Useful Notes / Malcolm X

Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little, also named El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz at the end of his life), (May 19, 1925 — February 21, 1965) was a leader of the American Civil Rights Movement note  and contemporary to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, until his assassination in 1965. While King was known for Mahatma Gandhi-styled civil disobedience, Malcolm X was known for a more militant response, which he deemed necessary to bring about positive change. Summed up in one speech as this:
One of my reasons for going out on a limb as I have is to try and make white people be shocked, awake to some of their senses. Because if they don't awake they're gonna find out that this little Negro that they thought was passive has become a roaring, uncontrollable lion right in, right at their doorst—not at their doorstep—inside their house, in their bed, in their kitchen, in their attic, in their basement. And if you know that in time you can do something about it.

Malcolm X provides examples of:

  • Age-Gap Algebra: In his autobiography, he cites the half-your-age-plus-seven rule as having factored into his decision to propose to his future wife.
  • Angry Black Man: Though he was not the first African-American civil rights leader to use furious and fiery rhetoric, he certainly made it popular. In his later years he mellowed somewhat, one theory for his assassination being that he was killed by a competing Black Power faction who didn't want him persuading the movement to be less angry and more conciliatory.
  • Awesome McCoolname: As is natural for any name that has "X" in it.
  • Badass Bookworm: The impression conveyed by most of his pictures, reinforced by his militancy and extensive reading.
  • Berserk Button: Defied by Malcolm himself, according to his autobiography; he almost never talked about his institutionalized mother, for fear that he would snap if somebody were to make the wrong remark.
  • Bi the Way: A number of biographers believe that he prostituted himself to a few men in his early years.
  • Catch Phrase: "...By any means necessary."
  • Character Development: After his conversion to Sunni Islam and spending time overseas in Muslim countries, he became struck by the relative broad-scale egalitarianism displayed by Middle Eastern countries (for instance, when he was in Egypt, he couldn't help but notice that Anwar Sadat, the Vice President and one of the leaders of the military junta in charge at the time, was half-black, which wasn't even close to being an issue with the rest of the Egyptian leadershipnote —most of whom were dark-skinned, but all of whom would unquestionably be "white" in America). The effect stuck with him and by his own admission made him rethink his own hostility towards white Americans. Though he died before making his more recent opinions known, there were some indications that he was leaving behind or even disapproved of his prior methods.
  • Hot-Blooded: As his catchphrase might suggest, Malcolm believed that violence was the only way to get things done in many cases.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: One of the most aggressive leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Let X Be the Unknown: He claimed the X represented his "true name" that belonged to his African ancestors, as opposed to the "slave name" of Little.
  • Malcolm Xerox: The Trope Namer and Trope Codifier. Again, subverted after his pilgrimage and the ensuing softening of his rhetoric and stances.
  • Meaningful Rename: He adapted X as a last name because he didn't want to use a name that came from some slavemaster.
  • Michigan: Grew up in Lansing, Michigan; Main Street in Lansing was renamed Malcolm X Street in 2010. (And yes, it intersects with Martin Luther King Boulevard, right outside the GM Lansing Grand River Assembly plant.)
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After his pilgrimage to Mecca, where he saw Muslims of all races living peacefully together, Malcolm's views changed significantly. He openly came to regret many of his former beliefs by the time he was killed.
  • Necessary Evil: Later in life he described his more militant methods as part of a sort of two-pronged approach to civil rights activism: by pulling heat onto himself and his followers, he allowed his contemporaries more room to work and made the greater civil rights movement more attractive. This likely had something to do with his general shift to a more moderate attitude in his later years, though it's unclear if his "shock to the system" mindset ever died down completely.
  • Not So Different: To Martin Luther King Jr. Both fought against segregation and racial discrimination against black people. However, their methods on approaching the issue were different. Martin Luther King Jr. preferred a peaceful Turn the Other Cheek approach while Malcolm X preferred a Violence Is the Only Option approach when dealing with racism. He did recant some of his violent viewpoints after his pilgrimage to Mecca though.
  • Odd Friendship: Malcolm X was actually good friends with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. despite the difference of their methods in the Civil Rights Movement. There is even a famous photo of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X standing side-by-side together smiling. note  This was the only time the pair ever met, while visiting the Capitol before the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
  • Rousing Speech: So, so many.
  • Scary Black Man: How many white people perceived him. It seems to have been intended by him.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: The cynical counterpart to MLK's idealist.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: After his pilgrimage.
  • Violence Is the Only Option:: Strong believer of this. This is subverted that his violent viewpoints were toned down after his pilgrimage to Mecca.
  • Warts and All: Malcolm's autobiography was being compiled both before and after his pilgrimage to Mecca. He declined to re-do the pre-Mecca sections, which were often very prejudiced, in order to underscore just how much he had changed.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: His early, pre-Mecca speeches can often come across this way. Special mention goes to the time when he was asked about the John F. Kennedy assassination and he called it "chickens coming home to roost." note  The Nation of Islam, which was officially very sympathetic with the Kennedy family and their loss, censured Malcolm. This event, among others, led to him leaving the Nation of Islam.

Appears in the following works:

  • Spike Lee made a Biopic about his life, simply titled Malcolm X, starring Denzel Washington.
  • The Ethan Stoller song "BKAB" is named for, and uses, the second quote above, and suggests similarities and inspiration drawn between Malcolm X and the other quoted leader, Gloria Steinem, and the lead character in the film using the song (in the credits), V for Vendetta. On the official soundtrack, the excerpts were removed, due to rights of use.