The Autobiography of Malcolm X

by Malcolm X, Alex Haley

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Why did Malcolm believe his father favored him over his siblings?

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Malcolm Little's father, Earl Little, was a very dark-skinned man who, having internalized the racism of his country, disliked his own skin. This was, in Malcolm's view, part of the reason why he married a very light-skinned woman (his mother's father was white); and, possibly, the reason why he favored Malcolm over his other children.

In his autobiography, as told to Alex Haley, he describes the situation as follows:

Thinking about it now, I feel definitely that just as my father favored me for being lighter than the other children, my mother gave me more hell for the same reason. She was very light herself but she favored the ones who were darker...I remember that she would tell me to get out of the house and 'Let the sun shine on you so you can get some color.' She went out of her way never to let me become afflicted with a sense of color-superiority (10). 

Here, Malcolm X illustrates the way in which colorism, an aspect of racism and a tool of colonizers and slave masters alike, existed in his own family. Colorism is discrimination against lighter or darker peoples of the same race, or feeling a sense of superiority or inferiority based on the lightness or darkness of one's skin. Malcolm's father may have favored his son for being light-skinned and, therefore, closer to whiteness than himself. His mother, on the other hand, made Malcolm's life more difficult due to his resemblance to her and to the grandfather whom Malcolm describes as a "rapist."

According to Malcolm, his father had a difficult relationship with his mother, whom he would often beat, but "was also belligerent toward all of the children, except me" (6):

The older ones he would beat almost savagely if they broke any of his rules...Nearly all my whippings came from my mother. I've thought a lot about why. I actually believe that as anti-white as my father was, he was subconsciously so afflicted with the white man's brainwashing of Negroes that he was inclined to favor the lighter ones, and I was his lightest child. Most Negro parents in those days would almost instinctively treat any lighter children better than they did the darker ones. It came directly from the slavery tradition that the 'mulatto,' because he was visibly nearer to white, was therefore 'better' (6-7).

Earl Little was a follower of the leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), Marcus Garvey, and espoused Garvey's plan to repatriate all peoples in the Americas of West African descent back to West Africa. As a preacher in Nebraska, he promoted this view. Privately, however, he was conflicted. 

Source: Haley, Alex. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993. Print.

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