Malcolm X: Speech to SNCC Civil Rights Workers (January 1, 1965)

“One of the first things I think young people, especially nowadays, should learn how to do is see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself. Then you can come to an intelligent decision for yourself. But if you form the habit of going by what you hear others say about someone, or going by what others think about someone, instead of going and searching that thing out for yourself and seeing for yourself, you’ll be walking west when you think you’re going east, and you’ll be walking east when you think you’re going west. So this generation, especially of our people, have a burden upon themselves, more so than at any other time in history. The most important thing we can learn how to do today is think for ourselves.

It’s good to keep wide-open ears and listen to what everybody else has to say, but when you come to make a decision, you have to weigh all of what you’ve heard on its own, and place it where it belongs, and then come to a decision for yourself. You’ll never regret it. But if you form the habit of taking what someone else says about a thing without checking it out for yourself, you’ll find that other people will have you hating your own friends and loving your enemies. This is one of the things that our people are beginning to learn today—that it is very important to think out a situation for yourself. If you don’t do it, then you’ll always be maneuvered into actually—You’ll never fight your enemies, but you will find yourself fighting your own self.

I think our people in this country are the best examples of that. Because many of us want to be nonviolent. We talk very loudly, you know, about being nonviolent. Here in Harlem, where there are probably more black people concentrated than any place else in the world, some talk that nonviolent talk too. And when they stop talking about how nonviolent they are, we find that they aren’t nonviolent with each other. At Harlem Hospital, you can go out here on Friday night and find black people who claim they’re nonviolent. But you see them going in there all cut up and shot up and busted up where they got violent with each other.

So my experience has been that in many instances where you find Negroes always talking about being nonviolent, they’re not nonviolent with each other, and they’re not loving with each other, or patient with each other, or forgiving with each other. Usually, when they say they’re nonviolent, they mean they’re nonviolent with somebody else. I think you understand what I mean. They are nonviolent with the enemy. A person can come to your home, and if he’s white and he wants to heap some kind of brutality upon you, you’re nonviolent. Or he can come put a rope around your neck, you’re nonviolent. Or he can come to take your father out and put a rope around his neck, you’re nonviolent. But now if another Negro just stomps his foot, you’ll rumble with him in a minute. Which shows you there’s an inconsistency there.

So I myself would go for nonviolence if it was consistent, if it was intelligent, if everybody was going to be nonviolent, and if we were going to be nonviolent all the time. I’d say, okay, let’s get with it, we’ll all be nonviolent. But I don’t go along—and I’m just telling you how I think—I don’t go along with any kind of nonviolence unless everybody’s going to be nonviolent. If they make the Ku Klux Klan nonviolent, I’ll be nonviolent. If they make the White Citizens’ Council nonviolent, I’ll be nonviolent. But as long as you’ve got somebody else not being nonviolent, I don’t want anybody coming to me talking any kind of nonviolent talk. I don’t think it is fair to tell our people to be nonviolent unless someone is out there making the Klan and the Citizens’ Council and these other groups also be nonviolent.

Now I’m not criticizing those here who are nonviolent. I think everybody should do it the way they feel is best, and I congratulate anybody who can be nonviolent in the face of all that kind of action that I read about in that part of the world. But I don’t think that in 1965 you will find the upcoming generation of our people, especially those who have been doing some thinking, who will go along with any form of nonviolence unless nonviolence is going to be practiced all the way around.”

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