Robert Penn Warren Interviews Malcolm X (June 2, 1964)
Robert Penn Warren: This is the first tape of a conversation with Mr. Malcolm X, June 2nd. From what I have read, which includes books I could find and a good many articles on the Black Muslim position and on yourself, it seems that the identity of the Negro is the key fact that you deal with, is that true? Is that impression correct?
Malcolm X: Yes. Yes, and not not so much in the sense of the Black Muslim religion.
Malcolm X: Both of them have to be separated.
Malcolm X: The black people in this country are taught that their religion and the best religion is the religion of Islam, and when one accepts the religion of Islam, he’s known as a Muslim. He becomes a Muslim. That means he believes that there’s no God but Allah and that Mohammed is the apostle of Allah. Now besides teaching him that Islam is the best religion, since the main problem that American…the Afro-Americans have is a lack of cultural identity, it is necessary to teach him that he has some type of identity, culture, civilization before he was brought here. Well, now, teaching him about his historic or cultural past is is not his religion. This is not…it’s not religious.
Malcolm X: The two have to be separated.
Warren: Yes. Or what about the matter of personal identity as related to cultural and blood identity?
Malcolm X: I don’t quite understand what you mean.
Warren: I mean I’m trying to get at this. That is, a man may know that he belongs to, say, a group—this group or that group—but he feels himself lost within that group, trapped within his own deficiencies and without personal purpose. Lacking personal identity, you see.
Malcolm X: Yes. Well, the religion of Islam actually restores one’s human feelings, human rights, human incentives, human…his talent. The religion of Islam brings out of the individual all of his dormant potential. It it gives him the incentive to develop his dormant potential so that when he becomes a part of the brotherhood of Islam, and is identified collectively in the brotherhood of Islam with the brothers in Islam, at the same time this also gives him the…it has a psychological effect of giving him the incentive as an individual to develop all of his dormant potential to its fullest extent.
Warren: A personal regeneration then. ..
Malcolm X: Yes.
Warren: …is associated automatically with this?
Malcolm X: Oh, yes. Yes.
Warren: Sometimes in talking with Negroes in other organizations and other persuasions, I’ve found about there’s a deep suspicion of any approach which involves the old phrase “self improvement”, you see.
Malcolm X: Yes.
Warren: And to state the matter on objective, impersonal matters such as civil rights, integration, or job programs, and not on the question of self improvement or, you might say, the individual responsibility.
Malcolm X: That…
Warren: But you you take a different line.
Malcolm X: Definitely. Most of the, or I should say many of the Negro leaders actually suffer themselves from an inferiority complex even though they say they don’t. And because of this they have subconscious defensive mechanisms which they’ve erected without even realizing it. So that when you mentioned something about self improvement, the implication is that the Negro is something distinct or different and, therefore, needs to learn how to improve himself. Negro leaders resent this being said, not because they don’t know it’s true, but they’re thinking they’re looking at it personally. They think that the implication is directed even at them, and that they…and they duck this responsibility. Whereas the only real solution to the race problem in this country is a solution that involves individual self improvement and collective self improvement in whereas our own…wherein our own people are concerned.
Warren: Could you tell me or would you be willing to, or do you think it’s relevant, some detail of your own conversion to Islam?
Malcolm X: Well, I was in prison.
Warren: I know that fact, yes. I’m asking about the interior feeling of the process.
Malcolm X: Yes. Well, I was in prison and I was an atheist. I didn’t believe in anything. And I had begun to read books and things and, in fact, one of the persons who started me thinking seriously was an atheist that I…another Negro inmate whom I’d heard in a discussion with white inmates and who was able to hold his own at all levels. And he impressed me with his knowledge, and I began to listen very carefully to some of the things he said. And it was he who switched my reading habits in a direction away from fiction to non-fiction, so that by the time one of my brothers told me about Islam, although I…although I was an atheist, I was open-minded, and I began to read in that direction, in the direction of Islam, and everything that I read about it appealed to me. And one of the main things that I read about it that appealed to me was in Islam a man is regarded as a human being. He’s not measured by the color of his skin. At this point I hadn’t yet gotten deep into the historic condition that Negroes in this country are confronted with, but at that point in my prison studies I read, I studied Islam as a religion more so than as I later come to know it in its connection with the plight or problem of Negroes in this country.
Warren: This is getting ahead a little bit but it seems to apply here. If Islam teaches the human worth of all men without reference to color, how does that fact relate to the methods of black superiority and the doom of the white race?
Malcolm X: Well, the white race is doomed not because it’s white but because of its deeds, and the people listening very closely to what the Muslims have always declared…
Malcolm X: …they’ll find that in every declaration there’s the fact that the same as as Moses told Pharaoh, “You’re doomed if you don’t do so and so,” or as Daniel told I think it was Balthazar or Nebuchadnezzar, “You are doomed if you don’t do so and so.” Now, always that “if ” was there, which meant that the one who was doomed could avoid the doom if he would change his way of behaving. Well, it’s the same here in America. When the Muslims deliver the indictment of the American system, it is not the white man per se that is being doomed.
Warren: It’s not blood itself that’s being…there’s no blood damnation then?
