Civil Rights Activist, Minister (1925–1965)World Telegraph Staff Photographer Via Wikimedia [public domain] In the essay, “Where I Find My Heroes,” Oliver Stone argues the importance of having heroes that can battle the prevalent corruption in our society: “We should allow for the heroic impulse—which is to be greater than oneself, to try to find another version of oneself, to grow. That’s where virtue comes from. And we must allow our young generation to strive for virtue, instead of ridiculing it” (Stone). Through this, Stone accentuates how acts of heroism are crucial to battling the immorality plaguing humanity. Those who have “heroic impulses” display virtue, and only when the people in society change to become more virtuous can corruption be eliminated. More often than not, people tend to associate the word, “hero,” with images of Superman, Batman, or any other popular Marvel or DC protagonists who annihilate all rivals threatening the safety of the people. However, one does not have to come from another planet or own a multibillion dollar bank account to be heroic; one only needs to portray heroism by acting out of selflessness to improve the lives of others, thus leaving a crucial and positive impact on society. Those who display the qualities of a hero not only overcome any obstacles preventing them from achieving their purpose, but also commit themselves to causes they believe will benefit society.
Malcolm XHerman Hiller via Wikimedia [public domain] In a time when African Americans were constantly discriminated against, there was one individual who displayed these heroic qualities in the face of adversity—Malcolm X. When he was only six, a group of white supremacists took his father’s life, and upon turning twelve, a group of white social workers took his mother’s sanity. As a result, Malcolm quickly turned to a life of crime and hustling, only wishing to survive in a dark world of rampant oppression. Years later, when he was incarcerated and released from prison, Malcolm found his light in the Nation of Islam—a religious African American organization founded by Elijah Muhammad—where he became an authoritative minister, only wishing to uplift African Americans through his Islamic preachings. However, his preachings quickly made him an extremely controversial figure within society. As others soon began firing bullets of hatred at him, his heart shattered to pieces, but he reassembled the broken shards and found meaning in them; for him, every crack represented another reason for him to fight to regain the respect and compassion that white Americans stole from his race long ago. As a “Black Muslim,” Malcolm believed and preached that all white people were devils, but after jealous leaders in the Nation ostracized him for his growing popularity, Malcolm began doubting the integrity of his religion. As a result, Malcolm’s defection from the Nation left him undeterred from seeking the truth of real Islam by traveling to the holy city of Mecca, where he participated in the Hajj: a pilgrimage all true Islamic practitioners are obliged to make at least once in their lifetime. There, he saw people of all colors treat him with love and compassion, and he realized that there were white individuals who felt just as sincere as he was in trying to end racial oppression. Upon returning to America, he worked harder than ever to instill pride within African Americans, while working alongside sincere white Americans to end discrimination once and for all. Although a group of Black Muslims murdered Malcolm before he could finish what he started, he remains a galvanizing figure in American history not only because he overcame all obstacles impeding his path, but also because he fervently committed himself to improving the rampant persecution he saw in society.
When Malcolm overcomes the destruction of his family as a child, and his expulsion from the Nation of Islam as an adult, he proves his ability to rise in the face of adversity. As a child, Malcolm portrays his resilience when he withstands several hardships no six year old should ever be subjected to:
In 1931 Earl Little was found on some streetcar tracks with his skull crushed and his body nearly severed in half […] Left emotionally unstable by the years of turmoil and tragedy she had endured, Louise Little was committed to a state mental hospital in 1937. Little and his seven siblings were then divided among various foster homes and state institutions. Despite his unsettled family life, Little was an excellent student and class leader with dreams of becoming a lawyer. (Gale)
The author uses “turmoil” and “tragedy” because they are words with an exceptionally heavy negative connotation; these words are often used to describe events that are excruciatingly turbulent and distressful. As a result, the burden of “years of turmoil and tragedy” Malcolm shares with his mother since his father’s death insinuates the extreme pain and misery he faces as a child. Through this, Malcolm displays his perseverance, for despite losing his father at the age of six, seeing his mother’s mental health slowly deteriorate before his eyes, and being torn apart from the rest of his family, he still strives in achieving academically in both school and extracurricular activities. Because of this, Malcolm proves that even as a child he could overcome gruelling hardships. Furthermore, as an adult, Malcolm demonstrates his ability to overcome adversity when leaders from the Nation of Islam become jealous of his growing popularity, and ostracize him from the Nation:
MLK and Malcolm XMarion S. Trikosko World Report Magazine Via Wikimedia [public domain]Muhammad suspended his protégé and forbid him from speaking on behalf of the Nation of Islam for ninety days. The estrangement became permanent in March, 1964, when Malcolm X announced that he was quitting the Nation of Islam to form two new groups of his own, the Harlem-based Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the multinational Organization of Afro-American Unity. (Gale)
Often times, those who are punished are suspended from doing the things they love. Because Muhammad suspends Malcolm from the Nation of Islam, this demonstrates how Malcolm is wholly inhibited from preaching—a responsibility Malcolm loved and dedicated twelve years of his life into practicing. Despite this, when Malcolm announces his decision of “quitting the Nation of Islam,” he perceives the corruption in the organization, and courageously defects from it despite his strong attachment to it. Through this, Malcolm portrays his ability to rise and overcome adversity, for even though he was prohibited from speaking on behalf of the Nation of Islam ever again, he overcame the limitations the Nation shackled on him by founding his own organizations, so he could continue spreading his beliefs and advocating for African American unity. Thus, even under the grief of being torn apart from his family and the pressure of being excluded from the Nation, Malcolm proves his ability to overcome all obstacles hurled his way.
