Malcolm X Stood Up for Black Women When Few Others Would
How he showed up for Black women is an essential part of who he was as a civil rights leader
“The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”—Malcolm X
On May 22, 1962, Malcolm X delivered a speech in Los Angeles, California, in which he spoke to and about Black women. There, he gave one of his most-quoted statements about his observation of what it means to be a Black woman in America. During this speech, he spoke to the negative ways in which Black women are treated, and he called on us, Black women, to think deeply about the harmful internalization of society’s loathing of who we are, particularly when it comes to our natural appearance. “Who taught you to hate the color of your skin? Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips? Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the soles of your feet?” Malcolm asked his audience. This remains not only a collection of potent quotables but also a testament to his commitment to the upliftment and empowerment of Black women.
I discovered the teachings of Malcolm in my youth. My mother introduced me to The Autobiography of Malcolm X as Told to Alex Haley before any school did. In high school, I was able to take a class called “Malcolm and Martin,” during which we delved deep into the lives and work of both Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was in that class where I began to understand not only how similar the two men were, despite years of rhetoric pitting them against each other, but also how Malcolm came to be the leader he was with the views he held. I also learned a lot about Malcolm’s engagement with women’s issues and how his marriage to Dr. Betty Shabazz and his respect for her as a woman and their partnership guided him in his pro-women stances and actions.
Outside of the words quoted above, I don’t think we talk enough about how Malcolm X showed up for Black women and why that’s an…