Malcolm X: No. But, see, the…it’s almost impossible to separate the actions, or it’s also, it’s almost impossible to separate the oppression and exploitation, criminal oppression and criminal exploitation of the American Negro, from the color of the skin of the person who is the oppressor or the exploiter. So he thinks he’s being condemned because of his color but, actually, he’s being condemned because of his deeds, his conscious behavior.
Warren: Let’s take the question like this—can a person, an American of white blood, be guiltless?
Malcolm X: Guiltless?
Malcolm X: Well, you can only answer it this way, by turning it around. Can the Negro, who is the victim of the system, escape the collective stigma that is placed upon all Negroes in this country? And the answer is “No.” Because Ralph Bunche, who is an internationally recognized and respected diplomat, can’t stay in a hotel in Georgia, which means that no matter what the accomplishment, the intellectual, the academic, or professional level of a Negro is, collectively he stands condemned. Well, the white race in America is the same way. As individuals it is impossible for them to escape the collective crime committed against the Negroes in this country collectively.
Warren: Let’s take an extreme case like this, just the most extreme example I can think of. Let us say a white child of three or four, something like that, who is outside of conscious decisions or valuations, is facing accidental death, you see. Is the reaction to that child the same as the reaction to a a Negro child facing the same situation?
Malcolm X: Well, just take the Negro child. Take the white child. The white child, although it has not committed any of the…as a person has not committed any of the deeds that has produced the plight that the Negro finds himself in, is he guiltless? The only way you can determine that is, take the Negro child who’s only four years old. Can he escape though he’s only four years old, can he escape the stigma of discrimination and segregation? He’s only four years old.
Warren: Let’s put him in front of the oncoming truck and put a white man on the pavement who must risk his life to leap for the child. Let’s reverse it.
Malcolm X: I don’t see where that…
Warren: Some white man would leap. Some wouldn’t leap.
Malcolm X: It would not…it still wouldn’t alter the fact that after that white man saved that little black child, he couldn’t take that little black child in many restaurants, hotels, in places right along with him.
Malcolm X: Even after the child, the life of the black child was saved, but that same white man will have to toss him right back into the discriminate-…into discrimination, segregation, and these other things.
Warren: Well, suppose let’s take a case, suppose that white man is prepared to go to jail to break segregation?
Malcolm X: His going to jail to break segregation still has…and if he broke segregation …
Warren: Just keep it on the individual, this one white man.
Malcolm X: You can’t solve it individually.
Warren: But what you’re having toward the one white man who goes to jail, say, not once but over and over again, say, in…
Malcolm X: This has been going on for the past ten years.
Malcolm X: White individuals that have been going to jail. Segregation still exists. Discrimination still exists.
Warren: Yes, that’s true. But what is the attitude toward the white man who does this, who goes to jail?
Malcolm X: My personal attitude…
Warren: That’s what I mean.
Malcolm X: …is that he has done nothing to solve the problem.
Warren: What’s your attitude toward his moral nature?
Malcolm X: Not even interested in his moral nature. Until the problem is solved, we don’t we’re not interested in anybody’s moral nature.
Warren: At all?
Malcolm X: But what I’m boiling down to say is that the a few isolated white people whose individual acts are designed to eliminate this, that or or the next thing but, yet, it is never eliminated, is in no way impressive to me.
Warren: That is, you couldn’t call that man a friend?
Malcolm X: If his own rights were being trampled upon as the rights of Negroes are being trampled upon, he would use a different course of action to protect his rights.
Warren: What course of action?
Malcolm X: I have never seen white people who would sit…who would…who would approach a solution to their own problems non-violently or passively. It’s only when they are so-called “fighting for the rights of Negroes” that they non-violently, passively and lovingly, you know, approach the situation. But when the whites themselves are attacked, they believe in defending themselves and things of that sort. But those type of whites who are always going to jail with Negroes are the ones who tell Negroes to be loving and be kind and be patient and be non-violent and turn the other cheek.
Malcolm X: So if I did see a white man who was willing to go to jail or throw himself in front of a car in behalf of the so-called Negro cause, the test that I’d put to him, I’d ask him, “Do you think when Negroes are being attacked they should defend themselves even at the risk of having to kill the one who’s attacking them?” If that white man told me, “Yes,” I’d shake his hand. I’d trust in him. But I don’t trust any white man who teaches Negroes to turn the other cheek or to be non-violent, which means to be defenseless in the face of a very brutal, criminal enemy. No. That’s my yardstick for measuring whites.
Warren: Now, the question, what is defenseless at this point?
Malcolm X: Any time you tell a man to turn the other cheek or to be non-violent in the face of a violent enemy, you’re making that man defenseless. You’re robbing him of his God-given right to defend himself.
Warren: Let’s take a concrete case again on the question of defenselessness just to be sure I understand you. If, say, in the case of Dr. Aaron Henry in Mississippi Clarksdale, Mississippi, his house has been bombed and has been shot through and that sort of thing. Well, he is armed. I’ve been in his house. I know he’s armed. His guards are sitting there with arms with the arms that they’re in their hands at night. And everybody knows this. Now, I can’t see how anyone would ask him not to defend himself, you see? If defense is literally defense, as it’s taken in ordinary legal times, or a mounted aggression for purposes of defense is another thing in society, you see what I’m getting at? A man sitting in his own house…
Malcolm X: I think that a Negro…
Warren: …is one thing. A man who goes out and performs an act of violence as is some sort of a long-range defense.
