Malcolm X on the Media

by Malcolm X Audubon Ballroom Dec 13, 1964

The purpose of our meeting tonight, as was announced, was to show the relationship between the struggle that is going on on the African continent and the struggle that’s going on among the Afro-Americans here in this country. I, for one, would like to impress, especially upon those who call themselves leaders, the importance of realizing the direct connection between the struggle of the Afro-American in this country and the struggle of our people all over the world. As long as we think—as one of my good brothers mentioned out of the side of his mouth here a couple of Sundays ago— that we should get Mississippi straightened out before we worry about the Congo, you’ll never get Mississippi straightened out. Not until you start realizing your connection with the Congo.

We have to realize what part our struggle has in the over-all world struggle. Secondly, we need allies; and as long as you and I think that we can only get allies from the Bronx, or allies, you know, from up on the Grand Concourse, I mean where you don’t live; as long as you and I think that’s the only source or area from which we and I think that’s the only source or area from which we an get allies, our source of allies is limited. But when we realize how large this earth is and how many different people there are on it, and how closely they resemble us, then when we turn to them for some sort of help or aid or to form alliances, then we’ll make a little faster progress.

Before our visitor gets here, I think it’s important to show the importance of keeping an open mind. You’ll be surprised how fast, how easy it is for someone to steal your and my mind. You don’t think so? We never like to think in terms of being dumb enough to let someone put something over on us in a very deceitful and tricky way. But you and I are living in a very deceitful and tricky society, in a very deceitful and tricky country, which has a very deceitful and tricky government. All of them in it aren’t tricky and deceitful, but most of them are. And any time you have a government in which most of them are deceitful and tricky, you have to be on guard at all times. You have to know how they work this deceit and how they work these tricks. Otherwise you’ll find yourself in a bind.

One of the best ways to safeguard yourself from being deceived is always to form the habit of looking at things for yourself, listening to things for yourself, thinking for yourself, before you try and come to any judgment. Never base your impression of someone on what someone else has said. Or upon what someone else has written. Or upon what you read about someone that somebody else wrote. Never base your judgment on things like that. Especially in this kind of country and in this kind of society which has mastered the art of very deceitfully painting people whom they don’t like in an image that they know you won’t like. So you end up hating your friends and loving their enemies.

An example: I was flying from Algiers to Geneva about three or four weeks ago, and seated beside me on the airplane were a couple of Americans, both white, one a male and the other a female. One was an interpreter who worked in Geneva for the United Nations, the other was a girl who worked in one of the embassies in some part of Algeria. We conversed for about forty or forty- five minutes and then the lady, who had been looking at my briefcase, said, “May I ask you a personal question?” And I said, “Yes.” Because they always do anyway. She said, “What kind of last name do you have that begins with X?” I said, “That’s it, X.” So she said, “X?” “Yes.” “Well, what is your first name?” I said, “Malcolm.” So she waited for about ten minutes and then she said, “You’re not Malcolm X.” And I said, “Yes, I’m Malcolm X. Why, what’s the matter?” And she said, “Well, you’re not what I was looking for.”

What she was looking for was what the newspapers, the press, had created. She was looking for the image that the press had created. Somebody with some horns, you know, about to kill all the white people—as if he could kill all of them, or as if he shouldn’t. She was looking for someone who was a rabble-rouser, who couldn’t even converse with people with blue eyes, you know, someone who was irrational, and things of that sort. I take time to point this out, because it shows how skillfully someone can take a newspaper and build an image of someone so that before you even meet them, you’ll run. You don’t even want to hear what they have to say, you don’t even know them, all you know is what the press has had to say, and the press is white. And when I say the press is white, I mean it is white. And it’s dangerous.

The FBI can feed information to the press to make your neighbor think you’re something subversive. The FBI—they do it very skillfully, they maneuver the press on a national scale; and the CIA maneuvers the press on an international scale. They do all their dirt with the press. They take the newspapers and make the newspapers blow you and me up as if all of us are criminals, all of us are racists, all of us are drug addicts, or all of us are rioting. This is how they do it. When you explode legitimately against the injustices that have been heaped upon you, they use the press to make it look like you’re a vandal. If you were a vandal, you have a right to be a vandal.

