THE LANGUAGE OF VIOLENCE
Malcolm X | 14 February 1965
This is an edited version of Malcolm X's speech at the Ford Auditorium in Detroit.
I was in a house last night that was bombed, my own.
It isn't something that made me lose confidence in what I am doing, because my wife understands and I have children, and even in their young age they understand. I think they would rather have a father who will take a stand in the face of any kind of reaction from narrow-minded people, rather than to compromise and later on have to grow up in shame and in disgrace.
Whenever you and I are discussing our problems we need to be very objective, very cool, calm, collected.
But that doesn't mean we should always be.
There's a time to be cool and a time to be hot.
There's a time to love and a time to hate.
I was on a plane between Algiers and Geneva and it just happened that two other Americans were sitting in the two seats next to me. None of us knew each other and the other two were white, one a male, the other a female. And after we had been flying along for about forty minutes, the lady, she says, "Could I ask you a personal question?"
I said, '"Yes."
She said, she had been looking at my briefcase, and she said, "What kind of last name could you have that begins with X?"
So I said, "That's it - X."
And she said, "Well, what does the 'M' stand for?" I said, "Malcolm."
So she was quiet for about ten minutes, and she turned to me and she says, "You're not Malcolm X?"
You see, we had been riding along in a nice conversation like three human beings, no hostility, no animosity, just human. And she couldn't take this, she said,"Well you're not what I was imagining". And she ended up telling me that she was imagining horns and all that, and someone who was out to kill all white people, as if all white people could be killed.
So before I get involved in anything nowadays, I have to straighten out my own position, which is clear.
I am not a racist in any form whatsoever. I don't believe in any form of racism. I don't believe in any form of discrimination or segregation. I believe in Islam. I am a Muslim. And there's nothing wrong with being a Muslim, nothing wrong with the religion of Islam.
The yardstick that is used by the Muslim to measure another man is not the man's colour but the man's deeds, the man's conscious behaviour, the man's intentions. And when you use that as a standard of measurement or judgement, you never go wrong. I'm not in a society that practices brotherhood. I'm in a society that might preach it on Sunday, but they don't practice it on any day. It is a society controlled primarily by racists and segregationists who are in positions of power. They exercise forms of brutal oppression against dark-skinned people in any place on this earth where they're trying to exploit and oppress. They are violent when their interests are at stake.
But when you and I want just a little bit of freedom, we're supposed to be nonviolent.
But when it comes time for you and me to protect ourselves against lynchings, they tell us to be nonviolent. That's a shame. And when somebody stands up and talks like I just did, they say, "Why, he's advocating violence!" Isn't that what they say?
Every time you pick up your newspaper, you see that I'm advocating violence. I have never advocated any violence. I've only said that black people who are the victims of organised violence perpetrated upon us, we should defend ourselves. I wouldn't call on anybody to be violent without a cause. But I think the black man in this country, above and beyond people all over the world, will be more justified when he stands up and starts to protect himself, no matter how many necks he has to break and heads he has to crack.
I saw on the television where they took this black woman down in Selma, Alabama, knocked her right down on the ground, dragging her down the street. You saw it, you're trying to pretend like you didn't see it 'cause you knew you should've done something about it and didn't. It showed the sheriff and his henchmen throwing this black woman on the ground -- on the ground. And negro men standing around doing nothing about it saying, "Well, let's overcome them with our capacity to love."
What kind of phrase is that?
"Overcome them with our capacity to love."
And then it disgraces the rest of us, because all over the world the picture is splashed showing a black woman with some white brutes, with their knees on her holding her down, and full-grown black men standing around watching it.
You can't ever reach a man if you don't speak his language.
If a man speaks the language of brute force, you can't come to him with peace. Why, good night! He'll break you in two, as he has been doing all along. If a man speaks French, you can't speak to him in German. If he speaks Swahili, you can't communicate with him in Chinese. You have to find out what this man speaks. And once you know his language, learn how to speak his language, and he'll get the point. There'll be some dialogue.
You know the language the Klan speaks.
It is a duty, it's your and my duty as human beings, it is our duty to our people, to organise ourselves and let the government know that if they don't stop that Klan, we'll stop it ourselves.
So I don't believe in violence - that's why I want to stop it.
And you can't stop it with love. So, we only mean vigorous action in self-defence and that vigorous action we feel we're justified in initiating by any means necessary. The press call us racist and people who are "violent in reverse." This is how they psycho you. They make you think that if you try to stop the Klan from lynching you, you're practising "violence in reverse."
I hear a lot of you parrot: "I don't want to be a Ku Klux Klan in reverse." Well, if a criminal comes around your house with his gun, it doesn't make you a robber because you grab your gun and run him out.
The press calls us "racist in reverse." Why, this is insane. With skillful manipulating, they're able to make the victim look like the criminal, and the criminal look like the victim.
In 1963 everyone was talking about the "centennial of progress!" Everyone celebrating how much white and black people have learned to love each other in America. If you had stood up in January that year, and told them that by May, Birmingham would have exploded, that John F. Kennedy would be killed for his role in everything; if you had told them that a church would be bombed with four little black girls blown to bits while they were praying, or that three civil rights workers would be brutally murdered and the government unable to do anything about it - why, they would say you're crazy.
If you tell them what is now in store, they'll think you're crazy for sure. But this year will be the longest and hottest and bloodiest year of them all. It has to be, not because you want it to be, or I want it to be, or we want it to be, but because the conditions that created those explosions are still here; the conditions are still here.
You can't say that you're not going to have an explosion when you leave the conditions, the ingredients, still here.
As long as those ingredients, explosive ingredients, remain, then you're going to have the potential for explosion on your hands.