Malcolm X: I think that the Negro should reserve the right to execute any measure necessary to defend himself. Any way, any form necessary to defend himself, he should reserve the right to do that just the same as others have the right to do it.
Warren: Well, political assassination, for instance?
Malcolm X: I don’t know anything about that. I wouldn’t even answer a question like that.
Malcolm X: But I say that the Negro, when he is…when, when they cease to look at him as a Negro and realize that he’s a human being, then they will realize that he is just as capable and has the right to do anything that any other human being on this earth has a right to do to defend himself.
Warren: Well, there are millions of white people who would say right away that the Negro should have any…Negro should have the same legal rights to defense that a white man has.
Malcolm X: And I think you’ll find also that if the Negro ever realizes that he should begin to fight for real for his freedom, there are many whites who will fight on his side with him. It’s not a case where people think he’ll be the underdog or be outnumbered. But there are many white people in this country who realize that the system itself, as it is constructed, is not so constructed that it can produce freedom and equality for the Negro, and the system has to be changed. It is the system itself that is incapable of producing freedom for the 22 million Afro-Americans. Just like a chicken can’t lay a duck egg. A chicken can’t lay a duck egg because the system of the chicken isn’t constructed in the way to produce a duck egg. And just as that chicken system can’t produce…is not capable of producing a duck egg, the political and economic system of this country is absolutely incapable of producing freedom and justice and equality and human dignity for the 22 million Afro-Americans.
Warren: You don’t see in the American system the possibility of self-regeneration then…
Malcolm X: No, nothing there’s nothing in…
Warren: …of change?
Malcolm X: No. There the American system itself is incapable it’s it is as incapable of producing freedom for the Afro-American as a as the system of a chicken is of producing a duck egg.
Warren: You don’t see any possibility of gains or or better solutions through political…
Malcolm X: No.
Warren: …Negro political action or economic action?
Malcolm X: Well, any time the Negro becomes involved in mature political action, then the resistance of the politicians who benefit from the exploited political system as it now stands, will come, will be forced to put…exercise more violent action to deprive the Negro of his mature political action.
Warren: Do you think that Adam Clayton Powell’s political career has been one of mature political action? He thinks highly of you. He speaks high-…he speaks to me highly of you.
Malcolm X: Adam Clayton Powell’s entire political career has to be looked at in the entire context of the American history and the history of and the position of the Afro-American or Negro in American history, and then when they and when you take all of these factors combined you can see where Adam Clayton Powell is a remarkable man and has done a remarkable job in fighting for rights of black people in this country. On the other hand, he probably hasn’t done as much as he could or as much as he should because he is the most independent Negro politician in this country. There’s no politician in this country of national stature who is more independent of the political machine as Adam Clayton Powell is.
Warren: Well, Dawson’s a pure victim of it, of course, in Chicago, Congressman Dawson.
Malcolm X: Yes. I don’t know too much about Dawson, but from what I’ve heard, he’s more, he has no independence of action when it comes to the political machine there in Chicago.
Warren: But is Adam Clayton Powell’s line a line of what you’d call “mature political action,” or has that been frustrated and…
Malcolm X: In my opinion, mature political action is the type of action that enables the, that involves a program of re-education and information that will enable the black people in the black community to see the fruits that they should be receiving from the politicians who are over them and, thereby, they are then able to determine whether or not the politician is really fulfilling his function. And if he is not fulfilling his function, they then can set up the machinery to remove him from that position by whatever means necessary. To me, political action involves making the politician who represents us know that he either produces or he is out, and he’s out one way or another.
Warren: There’s only one way to put a politician out ordinarily, is to vote him out.
Malcolm X: Well, I think that the black people in this country have the reached the point where they should reserve the right to do whatever is necessary to see that they exercise complete control over the politicians in the politician, in the politics of their own community by whatever means necessary.
Warren: Let’s go back to the matter of your conversion, or some of the details of that. Was it fast or slow, a simple a matter as that?
Malcolm X: It was fast.
Warren: Flash, a flash…
Malcolm X: Yes.
Warren: …of intuition?
Malcolm X: No, it was fast. I, strange as it may seem, I turned I think I took an about-turn overnight.
Warren: Really overnight, just like that?
Malcolm X: Yes. And while I was in prison and wasn’t a Muslim, I was indulging in all types of vice, right within the prison. And I never was ostracized as much by the penal authorities while I was participating in all of the evils of the prison, as they tried to ostracize me after I became a Muslim.
Warren: Why was that?
Malcolm X: Well, the prison systems in this country actually are exploitive and they are not in any way rehabilitative. They’re not designed to rehabilitate the inmate, though the public propaganda is that this is their function. But they, the most people who work in prison earn money through contraband. They earn their, they earn extra money by selling contraband, dope, and things of that sort to the inmates, and so that really it’s an exploiter.
Warren: This was a matter of defending their commercial interests.
Malcolm X: Right.
Warren: Their economic interests and not a matter of fear of the Muslim movement, is that it?
Malcolm X: Both.
Warren: Oh, it’s both.
