Classic Podium: Our colour became to us a chain

From a speech by the black rights activist Malcolm X at a meeting in Detroit, delivered the day after his house was bombed and a week before his assassination (14 February 1965)
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The Independent Culture
THERE IS a time to be cool and a time to be hot. See - you got messed up into thinking that there is only one time for everything. There is a time to love and a time for hate. Even Solomon said that. You're just taking something out of the book that fits your cowardly nature when you don't want to fight, and you say: "Well, Jesus said don't fight." But I don't even believe Jesus said that.

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 say it is time for black people to put together the type of action, the unity, that is necessary to pull the sheet off of them so they won't be frightening black people any longer. That's all. And when we say this, the press calls us "racist in reverse". "Don't struggle except within the ground rules that the people you're struggling against have laid down." Why, this is insane, but it shows how they can do it.

When you start thinking for yourselves, you frighten them, and they try to block your getting to the public, for the fear that if the public listens to you then the public won't listen to them anymore. And they've got certain Negroes whom they have to keep blowing up in the papers to make them look like leaders, so that the people will keep on following them, no matter how many knocks they get on their heads following them.

This is how the man does it, and if you don't wake up and find out how he does it I tell you, they'll be building gas chambers and gas ovens pretty soon - I don't mean those kind you've got at home in your kitchen - and you'll be in one of them, just as the Jews ended up in gas ovens over there in Germany. You're in a society that's just as capable of building gas ovens for black people as Hitler's society was.

You know yourself that we have been a people who hated our African characteristics. We hated our heads, we hated the shape of our noses, we wanted one of those long, dog-like noses, you know; we hated the colour of our skin, hated the blood of Africa that was in our veins. And in hating our features and our skin and our blood, why, we had to end up hating ourselves. And we hated ourselves.

Our colour became to us a chain - we felt that it was holding us back; our colour became to us like a prison which we felt was keeping us confined, not letting us go this way or that way. We felt that all of these restrictions were based solely upon our colour, and the psychological reaction to that would have to be that, as long as we felt imprisoned or chained or trapped by black skin, black features and black blood, that skin and those features and that blood holding us back automatically had to become hateful to us. And they became hateful to us.

They made us feel inferior; they made us feel inadequate, made us feel helpless. And when we fell victims to this feeling of inadequacy or inferiority or helplessness, we turned to somebody else to show us the way. We didn't have confidence in another black man to show us the way, or black people to show us the way.

In those days we didn't. We didn't think a black man could do anything except play some horns - you know, make some sound and make you happy with some songs and in that way. Doing things for ourselves. Because we felt helpless. What made us feel helpless was our hatred for ourselves.

Just because you're in this country doesn't make you an American. No, you've got to go farther than that before you can become an American. You've got to enjoy the fruits of Americanism. You haven't enjoyed those fruits. You've enjoyed the thorns. You've enjoyed the thistles. But you have not enjoyed the fruits, no sir. You have fought harder for the fruits than the white man has, you have worked harder for the fruits than the white man has, but you've enjoyed less.

I say again that I'm not a racist. I don't believe in any form of segregation. I'm for brotherhood for everybody, but I don't believe in forcing brotherhood upon people who don't want it. Let us practise brotherhood among ourselves, and then if others want to practise brotherhood with us, we're for practising it with them also. But I don't think that we should run around trying to love somebody who doesn't love us.