Internalized Racism in Malcom X

In the beginning scenes we open to a young Malcom X in a barber shop wanting to get his hair straightened. He is warned about how much the product burns, but he doesn’t seem to care as long as can get his hair straightened. This scene establishes a lot of the background to who Malcom X was before it was that he transformed into the popular civil rights activist. He was someone that desired to shape his image to conform to the White Gaze, and he was willing to do so at any cost. While he sat in the chair as the product was applied, he felt the burn of the product as he had to be held down and could no longer bear it and he jumped to rinse it out. This became a ritual of sorts as he made this concoction and straightened his out himself. At the time, he seemed seldom aware that he was straightening his hair to abide to this standard of beauty set by White men, one made him internalize the notion that he was not handsome by such standards. The racism that he internalized was damaging on so many levels, that when he got to prison, he needed to deconstruct these ideas of “white” vs “black” and how he grew to define it in his life. Upon embracing Islam, he then switched his mindset from looking to God for answers, towards looking at oneself. This approach helped Malcom X spread his message of individuality during the civil rights movement, and it helped him look toward himself for his own salvation. The switch that we see in Malcom X began with something as simple as his hair, as he began to realize the beauty in his individual black identity, and it became part of the message that he strove to share as he tried to deconstruct these internalized notions that he himself surrendered to at one point.

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