The changes in Malcolm’s philosophies about race connect directly to his changing understanding of racism. Throughout his youth Malcolm sees himself primarily as a victim of unfair discrimination: white society murders his father, divides his family, treats him as inferior, and discourages him from success. He interprets this racism as a direct attack on him personally rather than as an attack on his race. As Malcolm develops his understanding of race relations in prison, however, he interprets his early experience of racism in the context of American history and society. He begins to see black people in general, rather than just himself, as victims of racism. Malcolm now understands that the lifestyles and goals of his peers in Roxbury Hill and Harlem and the jobs and schools available to them are heavily influenced by his peers’ inhabiting the slums of a white city. With this realization, Malcolm comes to view racism not as a personal attack on an individual but as a blind attack on blackness in general. This changing attitude toward racism influences his later espousal of anti–white rhetoric and militant black separatism.

Malcolm’s conversion to Islam allows him to interpret his years of crime as an experience that, while negative, is necessary for personal growth. After Malcolm converts to Islam, he views these years as a descent to the bottom of white society that prepares him to accept the religion’s cleansing message. The cleansing message of the religion has a powerful impact on him because he has led such a sinful life. Though Malcolm admits the destructive nature of his wild youth and condemns the activities in which he engaged, he is nonetheless unashamed of having been a ruthless, violent criminal. He believes that the will of Allah has brought him to the righteous path by first putting him through suffering and sin. Islam simultaneously humbles and affirms Malcolm; as by showing him the error of his ways it also shows him the path to redemption.