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Quotations of “After the Firebombing” by Malcolm X

The issue of misinterpretation and mass delusion is the one that was and is controversial for Western society. Some people prefer to avoid notions about the lying press and trust the majority of information that they encounter. The other type of people develops an apparatus for criticism of the messages coming from the mass media. Such a person was Malcolm X, who was an important political figure in the past century and interacted with the US press directly, suffering from its continuous attacks. Malcolm X devoted his work “After the Firebombing” to the matters of propaganda and methods of dealing with it. Further in the paper, the most important quotations from his work are reviewed; all of them are connected in the scorn of information manipulation.

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Malcolm X addressed various issues that were the prevailing reality back in time when he lived. Namely, it was the beginning of the propaganda age, when false accusations and distorted news became widespread. A myriad of ways for confusing the public emerged, which were described in the lecture: posters, newspapers, and others. The victims of misinformation were regular people who could become politically polarized. Malcolm X invoked the judgment of people who were the most discriminated back then:

“But if you form the habit of listening to what others say about something or someone or reading what someone else has written about someone, somebody can confuse you and misuse you. So as Afro-Americans or Black people here in the Western Hemisphere, you and I have to learn to weigh things for ourselves” (Malcolm X, 1965, p. 2).

His cautionary words and intentions were similar to those of President Kennedy, who aimed to deliver his messages to the public directly via television. Both Malcolm X and Kennedy have the purpose of explaining the confusion and misuse of the public by the press. The own purpose of the press was seen as getting and manipulating the information as they please for their benefit. However, these personalities had different access to promoting their views: Malcolm X was under the stream of public misjudgment since he could not reach people without interference from the press.

Many people have experienced Malcolm’s presentation of words by those who do not know Malcolm X or the context in which the words were spoken. Namely, the press often claimed that he himself was a racist by quoting his words without context. Malcolm X did not agree with the way the media handled his ideology. Yet, he did not care if he had to respond in such a way that was targeting the media back:

“And this is true; this is how they do it. They take one little word out of what you say, ignore all the rest, and then begin to magnify it all over the world to make you look like what you actually aren’t. And I’m very used to that” (Malcolm X, 1965, p. 2).

Malcolm X stated a thought that many people have experienced. There is a tendency among people to hear only what they already believe, which might be prejudiced. If one does not use the criticism towards public claims mentioned in the previous quote, delusion is unavoidable. As a result, people may unknowingly misinterpret Malcolm X’s meaning and message; and, as a consequence, such behavior becomes the cause of the already confused to spread and distort more.

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The general idea of the press that uses information for its purposes penetrates all mentioned quotes. However, only some words of Malcolm X refer to the consequences of such manipulation. Not only the distortion of the initial meaning change but the comprehension of a person by others. One of the possible changes that might occur in the life of an individual due to public judgment is expressed in the following words:

“With skillful manipulating of the press, they’re able to make the victim look like the criminal, and the criminal look like the victim” (Malcolm X, 1965, p. 4).

This phrase is closely connected to one of the events that the lecture covered. Precisely, New York Times published information about Martin Luther King and his arrest that was somewhat denigrating. The accusations were untrue, yet they threatened the reputation of the political figure. The publisher was sued but escaped the punishment proving that it is acceptable to calumniate in America. In this way, the victim became the criminal, the same as Malcolm X argues.

The other claim that Malcolm X made is that the government was using the press for its benefit. As mentioned in the lecture, the US administration bribed some newspapers so that they would publish information about them in a positive way. Then, the press was a powerful instrument in the hands of authorities. Malcolm X asserts that the press manipulates the power of words in order to manipulate the public:

“One of the shrewd ways that they use the press to project us in the eye or image of a criminal: they take statistics. And with the press, they feed these statistics to the public, primarily the white public. Because there are some well-meaning persons in the white public as well as bad-meaning persons in the white public. And whatever the government is going to do, it always wants the public on its side, whether it’s the local government, state government, federal government” (Malcolm X, 1965, p. 5).

According to Malcolm X, the correct use of the words plus statistics would make the best combination to extract all the power of the words. However, the press used this power to utilize its readers and gain supporters for the authorities who paid or threatened them. As a result, Malcolm X claims, the press can manipulate public judgments and thoughts. The press and government influenced the minds of the public intentionally, polarizing it.

To conclude, Malcolm X was an influential and important figure in the American society of the past century. The mentioned quotes from his book are powerful concepts expressed in simple words; all of them are connected by one characteristic. They judge the process of false accusations, information manipulation, and claiming the sense of one’s words without knowing or giving the context. Malcolm X admits that sometimes it could be an unintentional process; yet, in the majority of cases, there is some malicious reason behind such actions. For example, the authorities want to proclaim their ideologies and try to get supporters by any means, including brainwashing through the press. The result of public misjudgment is the change of a person’s identity, place in society, and reputation. To prevent the spread of misinformation, Malcolm X recommends being critical towards the publishers that have an interest in creating their material for some individualistic purpose.

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Malcolm X. (1965). After the firebombing, at Ford Auditorium. MalcolmXFiles.

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