Malcolm XLaurence Henry Via Wikimedia [public domain] Furthermore, Malcolm portrays his complete dedication to improving society through his resolve in using violence and endangering his own life for the sake of eliminating racial prejudice. Upon his return to America from the Hajj, Malcolm receives accusations from white reporters dubbing him as a “violent demagogue.” As a result, Malcolm demonstrates his strong dedication to eliminating racial oppression when he declares, “I am for violence if non-violence means we continue postponing a solution to the American black man's problem—just to avoid violence.[...]If it must take violence to get the black man his human rights in this country, I'm for violence exactly as you know the Irish, the Poles, or Jews would be if they were flagrantly discriminated against. I am just as they would be in that case” (Haley 224). By declaring, “I am for violence if non-violence means we continue postponing a solution,” Malcolm manifests his desire of using any means necessary to immediately address the unbridled persecution in America, rather than idly waiting for a solution to eventually arrive by peaceful means. Additionally, by stating, “I’m for violence exactly as you know the Irish, the Poles, or Jews would be,” he further emphasizes how pivotal using violence is in order to swiftly end persecution, for any other race would have also resorted to using force if they were as “flagrantly discriminated against” as African Americans. Malcolm’s desire to use any means necessary—including violence—to end racial prejudice display his dedication to his cause, allowing him to do whatever he believes best improves society. Malcolm’s strong commitment is further shown through his resolve to battle against discrimination, rather than passively waiting for change to come about non-violently. Additionally, although Malcolm understands how his beliefs and actions put his life in peril, he remains indifferent to the dangers he faces: “It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That's the only thing that can save this country” (Haley 394). A martyr is someone who faces persecution and death for advocating and refusing to renounce his or her beliefs. In history, brave martyrs sacrifice their lives for the causes they believe in. The sacrifices these martyrs make are crucial in inspiring many others to courageously advocate for their beliefs, and stand up against injustices in society. Similarly, when Malcolm refers to himself as a martyr, his willingness to sacrifice himself “for the cause of brotherhood” shows his determination to ensure people of all colors in America coexist in peaceful harmony. Because Malcolm conveys how he would readily risk his life in order to empower others to fight against persecution no matter the consequences, he displays his extreme dedication to his cause. As a result, Malcolm’s willingness to use violence for the sake of eliminating persecution, and his selfless decision to sacrifice his life for the sake of brotherhood prove his utter devotion to the causes he believes in.
Malcolm conquers all hardships impeding his path and passionately commits himself to improving flaws he sees within society; as a result, these traits make him a galvanizing figure worthy of reverence and admiration. When Malcolm overcomes his lack of a cohesive family by excelling in school, and creates his own organizations after his expulsion from the Nation of Islam, he encourages others to overcome debilitating hardships by moving forward. When Malcolm manifests his strong resolve to using any means necessary—including risking his life—to ensure African Americans receive the basic rights they deserve, he inspires others to dedicate themselves to causes they believe will have a lasting, positive impact on society. Malcolm influences others because he takes action when he sees any corruption in society, and does everything he can to fix it regardless of the danger it puts him in: “From the very beginning, from slavery to Jim Crow, that sense of catastrophe, of urgency, of needing to get it out, to cry out, to shout, somehow allowed that fire inside of his [Malcolm’s] bones to be pressed with power and with vision. He never lost that” (West). By exclaiming, “that sense of catastrophe, of urgency, of needing to get it out, to cry out, to shout,” West compares Malcolm’s actions to what someone would do in an accident. In an accident, you shout for help and fix the situation. Similarly, Malcolm realizes the persistent problem of prejudice African Americans constantly face, but rather than ignoring it, he understands the urgency to “cry out” and take any measures he can to get this problem fixed. As a result, he ignites a fire “with power and with vision” in himself that makes him passionately advocate for his dream of making America a place where African Americans are treated as fellow brothers alongside white people. Malcolm inspires others to take action and attack unjust issues plaguing society, rather than succumbing to these phantoms and allowing them to continue haunting people’s lives. As a shy and timid person, whenever I see others act inappropriately, I turn a blind eye and move on. Malcolm made me realize that by doing so, these injustices would never end, and my cowardice instead encourages others to believe the unacceptable actions they do are still tolerable. Malcolm’s valor and dedication in doing anything that would end the rampant oppression in society makes me realize I also have to take action if I want to make any difference in changing society for the better. Malcolm portrays what it means to be virtuous by fighting against the corruption in society, and sacrificing his life to a cause greater than himself. Every time his heart shatters to pieces by the injustices he sees, he shows what it means to be heroic: He picks up the shards, and uses them to stab back at the hatred and oppression. Malcolm inspires younger generations to be as virtuous as he was, and only when the people in society become more virtuous can hatred and persecution truly be eradicated.
"Malcolm X." Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, vol. 2, Gale, 1992. Biography in Context, https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/K1607000173/BIC1?u=powa9245&xid=8b608b34. Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.
Stone, Oliver. "Where I Find My Heroes." McCall's, Nov. 1992.
West, Cornel. "Why Malcolm X Still Speaks Truth to Power." Smithsonian Magazine, Feb. 2015.
X, Malcolm, and Alex Haley. The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley. Grove Press, 1965.