They master this imagery, this image-making. They give you the image of an extremist, and from then on anything you do is extreme. You can pull a baby out of the water and save it from drowning—you’re still an extremist, because they projected this image of you. They can create an image of you as a subversive and you can go out and die fighting for the United States—you’re still subversive, because the press has made you a subversive. They can paint the image of you as someone irresponsible, and you can come up with the best program that will save the black man from the oppression of the white man and—when I say oppression, that’s where oppression comes from, the white man. There are some oppressive black people, but they’re only doing what the white man has taught them. When I say that, I’m not blanketly condemning all whites. All of them don’t oppress. All of them aren’t in a position to. But most of them are, and most of them do.

The press is so powerful in its image-making role, it can make a criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal. This is the press, an irresponsible press. It will make the criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal. If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.

If you aren’t careful, because I’ve seen some of you get caught in that bag, you run away hating yourself and loving the man—while you are catching hell from the man. You let the man maneuver you into thinking that it’s wrong to fight him when he’s fighting you. He’s fighting you in the morning, fighting you in the noon, fighting you at night and fighting you all in between, and you still think it’s wrong to fight him back. Why? The press. The newspapers make you look wrong. As long as you take a beating, you’re all right. As long as you get your head busted, you’re all right. As long as you let his dogs fight you, you’re all right. Because that’s the press. That’s the image-making press. That thing is dangerous if you don’t guard yourself against it. It’ll make you love the criminal, as I say, and make you hate the one who’s the victim of the criminal.

A good example of what the press can do with its images is the Congo, the area of Africa that our guest, that’s on his way, is going to talk to us about tonight. Right now, in the Congo, defenseless villages are being bombed, black women and children and babies are being blown to bits by airplanes. Where do these airplanes come from? The United States, the U-n-i-t-e-d S-t-a-t- e-s. Yes, and you won’t write that. You won’t write that American planes are blowing the flesh from the bodies of black women and black babies and black men. No. Why? Because they’re American planes. As long as they’re American planes, that’s humanitarian. As long as they’re being piloted by anti-Castro Cubans, that makes it all right. Because Castro’s a villain, and anybody who’s against him, whatever they do, that’s humanitarian. You see how tricky they are? American planes, anti-Castro Cuban pilots, dropping bombs on African villages that have no defense against bombs, and blowing black women to bits. When you drop a bomb, you don’t look to see where it explodes.

They’re doing the same thing as when they dropped it on the Japanese at Hiroshima. They don’t even think about dropping it on Congolese. And you, running around here getting all upset because a few white hostages die, you’re out of your minds, out of your minds. They take the press with their ability to control you with image-making, and they make mass murder, cold-blooded murder, look like a humanitarian project. All these thousands of black people dying, butchered, and you have no compassion in your hearts whatsoever for them, because the victim has been made to look like he’s the criminal and the criminal has been made to look like he’s the victim. Why, you and I should go on a rampage. I mean on a rampage—intelligently.

Let’s just take it one step farther before our guest arrives, to show you how they use this image-making through the press. I’m not condemning the whole press, because some of them are all right; but most of them aren’t. Take Tshombe, there’s a man that you should never let set foot in America. That man is the worst African that was ever born. He’s a cold-blooded murderer. He murdered Patrice Lumumba, the rightful prime minister of the Congo. And what happened there at the time? They used their press to give Tshombe a good image. Yes, the American press. They take this man who’s a murderer, a cold-blooded murderer—didn’t murder just somebody, murdered the prime minister—and they go and use their press to make this man acceptable to the world.

He’ll never be acceptable to the world. The world is not that dumb, not that easily fooled. Now, some of us in this country may be dumb, but not all of us, just some of us. And those that haven’t been fooled will do whatever is necessary to keep that man from setting foot on this continent. He should be afraid to come here. He should think a long time before he comes here. Why? Because they told you and me we came from the Congo. Isn’t that what they told you? I mean, isn’t that what they taught us in school? So we came from the Congo. We’re savages and cannibals and all that kind of stuff from the Congo; they’ve been teaching me all my life I’m from the Congo. I love the Congo. That’s my country. And that’s my people that your airplanes are killing over there.

