Malcolm X. Oxford Union Debate, Dec. 3 1964

Dec. 3, 1964  |

Full speech : Malcolm X. Oxford Union Debate, Dec. 3 1964

« You are referring to my treatment of the previous speaker? You make my point! That as long as a white man does it, it’s alright, a black man is supposed to have no feelings . But when a black man strikes back he’s an extremist, he’s supposed to sit passively and have no feelings, be nonviolent, and love his enemy no matter what kind of attack, verbal or otherwise, he’s supposed to take it. But if he stands up in any way and tries to defend himself, then he’s an extremist.

No, I think that the speaker who preceded me is getting exactly what he asked for. My reason for believing in extremism, intelligently directed extremism, extremism in defense of liberty, extremism in quest of justice, is because I firmly believe in my heart, that the day that the black man takes an uncompromising step, and realizes that he’s within his rights, when his own freedom is being jeopardized, to use any means necessary to bring about his freedom, or put a halt to that injustice, I don’t think he’ll be by himself. I live in America where there are only 22 million blacks against probably 160 million whites. One of the reasons that I am in no way reluctant or hesitant to do whatever is necessary to see that black people do something to protect themselves, I honestly believe that the day that they do, many whites will have more respect for them, and there’ll be more whites on their side than there are now on their side with these little wishy-washy “love thy enemy” approach that they have been using up until now. And if I am wrong than you are racialist.

As I said earlier, in my conclusion, I’m a Muslim. I believe in Allah, I believe in Mohammed, I believe in all of the prophets, I believe in fasting, prayer, charity, and that which is incumbent on a Muslim to fulfill in order to be a Muslim. In April I was fortunate to make the Hajj to Mecca, and went back again in September, to try and carry out my religious functions and requirements, but at the same time that I believe in that religion, I have to point out that I am an American Negro. And I live in a society whose social system is based upon the castration of the black man, whose political system is based upon castration of the black man, and whose economy is based upon the castration of the black man.

A society which, in 1964, has more subtle, deceptive, deceitful methods to make the rest of the world think that it’s cleaning up it’s house, while at the same time, the same things are happening to us in 1964 that happened in 1954, 1924 and 1884. They came up with a civil rights bill in 1964, supposedly to solve our problem, and after the bill was signed, three civil rights workers were murdered in cold blood. And the FBI head, Hoover, admits that they know who did it, they’ve known ever since it happened, and they’ve done nothing about it. Civil rights bill down the drain. No matter how many bills pass, black people in that country, where I’m from, still our lives are not worth two cents. And the government has shown it’s inability, or either it’s unwillingness to do whatever is necessary to protect black property where the black citizen is concerned. So my contention is that whenever a people come to the conclusion that the government, which they have supported, proves itself unwilling, or proves itself unable to protect our lives and protect our property, because we have the wrong color skin, we are not human beings unless we ourselves band together and do whatever, however, whenever, is necessary to see that our lives and our property is protected, and I doubt that any person in here would refuse to do the same thing if he were in the same position, or I should say were he in the same condition.

Just one step farther to see if I am justified in this stance, and I am speaking as a black man from America which is a racist society, no matter how much you hear it talk about democracy it’s as racist as South Africa or as racist as Portugal or as racist as any other racialist society on this earth. The only difference between it and South Africa, South Africa preaches separation and practices separation, America preaches integration and practices segregation. This is the only difference, they don’t practice what they preach, whereas South Africa practices and preaches the same thing. I have more respect for a man who lets me know where he stands, even if he’s wrong, than the one comes up like an angel and is nothing but a devil.

The system of government that America has consists of committees, there are sixteen senatorial committees that govern the country and twenty congressional committees. Ten of the sixteen senatorial committees are in the hands of southern racialists, senators who are racialists. Thirteen of the twenty, this is before the last election I think it is even more so now, ten of the sixteen senatorial committees are in the hands of senators who are southern racialists, thirteen of the twenty congressional committees were in the hands of southern congressmen who are racialists. Which means out of the thirty-six committees that govern the foreign and domestic direction of that government, twenty-three are in the hands of southern racialists. Men who in no way believe in the equality of man. And men who do anything within their power to see that the black man never gets to the same seat, or to the same level that they’re on. The reason that these men, from that area, have that type of power is because America has a seniority system, and these who have this seniority have been there longer than anyone else because the black people in the areas where they live, can’t vote. And it is only because the black man is deprived of his vote that puts these men in positions of power that gives them such influence in the government beyond their actual intellectual or political ability, or even beyond the number of people from the areas that they represent.

So we can see, in that country, that no matter what the federal government professes to be doing, the power of the federal government lies in these committees and any time a black man or any type of legislation is proposed to benefit the black man, or give the black man his just due, we find that it is locked up in these committees right here. And when they let something through these committees, usually it is so chopped up and fixed up that by the time it becomes law, it is a law that can’t be enforced.

Another example is the Supreme Court’s desegregation decision that was handed down in 1954. This is a law, and they have not been able to implement this law in New York City or in Boston or in Cleveland or Chicago or the northern cities. And my contention is that any time you have a country, supposedly a democracy, supposedly the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” and it can’t enforce laws, even in the northern most cosmopolitan and progressive part of it, that will benefit a black man, if those laws can’t be enforced, how much heart do you think we will get when they pass some civil rights legislation which only involves more laws. If they can’t enforce this law, they’ll never enforce those laws.

So my contention is, we are faced with a racialistic society, a society in which they are deceitful, deceptive, and the only way we can bring about a change is speak the language that they understand. The racialists never understands a peaceful language, the racialists never understands the nonviolent language, the racialist has spoken his type of language to us for over four hundred years. We have been the victim of his brutality, we are the ones who face his dogs, who tear the flesh from our limbs, only because we want to enforce the Supreme Court decision. We are the ones who have our skulls crushed, not by the Ku Klux Klan, but by policeman, all because we want to enforce what they call the Supreme Court decision. We are the ones upon whom waterhoses are turned on, practically so hard that it rips the clothes from our back, not men, but the clothes from the backs of women and children, you’ve seen it yourself. All because we want to enforce what they call the law. Well any time you live in a society supposedly and it doesn’t enforce it’s own laws, because the color of a man’s skin happens to be wrong, then I say those people are justified to resort to any means necessary to bring about justice where the government can’t give them justice.

I don’t believe in any form of unjustified extremism. But I believe that when a man is exercising extremism, a human being is exercising extremism, in defense of liberty for human beings, it’s no vice. And when one is moderate in the pursuit of justice for human beings, I say he’s a sinner.
And I might add in my conclusion, in fact, America is one of the best examples, when you read its history, about extremism. Ol’ Patrick Henry said “liberty of death”—that’s extremism.

I read once, passingly, about a man named Shakespeare. I only read about him passingly, but I remember one thing he wrote, that kind of moved me. He put it in the mouth of Hamlet, I think it was, who said “to be or not to be”. He was in doubt about something. Whether it was nobler, in the mind of man, to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune— moderation—or to take up arms against the sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them. And I go for that; if you take up arms you’ll end it, but if you sit around and wait for the one who is in power to make up his mind that he should end it, you’ll be waiting a long time. And in my opinion, the young generation of whites, blacks, browns, whatever else there is, you’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change, people in power have misused it, and now there has to be a change. And a better world has to be built and the only way it’s going to be built is with extreme methods. And I, for one, will joint in with anyone—don’t care what color you are—as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth. Thank you « 

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