Malcolm X: It’s both. They have a fear of the Muslim movement and the Muslim religion because it has a tendency to make the people who accept it stick together. And I had one warden tell me since I’ve been out, and I visited an inmate in prison right here in New York, Warden Fay up at Green Haven
Malcolm X: Fay. Fay, F-A-Y. In 1959 or ‘8, along in there, I visited an inmate in prison and he told me that he didn’t want anybody in there trying to spread this religion. And I asked him at that time if it didn’t make a better inmate out of the Negroes who accepted it and he said, “Yes.” So I asked him then what was it about it that he considered to be so dangerous, and he pointed out that it was the cohesiveness that it produced among the inmates. They stuck together. What you did to one, you did to all. So they couldn’t have that type of religion being taught in the prison.
Warren: Just a matter of maintaining their own control then?
Malcolm X: Yes.
Warren: Has there been any change in your religious beliefs since your break out last fall?
Malcolm X: Well, I have gone through the process of re-evaluating, giving a personal re-evaluation to everything that I ever believed and that I did believe while I was a a member and a minister…
Malcolm X: …in the Black in what we call the Black Muslim Movement.
Warren: May I ask how you’ve come out of that evaluation?
Malcolm X: Well, first I might say that when a person…when a man separates from his wife, at the outstart it’s a physical separation but it’s not a psychological separation. He still thinks of her in probably warm terms. And, but after the physical separation has taken, existed for a period of time, it becomes a psychological separation as well as physical. And he can then look at her more objectively. My split or separation from the Black Muslim Movement at first was only a physical separation, but my heart was still there and it was impossible for me to, for me to look at it objectively. After I made my tour in the Middle, into the Middle-East and Africa and visited Mecca and other places, I think that the separation became psychological as well as physical, so that I could look at it more objectively and separate that which was good from that which was bad.
Warren: Well, what did you find, if I may ask, good and what’s bad in this reevaluation?
Malcolm X: Well, I think now it’s possible for me to approach the whole problem with a broader scope, much broader scope. When you look at something through an organizational eye, whether it’s a a religious organization, political organization, or a civic organization, if you look at it only through the eye of that organization, you see what the organization wants you to see. But you lose your ability to be objective. But when you aren’t affiliated with anything, and then you look at something, you look at it with your eye to your to the best ability
Warren: Well, for example…
Malcolm X: …and see it as it is.
Warren: …for example, what specific thing do you now see as is and not through organizational eyes?
Malcolm X: Well, I can I look at the problem of the 22 million Afro-Americans as being a problem that’s so broad in scope that it’s almost impossible for any organization to see it in its entirety. And because the average Negro organization, especially, can’t see the problem in its entirety, they can’t even see that the problem is so big that their own organization as such, by itself, can never come to a…can never come up with a solution. The problem is so broad that it’s going to take the inner working of all organizations. It’s going to take a a united front of all organizations, looking at it with more objectivity, to come up with a solution that will that will stand against the whites.
Warren: Would you work, would you work then with the SCLC, Dr. King’s organization?
Malcolm X: Well, even as a Muslim minister in the Muslim movement, I have always said that I would work with any organization. But I can say it even more honestly now. Then when I said it, I would make the reservation that I would work with any organization as long as it didn’t make us compromise our religious principles. Now I think that the problem of the American Negro goes beyond the principle of any organization whether it’s a religious, political, or otherwise. The problem of the Negro is so criminal that many individuals and organizations are going to have to sacrifice what they call their organizational principles if someone comes up with a solution that will really solve the problem. If it’s a solution they want, they should go, they should, they should accept the solution. But if it’s a solution they want as long as it doesn’t interfere with their organization, then it means they’re more concerned with their organization than they are with getting a solution to the problem.
Warren: Because I’m trying to see how it would be possible to work with the Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence, you see.
Malcolm X: Well, see, now, non-violence with Dr. King is only a method. That’s not his objective.
Warren: Yes. No, it’s not his objective but.
Malcolm X: Well, his objective, I think, is to gain respect for Negroes as human beings.
Malcolm X: And non-violence is his, is his method. Well, my objective is the same as King’s. Now, we may disagree on methods, but we don’t have to argue all day on methods. Forget the methods or the differences in methods. As long as we agree that the thing that the Afro-American wants and needs is recognition and respect as a human being.
Warren: Would you change in the evaluation of the Black Muslim Movement in America, have you changed your view about separatism, political separatism, the actual formation of an independent state of some kind?
Malcolm X: Well, I might say this, that the problem of the solution for the Afro-American is two-fold—long- range and short-range. I believe that a psychological, cultural, and philosophical migration back to Africa will solve our problem. Not a physical migration, but a cultural, psychological, philosophical migration back to Africa, which means restoring our common bond will give us the spiritual strength and the incentive to strengthen our political and social and economic position right here in America, and to fight for the things that are ours by right here on this continent. And at the same time, this will also tend to give incentive to many of our people then to want to also visit and even migrate physically back to Africa. And those who stay here can help those who go back, and those who go back can help those who stay here in the same way that when Jews go to Israel, the Jews in America help those in Israel and the Jews in Israel help those in America.
Warren: Is that…that’s the long-range, the second thing is your long-range solution, is that it?
Malcolm X: Sir?
Warren: The second thing is a long-range solution? There are two aspects to the solution. One’s a short-range.
Malcolm X: Yes.
Warren: What’s the long-range?
