Malcolm X’s “Little Blonde Co-ed”

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malcolmx_coedIn his movie Malcolm X, Spike Lee depicts–but sadly undermines–an incident that significantly impacted the slain former leader of the Nation of Islam. In the 30-second scene pictured above, Malcolm X (Denzel Washington) is approaching a building with three of his associates when a young white woman momentarily blocks his path and asks what she, as a white person, can do to help his cause. Malcolm tersely answers with one word — “Nothing” — and passes her by.

It is unfortunate that Spike Lee didn’t, or couldn’t, represent the full impact the incident that inspired this scene had on Malcolm X. Let’s take a look at how deeply affected he was in real life by the white college student he rebuffed when she sought his advice.

Several times in his autobiography, Malcolm X brings up the encounter he had with “one little blonde co-ed” who briefly stepped into his life not long after hearing him speak at her New England college. “I’d never seen anyone I ever spoke before more affected than this little white girl,” he wrote. So greatly did this speech affect the young woman that she actually flew to New York and tracked Malcolm down inside a Muslim restaurant he frequented in Harlem. “Her clothes, her carriage, her accent,” he wrote, “all showed Deep South breeding and money.” After introducing herself, she confronted Malcolm and his associates with this question: “Don’t you believe there are any good white people?” He said to her: “People’s deeds I believe in, Miss, not their words.”

She then exclaimed: “What can I do?” Malcolm said: “Nothing.” A moment later she burst into tears, ran out to Lenox Avenue, and disappeared by taxi into the world.

Then a young firebrand, Malcolm X railed against all white people, including “white liberals” who sought to integrate themselves in the struggles of black people. Add white cream to black coffee, he analogized, and you weaken it. But as he grew older, and especially after his life-transforming trip to Mecca, Malcolm abandoned such separatist views. In a later chapter, he wrote: “I regret that I told her she could do ‘nothing.’ I wish now that I knew her name, or where I could telephone her, and tell her what I tell white people now when they present themselves as being sincere, and ask me, one way or another, the same thing that she asked.”

Alex Haley, in the autobiography’s epilogue (Malcolm X had since been assassinated), recounted a statement Malcolm made to Gordon Parks that revealed how affected he was by his encounter with the blond coed: “Well, I’ve lived to regret that incident. In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping black people. Something like this kills a lot of argument. . . . I guess a man’s entitled to make a fool of himself if he’s ready to pay the cost. It cost me twelve years.”

Malcolm X realized, too late, that there was plenty this “little blonde coed” could have done, that his response to her was inconsistent with what he, his associates, and his followers wanted to accomplish. Unfortunately, the three-hour movie fails to reveal the full impact of this incident on his political views and moral conscience. Indeed, that young white lady from the Deep South certainly made quite an impression on Malcolm X.

The clip from the movie can be watched here:

This blog post was originally published as an e-article at kevincassell.com in 2002.

 

8 Comments

  1. The movie also brought attention to Malcolm’s infidelity and adulterous affair during his life changing sabbatical to Mecca. If you recall they inquired what action to take regarding his baby by a white woman. What a hellava way to change your racist opinion. It just so happens, or not, that woman was a Jewish whore named Stanley Ann Dunham a Draconian Rothschild by blood and the mother of very fairy Barry SoreToero aka Barack Obama.
    That’s right the 44th CEO of the USA Llc is the Illegitimate son of Malcolm X.

  2. This very incident (in the book, NOT the movie) helped shaped in my mind exactly why I’m NOT racist. Malcolm X is one of my heroes not because of what he said to this girl but because of how he admitted in his book how much he regretted what he said to her. Showed me early on how much of a man it takes to admit when one is wrong. This is also why I both do not respect or like Spike Lee as he obviously & knowingly omitted this fact from his movie fully aware of the ramifications.

    • This is an unfair assessment of Spike Lee. The movie, in this stage, depicts Malcolm X being fully entrenched in rhetoric of the nation of Islam. Malcolm is portrayed as speaking the Nation’s mind and not his own. It’s only after the dramatic twist of betrayal that Malcolm becomes fully aware of the diverse nature of Islam. In terms of film narrative (which is, in fact, fictionalization for narrative purposes), this omission creates a much more powerful impact later on in the film when Malcolm revises his ethos.

  3. Frankly, who cares if she burst into tears or her little feelings were hurt. Black women have been denied, denied, denied with no sympathy. Now, we are too sympathetic to how white people feel about or react to black self love. Malcolm X was correct, however, saying that we will never be completely separate and the conversation will have to continue on all sides but we don’t need is white people teaching black people black nationalism and how to deal with issues blacks face in America. If white people really want to help talk to each other!

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