Malcolm X and Anne Moody are well-known African American activists who fought against racism in the United States in the 20th century. Their actions had a significant impact on the state of racial problems in the U.S. Both of them wrote autobiographic works, which may provide insights into their views on race issues. Malcolm X stated that racism is not inherent to White people, but is caused by the atmosphere that exists in the U.S. Generally speaking, the experiences of both authors indicate that this statement is true. This problem is discussed in more detail below.
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Analysis of Malcolm X’s Statement in Terms of Specific Experiences of Authors, and the Similarities Between Their Experiences in the Context of This Statement
On the whole, although the experiences of both Anne Moody and Malcolm X support the statement that racism is not inherent to White people, both authors tended to blame people with white skin rather than social factors during some phases of their lives. For instance, Anne Moody describes how she started hating all White people when she was a high school student. This occurred after the murder of Emmett Till (Moody 128), when she asked her homeroom teacher, Mrs. Rice, about the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and her teacher told her about the organization as well as about the relationships between White and Black people in Mississippi (Moody 130-131). The new information about racial discrimination caused Moody to rethink her own experiences in light of her new knowledge, and the author started despising White people while still a schoolgirl.
As for Malcolm Little, there also was a significant period in his life during which he considered White people to be the cause of all the evils that Black individuals endure. For example, while Malcolm X was a hustler in New York, he engaged in a variety of malicious activities such as burglary, robbery, gun trafficking, cocaine dealing, and so on (The Autobiography of Malcolm X 129-140). While doing this, Malcolm Little tended to blame all crimes perpetrated by Black individuals on Whites, who usually were customers of the criminals; he simultaneously forgave Black people, believing that the latter did what they had to do in order to be able to survive under White supremacy. Later, while in prison and during his conversion to the Nation of Islam, Malcolm Little even came to believe that White people were the root of all evil on Earth (The Autobiography of Malcolm X 190-202).
Experiences of Authors Indicating That Racism Is not Inherent but Learned
Nevertheless, although both authors at some stage of their lives blamed White people and effectively believed them to be inherently evil, a pivotal observation is that many of their experiences might serve as counterexamples to that conviction. For instance, when considering the example of Anne Moody, it is noteworthy that while she still was a young girl, she worked for some time for a White woman named Mrs. Clairbone (Moody 58-59). The woman treated the girl exceptionally well. For instance, she provided her with a Christmas gift of $5 and also paid her $7 for helping with Christmas cleaning; the resulting sum of $12 was the largest amount of money that the girl had ever possessed in her life at a single point in time (Moody 59). On the whole, the author states that Mrs. Clairbone treated her as if she was her own daughter, encouraging her to study and teaching her (Moody 58-59, 82). While working for the Johnsons, the girl was also treated kindly. The grandmother of the family, Ola Johnson, taught her to read and often helped the girl with her homework (Moody 58-70). Multiple experiences that the author lived through also indicated that many Whites were supportive of Blacks. For instance, during the sit-in that occurred at Woolworth’s lunch counter when Moody was an adult and a part of the movement for Blacks, she and her fellow activists were humiliated by a mob of local high school students. But an essential point is that out of the four activists who participated in the sit-in, two were White (Moody 282-293). Therefore, Anne Moody’s experience shows that White people were not inherently evil, but rather learned their racism from their surroundings.
When it comes to Malcolm X, it must be emphasized that his life also features examples of attitudes that could serve as evidence that White people were not inherently racist. For instance, when Malcolm Little was five, he attended the Pleasant Grove School, where other children, even though they called him “nigger” or “Rastus,” did not even think of these terms as an insult, and did not make an issue of the storyteller’s race. On the whole, they did not attribute any particular significance to the boy’s race (The Autobiography of Malcolm X 11-12). Sophia, the White woman he dated in Boston, and who later became a member of his criminal endeavor, treated him well and did not have any problems with his being Black (The Autobiography of Malcolm X 70-76). There were other White people who treated Malcolm X well, but the most noteworthy experience of non-discrimination that Malcolm X had occurred during his visit to Mecca, where the Muslim pilgrims did not pay any attention to one another’s race (The Autobiography of Malcolm X 373-386). This also indicates that White individuals are not inherently racist.
The claim that the racism of Whites is learned is supported by the fact that a large number of Black people were also racist, even though in a different manner. For instance, at a certain point when she still was a child, Moody was hated by some Black people, while her White employers treated her kindly (Moody 59). Malcolm X speaks of Black people who were racist deep inside. For instance, he tells of his father, who apparently favored him because he had the lightest skin among his siblings, and of his mother, who disliked him apparently for the same reason (The Autobiography of Malcolm X 10-11). Later, Malcolm speaks of the “middle-class” African Americans he despised for mimicking the White way of life (The Autobiography of Malcolm X 48-53). The auto-racism of Black people may serve as a confirmation of the assertion that racism is learned. It is also interesting that while he was in prison, Malcolm X in fact became a Black racist, believing that Whites are effectively the cause of all evil in the world, as has been previously noted (The Autobiography of Malcolm X 190-202).
