The voice that Malcolm uses in telling the story of his youth, on the other hand, shows that he has developed a more complex view of good and evil as an adult. His mention of “the entire spectrum of white people I had ever known” illustrates his more mature understanding of his early experiences. The word “spectrum” denotes a range of things, such as colors, that differ from each other in varying degrees. Malcolm’s use of this word shows that he has by now abandoned his earlier, simplistic view of the world. He no longer thinks of people as strictly white, and thus bad, or strictly black, and thus good. He has recognized that within the category of “white” there is a whole spectrum of individual human personalities to judge. He is able to see that some white people may be bad, while others may be good, just as some black people may be good, while others may be bad. In choosing the word “spectrum,” the older and wiser Malcolm conveys his understanding that his early attitudes toward race were not consistent with his early life experience.
The anti–white prejudice that Malcolm adopts upon converting to the Nation of Islam differed from much twentieth-century American prejudice. Unlike prejudices against various ethnic, racial, or political minorities, anti–white prejudice was not the social norm. Since the end of slavery, whites had accused blacks of taking their jobs, corrupting their schools, and degrading their neighborhoods. Whites’ fear of blacks was a major factor in the creation of racist laws and segregation. Similarly, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, many Americans became very suspicious of people of Japanese descent and confined them to internment camps. Finally, in the 1950s, widespread paranoia about suspected communists produced a rash of trials and executions known as McCarthyism. However, Elijah Muhammad’s rhetoric of “blue-eyed devils” and “original people” is different from prejudice against blacks, Japanese, and suspected communists. The Nation of Islam was the movement of a separatist minority with a very small following. In contrast, racism against blacks, anti-Japanese hysteria, and McCarthyism were mainstream movements attracting millions of Americans and encompassing many institutions, both private and public.