American Experience
Reflections Reflections

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An Adventuresome ChildGrowing Up in LansingHead of the ClassA BraggadocioA MissionaryStreet WitHarlem DemonstrationReaching a Broad AudienceDriving Around HarlemA Synthesis of Roles

Sonia Sanchez
Reaching a Broad Audience

The reason why Malcolm was so effective was because the moment that he came into an audience, he told them exactly what he intended to do with them. What he said to an audience was that we are enslaved. And everyone looked at first and said, "Who? We are enslaved? We're free." And he began to tell us and explain to us in a very historical fashion just as to what our enslavement was about. The moment he did that, he always had some information for you, some new information. As a consequence, he drew an audience towards him. Malcolm knew how to curse you out in a sense and make you love him at the same time for doing it. He knew how to, in a very real sense, to open your eyes as to the kind of oppression that you were experiencing. On the one hand he would say something in a very harsh fashion. And then on the other hand he would kiss you and hug you. And he said, "I understand why you feel the way that you feel because you have the following." The joy of Malcolm is that he could have in an audience, college professors, school teachers, nurses, doctors, musicians, artists, poets, and sisters who were housewives, sisters who worked for people in their houses, brothers who were out of prison, brothers who were on drugs and were coming off drugs, brothers who were workers, brothers who were just hanging on the streets or were waiting outside the temples to get inside. The point is that I've never seen anyone appeal to such a broad audience. And the reason why he could do that is because he understood the bottom line is that if you tell people the truth, then it will appeal to everyone. If you tell them all about their oppression, in a fashion that they had never heard before, then they will gravitate towards you. So he could have an audience of people who were [unintelligible], like, "I'm in here to listen to you perhaps, but I really don't want to hear too much," and a sister sitting next to, [saying], "Yeah, you're right, man. Go on, tell it like it is." And all of a sudden you'll find yourself not saying, "Yes, tell it like it is." But you say, "Yeah man, you're right!" I mean you went back to roots, very fantastic roots, you see. And he cut through all the crap. In other words he said, "I know you've learned how to speak this English in the proper fashion. But you forget that." And you said, "Man, you're right." So yes, he cut through a lot of nonsense in this country. At the same time he informed us. And he made the broad mass of people respond to it. The joy of Malcolm is that he would get on a television and he would be sitting there with bright, bright people. This man with no Ph.D., this man with no M.A., this man with no B.A., and would listen in a very calm fashion to how people analyze the world be they black, or be they white, or whatever. And then he would come right around and speak in a very articulate fashion. And you see what he said out loud is what African American people had been saying out loud forever, behind closed doors. And he said, "I'm now going to say out loud for everyone to hear, what African American people have been thinking for years." And he did it. The reason why initially we cut off the televisions is that we were scared. What he did, he said, "I will now," in a very calm fashion, "wipe out fear for you." He expelled fear for African Americans. He says, "I will speak out loud what we've been thinking." And he said, "You'll see. People will hear it and they will not do anything to us necessarily. But I will now speak it for the masses of people." When he said it in a very strong fashion and this very manly fashion, in this fashion that says, "I am not afraid to say what you've been thinking all these years." That's why we loved him. He said it out loud. Not behind closed doors. He took on America for us. He assumed the responsibility of father, brother, lover, man, he became again Martin Delany's Blake, the first black revolutionary character in literature. He came out and he became the person that we wanted to see, the man that we needed to see in the North and in the South. He became the man that most African American women have wanted their men to be -- strong; saying,"I want to take you on, America. Here I is [sic]. Look at me. I'm going to say things that you've wanted people to say." That's why the men and women loved him. That's why we all loved him so very much. Because he made us feel holy. And he made us feel whole. He made us feel loved. And he made us feel that we were worth something finally on this planet Earth. Finally we had some worth.

Malcolm X: Make It Plain American Experience PBS