The Manner in Which the American Atmosphere Nourishes Racism
It might be possible to hypothesize that the American political, social, and economic atmosphere nourishes racism in a multitude of ways. For example, when it comes to the social and economic aspects of American society, a crucial observation is that after the abolition of slavery, African Americans predominantly found themselves without any social capital such as education as well as without any substantial material possessions due to the lengthy enslavement of Black people over the course of U.S. history. Moody’s mother and Essie Mae herself—as Anne Moody was known as a child—had to work for White persons in order to earn their living, and Malcolm Little’s father left school after his third or fourth year there (The Autobiography of Malcolm X 3-4; Moody 19-24). Simultaneously, due to the fact that African Americans were often uneducated and dispossessed of land and property, Whites thought of them as of stupid and lazy people, laying all the blame on them rather than on the social factors that caused it. In fact, the claim about the inferiority of Blacks was a common belief, and it reproduced itself because virtually every member of society either supported it or agreed with it. The political atmosphere also nourished racism, as exclusively Whites were in power, and they continued to view Blacks as dangerous, potentially savage individuals, which also resulted in corresponding political decisions.
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The Way in Which the Different Understandings of Racism Shaped the Authors’ Political Behaviors
Generally speaking, it is important to emphasize that both Malcolm X and Anne Moody acted differently at various points in their lives, as their actions were influenced by their current political views. For example, when Anne Moody obtained information about the racial conflict that existed in Mississippi after she learned about the murder of Emmett Till (Moody 128), she decided that she should become politically active and work towards the betterment of conditions for Black people. She actively engaged in political activism during her college years and joined the struggle for the rights of African Americans (Moody 282-294). As for Malcolm Little, during the time he was a hustler in Boston and New York, he actively engaged in a wide array of illegal activities along with his Black peers; while doing so, Malcolm put the blame for this on White people (The Autobiography of Malcolm X 129-140). Thus his beliefs that Whites are to blame for the adverse conditions that African Americans faced caused him to justify their own malicious activities. Later, when Malcolm obtained some education while in prison, his views led him to his activism as a member of the Nation of Islam, promoting the supremacy of Africans (The Autobiography of Malcolm X 196-209). After becoming disillusioned with Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, he founded several organizations of his own, such as the “Muslim Mosque, Inc.” (The Autobiography of Malcolm X 350-362); these were less supremacist, although he still did not allow Whites as members, believing that Africans need to unify prior to accepting Whites in their ranks. Thus different understandings of the issue of racial inequality caused both authors to behave differently at various stages of their lives.
My Personal Position Regarding the Issue
As for my views, I am inclined to agree with Malcolm X’s statement that racism is not inherent in anyone, but that it is learned from the society that one lives in. As I explained above, the history of slavery in the U.S. resulted in adverse social and economic conditions for most African Americans, and these conditions also served as a barrier that prevented (and still prevent) Black people from enjoying the same rights as White people. As for slavery, it might be hypothesized that Blacks were viewed as inferior because they seemed alien to Europeans who colonized Africa and took local populations captive, and they were on the losing side in these conflicts.
On the whole, there is an important distinction that often defines one’s view towards others, namely, the identification of somebody as a member of one’s own group or as a member of some other competing or alien group. Generally speaking, one might state that it is the urge to classify into groups, rather than racial bias itself, that is inherent. However, the classification of others into various groups depends on the social, political, economic, etc. atmosphere. Thus racial bias is based on this distinction and emerges when people learn from their society to classify others into racial groups. Therefore, it may be possible to hypothesize that as long as people are classified foremost as representatives of their ethnicities or races rather than simply human beings, it will be difficult to eliminate the problem of racial bias completely.
All in all, the experiences of both Malcolm X and Anne Moody as discussed in their autobiographies tend to confirm the belief of Malcolm X that racism is not inherent but learned. To put it briefly, in the lives of both authors there were multiple White people who did not display prejudice against Blacks, and there were African Americans who were biased against their own kind, even though this bias manifested differently than in White people. To address the problem of racism, it is essential that individuals learn to view one another primarily as humans, rather than as representatives of this or that race.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X as Told to Alex Haley. Random House Publishing Group, 2015.
Moody, Anne. Coming of Age in Mississippi: The Classic Autobiography of Growing Up Poor and Black in the Rural South. Random House Publishing Group, 2011.