residual effect whereby people of color had been denied equal access and opportunity.  Essentially, Civil Rights thinkers such as Malcolm X argued that racism and racist practices were not illusory or merely invented, but real and quite present.

The quotation relates to the idea that the structures of power in American society in the 1960s placed pressure on people of color in its denial of equal opportunity, access, and social/ legal due process.  In not acknowledging this disparity in opportunity and promise, veiling it under the guise of the opportunity ideology, these structures of power placed a great deal of pressure on people of color.  Dismissing their claims of unfair, discriminatory, or racist practices- essentially, denying their voice- ended up penalizing them for not being able to stand up to this so- called pressure.

Read the study guide:
The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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