Malcolm X: The short-range involves the long-range. Immediate steps have to be taken to re-educate our people…
Malcolm X: …into the a more real view of political, economic, and social conditions in this country, and our ability in a self-improvement program to gain control politically over every community in which we predominate, and also over the economy of that same community as here in Harlem. Instead of all the stores in Harlem being owned by white people, they should be owned and operated by black people. The same as in a German neighborhood, the stores are run by Germans, and in a Chinese neighborhood they’re run by Chinese. In the Negro neighborhood the businesses should be owned and operated by Negroes and, thereby, they will be employing and they will be creating employment for Negroes.
Warren: Right. You are thinking then of these, you might say, localities as being then operated by Negroes, not in terms of a separate a political state, a separate nation?
Malcolm X: No. The separating of a section of America for Afro-Americans is similar to expecting a heaven in the sky somewhere after you die.
Warren: It’s not practical then?
Malcolm X: To say it is not practical, ha-…one has to also admit that integration is not practical.
Warren: I don’t quite follow that.
Malcolm X: In stating that the idea of a separate state is not practical, I’m also stating that the idea of integration, forced integration, as they’ve been making an effort to do in this country for the past ten years, is also just as impractical.
Warren: That both these poles, these two opposites.
Malcolm X: Both are impractical.
Warren: Simply aren’t practical?
Malcolm X: Yes. Both of them are impractical.
Warren: You can envisage Negro sections or Negro communities which are self-determining.
Malcolm X: Yes, I do.
Warren: …as a better solution?
Malcolm X: A re-education program is devised to bring our people to the intellectual, economic, political, and social level wherein we can control, own, operate our own communities economically, politically, socially, and otherwise. Why, any solution that doesn’t involve that is not even a solution. Because if I can’t run my neighborhood, you won’t want me in your neighborhood.
Warren: You are saying, in other words, you see neighborhoods and communities that are, that are all Afro-American and self-determining, but these are parts of a larger political unity as.
Malcolm X: Yes.
Warren: …the United States?
Malcolm X: Because once the black man becomes the political master of his own community, it means that the politicians of that community will also be black, which also means that he then will be sending black representation or representatives not only to represent him at the local level and at the state level, but even at the federal level. See, all throughout the South in areas where the black man predominates, he would have black representatives in Washington, D.C. Well, my contention is that the political system of this country is so designing criminally to prevent this, that if the black man even started in that direction, which is a mature step and it’s the only way to really solve this problem and to prove that he is the intellectual equal of others, why, the racists and the segregationists would fight that harder than they’re fighting the present efforts to integrate.
Warren: They’ll fight it, yes. Let me ask you two questions around this. One, there are Negroes now holding a prominent place at the federal level.
Malcolm X: They’ve been put there
Warren: Like Dr. Weaver and. ..
Malcolm X: I don’t mean …
Warren: Mr. Rowan and people like that.
Malcolm X: I don’t mean those kind of Negroes who are placed in big jobs as window dressing. I refer to a Negro politician as a Negro who is selected by Negroes, and who is backed by Negroes. Most of those Negroes have been given those jobs by the white political machine, and they serve no other function other than as window dressing.
Warren: Ralph Bunche, too?
Malcolm X: Any Negro who occupies a position that was given to him by the white man, if you analyze his function, his function never enables him to really take a firm, uncompromising, militant stand on problems that confront our people. He opens up his mouth only to the degree that the political atmosphere at the time will allow him to do so without rocking the boat too much.
Warren: Is your organization supporting the voter registration drive in Mississippi this summer?
Malcolm X: Yes. We’re going to work
Malcolm X: Yes, we’re going to give active support to voter registration drives, not only in Mississippi, but in New York City. I just can’t see where Mississippi is that much different from New York City. Maybe in method or…
Warren: I don’t either.
Malcolm X: No, I don’t see…I never will let anyone maneuver me into making a distinction between the Mississippi form of discrimination and the New York City form of discrimination. It’s both discrimination. It’s all discrimination.
Warren: Are you actually putting workers in Mississippi this summer?
Malcolm X: We will. They won’t be non-violent workers.
Warren: Non-violent in which sense? Upon attack or…
Malcolm X: We will never send a Negro anywhere and tell him to be non-violent.
Warren: Umhmm. If he is shot at, shoot back?
Malcolm X: If you’re shot at, shoot back.
Warren: What about the matter of non-selective reprisals? Say, if a Negro is shot in Mississippi and like Medgar Evers, for instance, then shooting a white man or trying to shoot a responsible white man?
Malcolm X: Well, I’ll tell you. If I go home and someone…and my child has blood running down her leg and someone tells me that a snake bit her, I’m going out and kill the snake. And when I find the snake, I’m not going to look and see if he has blood on his jaws.
Warren: You mean you’ll kill any snake you find?
Malcolm X: I grew up in the country on a farm…
Warren: So did I.
Malcolm X: …and it was whenever someone said even that a snake was eating the chickens or bothering the chickens, we’d kill snakes. We never knew whether that was the snake that did it.
Warren: To read your parallel then, you would advocate non-selective reprisal. Kill any white person around.
Malcolm X: I’m not saying that. I’m just telling you about snakes.
Warren: Yeah, okay. All right. We’ll settle for that.
Malcolm X: Well, I mean what I say.
Warren: Umhmm. I know what you say. I know how the parables worked. Let us suppose that we had, just suppose.