They take Tshombe and they prop him up with American dollars. They glorify his image with the American press. What’s the first thing he does? Now, Tshombe’s a murderer, he has been hired by the United States to rule the Congo. Yes, that’s all it boils down to. You can put it in a whole lot of pretty language, but we don’t want pretty language for a nasty situation. He’s a murderer, who has been hired by the United States government and is being paid with your tax dollars by the United States government.

And to show you what his thinking is—a hired killer—what’s the first thing he did? He hired more killers. He went out and got the mercenaries from South Africa. And what is a mercenary? A hired killer. That’s all a mercenary is. The anti-Castro Cuban pilots, what are they? Mercenaries, hired killers. Who hired them? The United States. Who hired the killers from South Africa? The United States; they just used Tshombe to do it. Just like they do with us in this country. They get a Negro and hire him and make him a big shot—so he’s a voice of the community—and then he tells all of them to come on in and join the organization with us, and they take it over. Then they give him peace prizes and medals and things. They will probably give Tshombe the peace prize next year for the work that he’s doing. I expect them to, he’ll be the Nobel Peace Prize winner next year. Because he’s doing a good job. But for who? For the man.

So these mercenaries come in, and again, what makes these mercenaries acceptable? The press. The press doesn’t refer to them as hired killers. The press doesn’t refer to them as murderers. The press refers to the brothers in Stanleyville, who are defending their country, as rebels, savages, cannibals. You know, brothers, the press has a grave responsibility, and it also has the responsibility sometimes as an accessory. Because if it allows itself to be used to make criminals look like victims and victims look like criminals, then the press is an accessory to the same crime. They are permitting themselves to be used as a weapon in the hands of those that are actually guilty.

I cite this tonight, before our guest comes—and I was told ten minutes ago that he should be here in ten minutes—I cite this to show you that, just as they do it on an international level, they also do it with us. Anytime black people in this country are not able to be controlled by the man, the press immediately begins to label those black people as irresponsible or as extremists. They put all these old negative labels up there, and you and I do the same thing—we draw back from it. Not because we know anything about them. But we draw back because of the image of them that the man has created.

And if you notice everyone who takes a firm, uncompromising stand against the man—when I say the man, you know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the man that lynches, the man that segregates, the man that discriminates, the man that oppresses and exploits, the man that won’t let you and me have quality education facilities here in Harlem. That man, whoever he is, that’s who I’m talking about. I have to talk about him like this, because if I talk about him any closer, they’ll call me a racist. And I’m not a racist. I’m not against somebody because of their race, but I’m sure against them because of what they’re doing; and if they’re doing wrong, we should stop them, and by any means necessary.

If you’ll notice, as long as the blacks in the Congo were being slaughtered on a mass scale, there was no outcry. But as soon as the lives of a few whites were involved, the whole world became in an uproar. What caused the world to become involved in an uproar? The press. The press made it appear that 2,000 white people are being held hostage. And they started crying in big headlines if any of them were killed. Now the Africans didn’t kill any of them, the brothers there in Stanleyville didn’t kill any of them until the paratroopers landed. If the paratroopers hadn’t invaded their property, nobody would have been killed. They hadn’t killed them up to that point. And many people say it wasn’t the brothers in Stanleyville that killed them; the paratroopers and mercenaries started shooting at everybody.

You think I’m spoofing? I was in London last Sunday, and in the Daily Express a white writer—I must say white, because if I don’t specify that it is a white man writing this, you’d think that I wrote it, or some black man wrote it. Look what he says here in the Daily Express, which is a far from left newspaper, far from liberal. It’s written by Walter Partington from Stanleyville. Just after the paratroopers had dropped, he says, there was “a dusk strike by cannon-firing T-28s flown by Cuban mercenaries”—these are airplanes, flown by Cuban mercenaries; think of it, hired killers from Cuba. Hired by whom? The Americans. All of you living in our country are going to pay for the sins that it has committed.

