Embracing African Roots

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[Memorable Essays]


Why should the Black man in America concern himself, since we’ve been away from the African continent for 400 years, for 300 – 400 years, why should we concern ourselves?

What impact does what happen to them have upon us?

Number one; first you have to realize that up until 1959, Africa was dominated by the colonial powers. And by the colonial powers of Europe having complete control over Africa, they projected the image of Africa negatively. They projected Africa always in a negative light; jungles, savages, cannibals--nothing civilized.

And why then naturally it was so negative, it was negative to you and me. And you and I began to hate it.  We didn’t want anybody to tell us anything about Africa much less calling us an African.  And in hating Africa, and in hating the African, we ended up even hating ourselves, without even realizing it.

Because you can’t hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree.  You can’t hate your origin and not end up hating yourself.  You can’t hate Africa and not hate yourself.  And you show me one of these people over here who has been thoroughly brainwashed, who has a negative attitude towards Africa and I will show you one that has a negative attitude towards himself.

You can’t have a positive attitude towards yourself and a negative attitude towards Africa at the same time. To the same degree that your attitude, that your understanding of and attitude toward Africa becomes positive, you’ll find that your understanding of and your attitude towards yourself becomes positive.

And this is what the white man knows.  So they very skillfully made you and me hate our African identity, our African characteristics. You know yourself.  And we have been a people that hated our African characteristics. We hated our hair; we hated the shape of our nose.  We wanted one of those long dog-like noses. We hated the color of our skin.

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

It made us feel  inferior,  it made us feel inadequate,   it made us feel  helpless,  and when we fell  victim 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, but play some horn and some sound and make you happy with some songs.

But in serious things, where our food, clothing, and our shelter was concerned, and our education was concerned, we turned to the man. We never thought in terms of bringing these things in existence for ourselves.  We never thought in terms of doing things for ourselves.  Because we felt helpless.

And what made us helpless was our hatred for ourselves.  One of the things that made the Black Muslim Movement grow was its emphasis upon things African; this was the secret to the growth of the Black Muslim Movement.

African blood, African origin, African cultures, African ties; and you’d be surprised. We discovered that deep within the subconscious of the Black man in this country, he’s still more African then he’s American.

He thinks that he’s more American than he’s African because the man is jiving him; the main is brainwashing him everyday, telling him ‘you’re an American, you’re an American.’  Man how can you think that you’re an American when you have never had an American tree here? You have never, never…

Ten men are sitting at a table eating; you know dining and I can come and sit down where they’re dining. They are dining. I’ve got a plate in front of me but nothing is on it. Because all of us are sitting at the same table are all of us diners?

I’m not a diner until you let me dine. Then I become a diner.  Just being on the table with others who are dining doesn’t make me a diner.  And that’s why you got to get in your head here in this country. Just because you’re in this country doesn’t make you an American.  No; you got to go further than that.

Before you can become an American, you’ve got to enjoy the fruits of Americanism and you haven’t   enjoyed those fruits. You’ve enjoyed the thorns; you have enjoyed the thistles; but you have not enjoyed the fruits.  No sir.


So I point these things out brothers and sisters so that you and I will know the importance, in 1965, of being in complete unity with each other,  in harmony with each other,  and  not letting the man maneuver us into  fighting one another.  

I say again that I’m not a racist. I don’t believe in any form of segregation or anything like that.  I’m for the brotherhood of everybody. But I don’t believe in forcing brotherhood upon people who don’t want it. So long as we practice brotherhood among ourselves and then others want to practice brotherhood with us, we’ll practice it with them also; we’ll work for that.

Bu t I don’t think we should run around trying to love somebody who doesn’t love us.


A 1965 speech, “You Can’t Hate The Roots,”  by Malcolm X

To hear the speech http://youtube.com/watch?v=Gb-tjIUu0i4

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