Malcolm X: Then, perhaps, you know the other…when the snakes out in that field begin to realize that if one of their members get out of line, it’s going to be detrimental to all of them, they’ll keep that perhaps they’ll then take the necessary steps to keep their fellow snakes away from my chickens or away from my children if the responsibility is placed upon them.
Warren: Suppose we had…this is maybe it’s a big supposition, but suppose we had an adequate civil rights legislation and fair employment.
Malcolm X: I might even answer that, if I may.
Warren: Yes, please, go ahead.
Malcolm X: I believe when a Negro church is bombed, that a white church should be bombed.
Malcolm X: I believe it, yes. Can I, and I can give you the best example. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States struck back. She didn’t go and bomb…she bombed any part of Japan. She dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. Those people in Hiroshima probably hadn’t even some of them most of them hadn’t even killed anybody.
Malcolm X: But still she dropped that bomb. I think it killed eighty-some thousand people. Well, this is internationally recognized as a way, as justifiable during war. Any time a Negro community lives under fear that its churches are going to be bombed, then they are to realize they’re living in a war zone. And once they recognize it as such, they can adopt the same measures against the community that harbors the criminals who are responsible for this activity.
Warren: Now we have it. Now we have it. It’s a question of a Negro, say, in Birmingham, being outside of the community, being no part of the community, so he takes the same kind of reprisal he would take in wartime?
Malcolm X: He should realize that he is living in a war zone, and he is at war with an enemy that is as vicious and criminal and inhuman as any war-making country has ever been.
Malcolm X: And once he realizes that, then he can defend himself.
Warren: Now, getting back to what I was about to say a moment ago. Suppose you had an adequate civil rights legislation enforced—suppose you had a fair employment practice code enforced. Suppose we had the objectives demanded by most civil rights organizations now actually existing, then what?
Malcolm X: Suppose.
Warren: Just suppose. Let’s suppose, let’s suppose.
Malcolm X: You’d have civil war. You’d have a race war in this country. In order to enforce…see, you can’t force people to act right toward each other. You can’t force, you cannot legislate heart, conditions and attitudes. And when you have to pass a law to make a man let me have a house, or you have to pass a law to make a man let me go to school, or you have to pass a law to make a man let me walk down the street, you have to enforce that law and you’d be living actually in a police state. It would take a police state in this country. I mean a real police state right now just to get a token recognition of a law. It took, I think, 15,000 troops and six million dollars to put one Negro in the University of Mississippi. That’s a police action, police state action.
Warren: That’s a police action.
Malcolm X: So, actually, all of the civil rights problems during the past ten years have created a situation where America right now is moving toward a police state. You can’t have anything otherwise. So that’s your supposition.
Warren: All right. Then you see no possibility of a self-regeneration for our society then?
Malcolm X: When I was in Mecca …
Malcolm X: I noticed that their they had no color problem. That they had people there whose eyes were blue and people there whose eyes were black, people whose skin was white, people whose skin was black, people whose hair was blond, people whose hair was black, from the whitest white person to the blackest black person.
Warren: I read your letters.
Malcolm X: There was no racism, there was no problem. But the religious philosophy that they had adopted, in my opinion, was the only thing and is the only thing that can remove the white from the mind of the white man and the Negro from the mind of the Negro. I have seen what Islam has done with our people, our people who had this feeling of Negro and it and it had a psychological effect of putting them in a in, a mental prison. When they accepted Islam, it removed that. Well, white people whom I have met, who have accepted Islam, they don’t regard themselves as white but as human beings. And by looking upon themselves as human beings, their whiteness to them isn’t the yardstick of perfection or honor or anything else. And, therefore, this creates within them an attitude that is different from the attitude of the white that you meet here in America, because then, and it was in Mecca that I realized that white is actually an attitude more so than it’s a color. And I and I can prove it because among Negroes we have Negroes who are as white as some white people. Still there’s a difference.
Warren: I was about to ask you about, what is a Negro?
Malcolm X: Yeah, it’s an attitude. I’ll tell you what it is. And white is an attitude. And it is the attitude of the American white man that is making him stand condemned today before the eyes of the entire dark world and even before the eyes of the Europeans. It is his attitude, his haughty, holier-than-thou attitude. He has the audacity to call himself even the “leader of the free world” while he has a country that can’t even give the basic human rights to over 22 million of its citizens. This takes audacity, this takes nerve. So it is this attitude today that’s causing the Americans to be condemned.
Warren: What do you take of the western European white as opposed to the American white?
Malcolm X: Well, there’s a great deal of difference in the a great deal of difference in the, when you say west European, even there’s a difference between the west European and the east European.
Warren: That’s what I’m talking about.
Malcolm X: Oh, yes. But there’s a great deal of difference in them. Many of them who belong to these countries that were former colonial powers have racist attitudes, but their racist attitude is never displayed to the degree that the America’s attitude of racism is displayed. Never.
Warren: You know the book by Essien Udom called Black Nationalism? I know you must.
Malcolm X: I was with Essien Udom in…
Warren: You were?
Malcolm X: …in Nigeria last month.
Warren: I wish you’d tell me about him. Who is he?
Malcolm X: Well, he’s a Nigerian. At present he’s a professor at Ibadan University.
Warren: Ah! I didn’t know where he was. Now I knew he was a scholar.
Malcolm X: Yes.
Warren: Do you agree with his analysis that the Black Muslim religion, Islam in America, has served as a concealed device to gratify the American Negro’s aspirations to white middle-class values?