They “blew up the rebels’ warehouse headquarters and killed the mortar crew… yet more Chinese-made mortar shells are still arriving.” See, they throw this Chinese thing in there to make you prejudiced. They don’t know whether they’re Chinese mortars, but this is how the press does it. It always has words to justify their destruction of the people they’re destroying. “At 7 a.m. troops with Belgian mercenary armor and the Congo Army’s ‘Diablos’ (Black Devils) paratroops roared into the gunpowder-keg native city of Belge. The troops spotted rebels preparing to open fire from a house”—now, pick up on this—“and smashed their way in, battering down doors and dragging out men, women and children.” Now, there weren’t rebels in the house, these were just black Congolese in the house. And to justify going in and dragging them out and murdering them on the spot, they’ve got to call them rebels.

This is the kind of operation that’s going on in the Congo, and you don’t hear these Negro leaders saying anything about it. I know you don’t like me to use the word Negro, but when I use it, that’s what I’m talking about, knee-grow leaders—because that’s what they are. These aren’t Afro-American leaders, these are Negro leaders. N-E-G-R, capital O.

“A Belgian colonel snatched the camera from Express photographer Reginald Lancaster and said: ‘You are both under house arrest and we will deport you on the next plane.’” Why didn’t they want pictures taken? They didn’t want pictures taken of what they were doing. “The column moved on and by noon 10,000 men, women and children were crushed neck to neck under a blazing sun and ringed by Congo Army troops armed with tommy guns. To protect them from the trigger-happy Congo Army there were white bandages around 10,000 heads. For this is a black and white city.” Think about this: “Anyone without the bandage is usually shot.” The bandage distinguishes those already screened or about to be given the treatment, and there are mounds of dead bodies everywhere to indicate those found wanting. Meaning, any Congolese without the bandage around his head was shot on sight, indiscriminately. And this is being written by a white reporter who is not pro-Congolese at all—he’s just telling the story as it actually is. Mass murder, wholesale murder of black people by the white people who are using some black mercenaries.

“I saw one mercenary… gun down four Congolese who burst out of the bush near the airport as I landed. They may or may not have been Simbas. All died. Yet men like Lieutenant John Peters from Wightman Road, Harringay, London, are capable of strong compassion. Today two starving dogs seized No. 7 Commandos’ pet Nigger, a little black kid goat.”

This white mercenary had a little black goat that he named “Nigger.” That’s what they do, anything black they name it nigger. They named you nigger, didn’t they? I see one coming right now. Here comes my nigger, Dick Gregory. Say, Dick, come on up here. We’re going to get Dick investigated. I heard Dick on the Les Crane Show the other night talking about niggers. Say, Dick, look what it says here, here’s my name, just look at it [holding up a copy of Gregory’s book, Nigger]. Come on, I’m going to get him investigated. Get him, brother, don’t let him get away. He’s going to lose all his jobs now. You won’t get another booking—you’ll have to work in Harlem the rest of your life.

Look what it says: “Today, two starving dogs seized No. 7 Commandos’ pet Nigger, a little black kid goat. When we got there, Nigger was dying and John Peters shot him. He turned away and covered his eyes.” Here’s a white mercenary that has been killing so many Congolese they had to stop him up; with no compassion at all, he shot them down. But as soon as his little black goat was bitten by some dogs, he cried. He had more feeling—this is a white man, an Englishman—had more feeling in his heart for a dead goat that was black than he had for all those stacks and stacks and stacks of Congolese who looked just like you and me and Dick Gregory.

So I say, brothers and sisters, it’s not a case of worrying about what’s going on in Africa before we get things straight over here. It’s a case of realizing that the Afro-American problem is not a Negro problem, or an American problem, but a human problem, a problem for humanity. When you realize that, when you look at your and my problem in the context of the entire world and see that it is a world problem, and that there are other people on this earth who look just like you do who also have the same problem, then you and I become allies and we can put forth our efforts in a way to get the best results.

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