There’s a scene in the film Malcolm X when Malcolm Little (later to take the name Malcolm X, X standing for his unknown African heritage) is in prison and is introduced to the philosophy of the “Honorable Elijah Muhammad” and the Nation of Islam (N.O.I.) by a fellow prisoner named John Elton Bembry. (Bembry is a composite character who does not appear in the book The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Malcolm’s family members introduced him the tenets of the N.O.I.) Malcolm was wasting his life outside of prison, and he was wasting his life in prison. Bembry saw something in Malcolm, but Malcolm was resistant to change and had no interest in the Nation of Islam until Bembry showed him a dictionary and the definitions of “black” and “white.” It was a strategic move that rattled the former street hustler.
The definition of “black,” as Bembry read from an edition of Webster’s Dictionary, is always negative: “destitute of light, devoid of color, enveloped in darkness, utterly dismal or gloomy, soiled with dirt, foul, sullen, hostile, forbidding, outrageously wicked.” White, on the other hand, is positive: “the color of pure snow, the opposite of black, free from spot or blemish, innocent, pure, without evil intent, harmless, square deal, honest.” Malcolm makes a connection: “This is written by White folks, right?” White is wrong, Black is right, just like the Nation of Islam teaches.
Malcolm Little became Malcolm X and embraced the racist ideology of the (N.O.I.). To Malcolm, the White man is a “blue-eyed Devil.” This was the teaching of the Nation of Islam as articulated by its founder Wallace D. Fard Muhammad and his successor Elijah Muhammad. Race became Malcolm’s entry into the Black community, and he used it well to recruit fellow blacks. But after leaving the N.O.I., he began to change his view of White people. He began to see that not all Whites were devils. As his assassination at the hands of Black men proved, some Blacks are devils.
Malcolm’s break with the N.O.I. did not set well with the organization’s leadership. This included Elijah Muhammad and Louis X, better known as Louis Farrakhan. While in Mecca on a pilgrimage, Malcolm wrote the following to his assistants at the Harlem Mosque:
Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and the overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races. . . . You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. . . .
While Malcolm changed his views regarding race, it seems that there are people today who define everything by race. Farrakhan and Rev. Jeremiah Wright are extremist examples of keeping the issue of race front and center in American politics. There are others. But what’s most irritating is the way some people see race in everything and make a point of keeping the wound of racial conflict festering.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned the dictionary scene in the film Malcolm X. The streetwise Malcolm naively accepts the illogical leap that the definitional meaning of black and its descriptive attributes are applicable to people with dark skin. A dictionary edited by Blacks would have to acknowledge that the definition of “black” is the absence of light. In fact, The Urban Dictionary offers these definitions:
- A color widely defined as the absence of light.
- The darkest shade possible
- The opposite of white . . . best described on the Yin & Yang symbol.
Bembry was poisoning the well by continually stating that these are the White man’s definitions. He had a vested interest in making all aspects of White society and culture, even the standard definition of black, to mean anti-Black person. It’s a common tactic. You can easily win a debate by making an issue “racial.” Conversation over.
Joy Behar, who co-hosts on “The View,” couldn’t help turning “Black Friday” into a racial issue. Whoopi Goldberg opened the show with the declaration that “Today is Black Friday, all day long.” Behar offers this rejoinder: “Isn’t it a little racist to call it Black Friday? . . . [T]here’s a negative connotation to it? Or does it mean something else?” Goldberg, for once, had better sense: “No, it’s like when you make all the money—you’re in the black.” Behar finally gets it: “So it’s positive?” Yes, Joy, it’s positive. Being “in the black” is better than being “in the red.” It won’t be too long before some Native Americans protest that a red should no longer be used to indicate a deficit.
Blacks are not helped by the continued claim that all problems for them are racial. Some are, but many aren’t. Black on Black crime is not the fault of White people. Sky-high out-of-wedlock births are not the fault of Whites. High dropout rates among Blacks are not the fault of Whites. The solution is not to cry “racism” and blame everything on Whites or hundreds of years of oppression. Blacks won’t find their problems solved by appealing to the State. Welfare programs have done a lot to keep Black families down by subsidizing family fragmentation and fostering multi-generational dependency. Black problems aren’t solved by naming streets after Martin Luther King, Jr. The same can be said for the King Holiday and Black History Month. These are liberal crumbs to appease the Black community, but have any of these actions helped Blacks? Guilt-ridden Whites vote for them, and anyone who does not will be labeled, you guessed it, a “racist.”
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This is not to say that Blacks should imitate “White culture.” There is nothing inherently good in being White. Whites have similar pathologies. There is no inherently good Black culture. Black is not always beautiful, and, of course, the same can be said for white. There’s a great deal of good in both cultures. Malcolm Little came to his senses in prison. He decided that he was not going to play the victim any longer. The dictionary that put him on the road to racial hatred also liberated him. He studied that dictionary until it became a part of him. But it wasn’t until he abandoned the line that it’s all the White man’s fault that he was truly free.
Some Blacks will say that I don’t know what it’s like growing up Black. There is no doubt about it; I don’t know what it’s like, and I never will. But my lack of Black perspective doesn’t change what is going on in some areas of the Black community. I can’t change what I’m not, but I am responsible to change what I am. There is no one to blame but me. The sooner I realized this, the sooner I took responsibility for my failings.
 The “X” is not the Roman numeral 10. The “X” was a placeholder for a Black person’s unknown African name. His American surname was given to him by his slave master. Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, and Lew Alcindor became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
 For a succinct study of the Nation of Islam history and philosophy, see Richard Abanes, Cults, New Religious Movements, and Your Family: A Guide to Ten Non-Christian Groups out to Convert Your Loved Ones (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), chap. 6.
 The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley (1965), 391.
 There had been a vibrant Black culture in America, even before the end of segregation. See Mark Cauvreau Judge, If It Ain’t Got that Swing: The Rebirth of Grown-Up Culture (Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Co., 2000).