Malcolm X: No, I don’t think …
Warren: He takes that view, you know.
Malcolm X: Yes, but I don’t think that the objective of the American Negro is white middle-class values because what are white middle-class values? And what makes the whites who have these middle-class values have those values? Where did they get it? They didn’t have these same values, you know, four hundred years, five hundred years ago. Where did they get their value system that they now have attained to? And my contention is that if you trace it back, it was the people of the East who brought them out of the Dark Ages, who brought about the period, or ushered in or initiated the atmosphere that brought into Europe the period known as the Renaissance or the re-awakening of Europe. And this re-awakening actually involved an era during which the people of Europe, who were coming out of the Dark Ages, were then adopting the value system of the people in the East, in the, of the oriental society, many of which they were exposed to for the first time during the Crusades.
Malcolm X: Well, these were African these were African-Arab-Asian values. The only section of Europe that had a high value system during the Dark Ages was the, were those on the Iberian Peninsula in the Spanish-Portuguese area, southern France. And that high state of a culture existed there because of Africans known as Moors had come there and brought it there. So that value system has been handed right down in European society. And today when you find Negroes, if they even look like they’re adopting these so-called middle-class values, standards, it’s not that they’re taking something from the white man, but they’re probably identifying again with the level or standard that these same whites have gotten from them back during that period.
Warren: You would approach Essien Udom’s theory on that ground, undercutting it?
Malcolm X: Undercutting it, definitely.
Malcolm X: I think that if he had something he didn’t take it back far enough in history…
Warren: I see.
Malcolm X: …to get at the proper understanding of it.
Warren: You know there’s a theory that’s sometimes enunciated by people like Reverend Wyatt Walker, for one, or Whitney Young, that the Black Muslim is primarily created by the white press. He exists but in a, in a…his importance was created by the white press.
Malcolm X: Wyatt doesn’t say that as much as Whitney Young does.
Warren: Both of them say it. Both of them said it to me, anyway.
Malcolm X: Well…
Warren: A paper tiger is what Wyatt what Wyatt Walker calls it.
Malcolm X: Yeah. Well, I can answer them like this. Wyatt Walker can walk through Harlem. No one would know him.
Malcolm X: Whitney Young could walk through Harlem. No one would know him. Any of the Black Muslims can walk through Harlem and there’s people know them. I don’t think that anyone has been really created more by the white press than the civil right leaders. The white press itself created them. And they themselves in their pronouncements will tell you they need white allies, they need white help, they need white this.
Warren: Yes, some of them do.
Malcolm X: They are more a creation of the white press and the white community, and are more dependent on the white community than any other group in the in the community.
Warren: Almost word for word what you have said I could turn around as Wyatt Walker said to me about, not you personally, but about the whole Black Muslim movement. That if you go outside of New York City, Dr. King is known to ninety percent of the Negroes in the United States and is respected and is identified more or less with him, at least as a hero of one kind or another. That the Black Muslim, outside of one or two communities like New York, are unknown.
Malcolm X: Well, if that’s their opinion, that’s their opinion. I myself have never been concerned with whether we are considered known or unknown. It’s it’s no problem of ours.
Malcolm X: I will say this. That anytime there’s a fire in the Negro community and it’s burning out of control, you send of anyone of them send Whitney Young in to put it out.
Warren: What do you think of Abraham Lincoln?
Malcolm X: I think that he probably did more to trick Negroes than any other man in history.
Warren: Can you explain that?.
Malcolm X: Well, there’s his own…where he I have read where he said he wasn’t interested in freeing the slaves.
Warren: He said that, yes.
Malcolm X: So he was interested in saving the Union. Well, most Negroes have been tricked into thinking that Lincoln was a Negro lover whose primary aim was to free them, and he died because he freed them. I think Lincoln did more to deceive Negroes and to make the race problem in this country worse than any man in history.
Warren: How does Kennedy relate to…
Malcolm X: Kennedy, I relate right along with Lincoln. Lincoln to me…Kennedy was a deceitful man. He was a cold-blooded politician whose purpose was to get elected. And the only time Kennedy made any, took any action to even look like he identified with Negroes was when he was forced to. Kennedy didn’t even make his speech based on this problem being a moral issue until Negroes exploded in Birmingham. During. during…
Warren: Yes, that was Birmingham.
Malcolm X: Right. During the whole month that Negroes were being beaten by police and washed down the sewer with water hoses, and King was in jail begging for the federal government to intervene, Kennedy’s reply was, “No federal statutes have been violated.” And it was only when the Negroes erupted that Kennedy come on the television with all his old pretty words. No, the man was a deceiver. He was deceitful and I will never bite my tongue in saying that. I don’t think he was anything but a politician, and he used Negroes to get elected and to get votes.
Warren: What about Roosevelt?
Malcolm X: Same thing. There was no president ever had more power than Roosevelt. Roosevelt could have solved many problems, and all he did was..put…took Negroes off welfare, or first he put them onto welfare, WPA and other projects that he had, and then, if it hadn’t been for Hitler going on the rampage, Negroes would still be on the welfare.
Warren: What about Eleanor Roosevelt?
