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Vol. 75/No. 20      May 23, 2011

Malcolm X: ‘We must learn
to think for ourselves’
(feature article)

Below is an excerpt from Malcolm X Speaks. The Spanish edition is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for May. At the end of 1964, a delegation of 37 teenagers from McComb, Mississippi, visited New York. Their trip was sponsored by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for youth active in the civil rights struggle in their hometowns. Toward the end of their stay, on Jan. 1, 1965, the McComb youth visited the Hotel Theresa in Harlem to learn what Malcolm X stood for. The following is a portion of what he told them. Copyright © 1965 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

One of the first things I think young people, especially nowadays, should learn is how to see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself. Then you can come to an intelligent decision for yourself. If you form the habit of going by what you hear others say about someone, or going by what others think about someone, instead of searching that thing out for yourself and seeing for yourself, you will be walking west when you think you’re going east, and you will be walking east when you think you’re going west. This generation, especially of our people, has a burden, more so than any other time in history. The most important thing that we can learn to do today is think for ourselves.

It’s good to keep wide-open ears and listen to what everybody else has to say, but when you come to make a decision, you have to weigh all of what you’ve heard on its own, and place it where it belongs, and come to a decision for yourself; you’ll never regret it. But if you form the habit of taking what someone else says about a thing without checking it out for yourself, you’ll find that other people will have you hating your friends and loving your enemies. This is one of the things that our people are beginning to learn today—that it is very important to think out a situation for yourself. If you don’t do it, you’ll always be maneuvered into a situation where you are never fighting your actual enemies, where you will find yourself fighting your own self… .

As long as you think you’re alone, then you take a stand as if you’re a minority or as if you’re outnumbered, and that kind of stand will never enable you to win a battle. You’ve got to know that you’ve got as much power on your side as that Ku Klux Klan has on its side. And when you know that you’ve got as much power on your side as the Klan has on its side, you’ll talk the same kind of language with that Klan as the Klan is talking with you… .

I think in 1965, whether you like it, or I like it, or they like it, or not, you will see that there is a generation of black people becoming mature to the point where they feel that they have no more business being asked to take a peaceful approach than anybody else takes, unless everybody’s going to take a peaceful approach.

So we here in the Organization of Afro-American Unity are with the struggle in Mississippi one thousand per cent. We’re with the efforts to register our people in Mississippi to vote one thousand per cent. But we do not go along with anybody telling us to help nonviolently. We think that if the government says that Negroes have a right to vote, and then some Negroes come out to vote, and some kind of Ku Klux Klan is going to put them in the river, and the government doesn’t do anything about it, it’s time for us to organize and band together and equip ourselves and qualify ourselves to protect ourselves. And once you can protect yourself, you don’t have to worry about being hurt… .

If you don’t have enough people down there to do it, we’ll come down there and help you do it. Because we’re tired of this old runaround that our people have been given in this country. For a long time they accused me of not getting involved in politics. They should’ve been glad I didn’t get involved in politics, because anything I get in, I’m in it all the way. If they say we don’t take part in the Mississippi struggle, we will organize brothers here in New York who know how to handle these kind of affairs, and they’ll slip into Mississippi like Jesus slipped into Jerusalem.

That doesn’t mean we’re against white people, but we sure are against the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Councils; and anything that looks like it’s against us, we’re against it. Excuse me for raising my voice, but this thing, you know, gets me upset. Imagine that—a country that’s supposed to be a democracy, supposed to be for freedom and all of that kind of stuff when they want to draft you and put you in the army and send you to Saigon to fight for them—and then you’ve got to turn around and all night long discuss how you’re going to just get a right to register and vote without being murdered. Why, that’s the most hypocritical government since the world began! …

I hope you don’t think I’m trying to incite you. Just look here: Look at yourselves. Some of you are teen-agers, students. How do you think I feel—and I belong to a generation ahead of you—how do you think I feel to have to tell you, “We, my generation, sat around like a knot on a wall while the whole world was fighting for its human rights—and you’ve got to be born into a society where you still have that same fight.” What did we do, who preceded you? I’ll tell you what we did: Nothing. And don’t you make the same mistake we made… .

You get freedom by letting your enemy know that you’ll do anything to get your freedom; then you’ll get it. It’s the only way you’ll get it. When you get that kind of attitude, they’ll label you as a “crazy Negro,” or they’ll call you a “crazy nigger”—they don’t say Negro. Or they’ll call you an extremist or a subversive, or seditious, or a red or a radical. But when you stay radical long enough, and get enough people to be like you, you’ll get your freedom….  
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