Malcolm X: Same thing. Eleanor Roosevelt was the chairman of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, I think it was, at a time when this country, and at the time that the Human Rights, the Covenant on Human Rights was formed, this country didn’t even sign it. This country has never signed the United Nations Covenant on Human Rights. They signed the Declaration of Human Rights. But if they had signed the covenant they would have to get it ratified by the Congress and the Senate, and they could never get the Congress and the Senate to agree to an international law on human rights when they couldn’t even get Congress or the Senate to agree on a civil rights law. So Eleanor Roosevelt could easily have told Negroes the deceitful maneuvering of the United States government that was going on behind the scenes. She never did it. In my opinion she was just another white woman who…whose profession was to make it appear that she was on the Negro’s side. You have a lot of whites who are in this category. Therefore, they are made Negro loving a profession. They are what I call professional liberals who take advantage of the confidence that Negroes place in them and, therefore, this enhances their own prestige and it gives them key roles to play in the in the politics of this country.
Warren: What about James Baldwin?
Malcolm X: Jimmy Baldwin is a Negro writer.
Warren: What’s the content of that?
Malcolm X: He’s a Negro writer who has gained fame because of his indictment and his very acid description—I call it an acid description—of what’s going on in this country. My only…I don’t agree with his non-violent, peaceful, loving approach. I just saw his play, Blues for Mr. Charlie, which I thought was an excellent play until it ended. And if you’ve seen the end of it, you’ll see what I mean.
Warren: I haven’t seen it yet.
Malcolm X: Well, you see it. All during the play I’m thinking that it has that, when at the final act that revenge will be taken, or justice will be given for the murder that has taken place.
Warren: I understand that the Ford Foundation is financing the play now—I hear this, I’m not certain of it—is financing it to keep it open a little while longer. Well, that’s a strange situation, isn’t it?
Malcolm X: Not to me.
Malcolm X: I don’t know, but it’s not strange. I like, as I say, I like the play, Blues for Mr. Charlie, but the ending of it has the Negro again forgetting that a lynching has just taken place.
Warren: That’s why the Ford Foundation might subsidize it, is that it?
Malcolm X: Well, I think that a white that segments like that of the white power structure will subsidize anything that implies that Negroes should be forgiving and long-suffering.
Warren: You know Ralph Ellison’s work?
Malcolm X: Not too well. All I know is that he wrote The Invisible Man.
Warren: Yes. Have you read that?
Malcolm X: No, but I know that I got the point.
Warren: Yeah. What do you think of his position?
Malcolm X: I don’t know what his position is. If his position is that the Negro in this society is an invisible man, then that’s a good position. Whatever else goes with it, I don’t know.
Warren: All right. Taking another, somewhat different tack, what about Nehru?
Malcolm X: I would like to add to…
Warren: Please, do.
Malcolm X: …Ellison’s Invisible Man.
Malcolm X: See, the Negro, as an invisible man…usually when a man is invisible he knows more about those who are visible, than those who are visible know about him. And my contention is that the Negro knows more about the white man, and white society, than the white man knows about the Negro and Negro society.
Warren: I think that’s true.
Malcolm X: The servant always knows his master better than the master knows his servant. The servant the mas-…the servant watches the master sleep, but the master never sees the servant sleep. The servant sees the master angry. The master never sees the servant angry. So the servant always knows the master better than the master knows the servant. In fact, the servant knows the house better than the master does. And my contention is that the Negro knows this country better than the white man does, every facet of it, and when he wakes up he’ll prove it. Now, about Nehru?
Malcolm X: I think that Nehru probably was a good man, although I didn’t go for it. I don’t go for anybody who is passive. I don’t go for anybody…who is…who is…who advocates passivism or peaceful suffering in any form whatsoever. I don’t go for it.
Warren: What about Jesus Christ?
Malcolm X: I go for Mao Tse-tung much more than Nehru because I think that Nehru brought his country up in a beggar’s role. Their roles, the role of India and its reliance upon the West during the years since it got its supposed independence, has it today just as helpless and dependent as it was when it first got its independence. Whereas in China, the Chinese fought for their independence. They became militant right from the outstart, and today they’re…even though they aren’t loved, they are, they are respected. Though the West doesn’t love them, the West respects them. Now, the West doesn’t respect India, but it loves India.
Warren: I see your distinction.
Malcolm X: Can you see my distinction?
Warren: I do indeed.
Malcolm X: I admire the stand of China and the stand of Mao Tsetung, but I can’t admire, with respect, the stand of Nehru in India. I just can’t do it.
Warren: What about Reverend Galamison?
Malcolm X: Reverend Galamison is fighting a hard battle against great opposition, and I admire a man who fights a hard battle against great opposition.
Warren: No matter what’s he fighting for or against?
Malcolm X: Well, I admire a man who fights a battle against opposition, and if there wasn’t something about Galamison that…the people I notice that the power structure is against Galamison. And most of the Negro leaders who get the support of the power structure end up being against Galamison. So my suspicious nature is that there’s something that Galamision, about Galamison that must have some good in it or some right in it.
Warren: Well, his policy is one of integration, and that isn’t exactly your policy.
Malcolm X: No, but at the same time his policy is intelligent enough where he can’t be used to attack me. And and most of these other Negro leaders who are supposedly integrationists aren’t that intelligent.
Warren: I see.
Malcolm X: All right.
Warren: Are you being dragged away?
Malcolm X: Yes, I’m being …
Warren: All right. Well, I’ll pack up.
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