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Malcolm & Tokenism

Episode Summary

“Then, in the second semester of 7th grade, I was elected class president. It surprised me even more than other people, but I can see now why the class might have done it. My grades were among the highest in my school. I was unique in my class, like a pink poodle, and I was proud. I’m not going to say I wasn’t. In fact, then, I did not have much feeling about being a Negro because I was trying so hard, in every way I could, to be white. Which is why I am spending my life today, the American Black man that he is wasting his time straining to integrate. I know of personal experience; I tried hard enough.”

Taelor begins the discussion by explaining why Malcolm X was a separatist at the time of this quote. Taelor says, “Separatism is not about hate or superiority; it’s about maintaining an identity. How do we enforce values and a sense of belonging among our people?” Malcolm X was not advocating against integration out of a position of hatred but because he understood he would never be white. Integration would never succeed because Malcolm, and Black people in general, would always be Black.

Phillip talks about how people judged you by the way you spoke. Phillip talks about this idea regarding his assimilation to white culture during his sophomore year of college. He had a cousin who did not assimilate to the majority culture. She was told by a professor that she was not smart enough to stay in the biology department because of that. His cousin when on to get her doctorate in veterinary medicine, so, obviously, she was smart enough. Still, her failure to change how she speaks affects how she is perceived. 

Taelor and Phillip also discuss how, for a time, Malcolm X believed he could be white or at least treated as equal to whites. He tried his hardest to not be Black but to just be Malcolm X. However, Malcolm X had a teacher who told him that he could never be a lawyer because he was a Negro.

This story illustrates the futility of assimilation. To go through the process of assimilation to be like the majority culture makes you different from that majority culture. Or, as Taelor puts it, trying to achieve whiteness keeps you from whiteness. Because white people, or a majority culture group, do not have to try to be white or the majority. They simply are. And the act of striving to be white or like the majority group only exacerbates your difference from them.

Phillip then moves into a discussion of what assimilation actually is. Phillip lands on assimilation being a value system. It is not how you speak or act, but rather the issues you choose to care about or value. The value system of white America is not the same as that of Black America. While either side may do some things better than the other, they have unique failures that come back to the things they choose to value.

Malcolm X understood that to try to become white would mean compromising something about himself. But he refused the invitation to be accepted by white society because he did not wish to compromise. Taelor points out that this refusal is a neutral act but is often viewed as hostile. Because creating that distinction, that you are not striving to be white but to be yourself, can challenge relationships.

Malcolm understood this because he saw clearly that being class president meant nothing. His class presidency was a facade of progress. It was progress that did not change how his teachers viewed him. It was an achievement that did not gain him any new standing among his peers. It was a token like giving people Juneteenth as a holiday while Black bodies are still viewed as other in American society.

Taelor and Phillip talk about President Obama’s example to help demonstrate the limits of assimilation. President Obama clearly excelled in every way required of him to become president. But if you look at both of his predecessors, Trump and Biden, you see two men who did not have to strive as hard to achieve the same thing President Obama did. What President Obama had to work and strive for, Donald Trump was able to fumble into – a perfect example of white privilege.

Ultimately, Malcolm X comes to a place where he learned to love what it meant to be Black. This helps move Malcolm X to a place of being able to integrate and partner with white Americans. However, he still refuses to compromise who he is.

Discussion Questions

  1. How is Malcolm X being voted class president an example of fake progress?
  2. Why does refusing to assimilate feel like a hostile act? 
  3. What is the difference between equality and equity? How is this similar to Malcolm X’s realization that he would never be white?
  4. Why do you think Malcolm coming to love who he was as a Black man allowed him to be comfortable with integrating and partnering with white Americans?


Phillip Holmes: Welcome to Make it Plain, the show where two Christians offer reflections on the words and life of Malcolm X. I’m Phillip Holmes.


Taelor Gray: And I’m Taelor Gray. We are your hosts. 


Holmes: Visit our website and make sure you download a copy of the Make it Plain Season One Discussion Guide. We’re going to be talking about that every single week.




Holmes: Also, if you have not rated us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts—if they’ve got a rating system, make sure you rate Make it Plain. Five stars preferably, but be honest. Rate your conscience (laughs). Our goal is to have three hundred total ratings on Apple Podcasts, and one hundred ratings on Spotify. So, Taelor, are you ready to talk about this quote?


Gray: I sure am, man. This is a good one.




“Then in the second semester of the second grade, I was elected class president. It surprised me even more than other people. But I can see now why the class might have done it. My grades were among the highest in the school. I was unique in my class, like a pink poodle. And I was proud. I’m not going to say I wasn’t. In fact, by then, I didn’t really have much feeling about being a Negro. Because I was trying so hard, in every way I could, to be white. Which is why I am spending much of my life today telling the American black man that he’s wasting his time straining to integrate. I know from personal experience. I tried hard enough.”


Gray: Obviously the way he ends that particular quote may get a lot of attention in terms of what may sound like separatist rhetoric.


Holmes: Right.


Gray: The whole idea of avoiding integration, establishing your own community, and…the thing about it is…even to address how people may feel about that notion…is it’s not all about hate. It’s not all about even superiority. It more so is about this idea of how do we preserve an identity? How do we reinforce values and a sense of belonging amongst our people distinct from the broader white America experience?


Holmes: Mmhmm.


Gray: And this is obviously written in a time where Malcolm’s philosophy was more directly tied to being separatist.


Holmes: Right.


Gray: But if we’re going to say that, we have to actually uncover the reasons why he would say something like that. And I think this quote gives us at least a peek into why he would land there. So, I mean, as you read this and he’s detailing his experience—clearly he’s the only black kid in school—do you relate to any of this?


Holmes: It’s interesting. A lot of people assume that I come from the suburbs.


Gray: Hmm. Mmhmm.


Holmes: I grew up in a small Mississippi town. Mississippi is interesting because you can tell black people who grew up in integrated schools…


Gray: Mmhmm.


Holmes: …and black people who didn’t. My school was all black, and you could tell by the way that we talked. It was the way we annunciated our words. There was no twang. I have cousins, right, who grew up in Rankin County, and they grew up in an integrated school. And they all talk with a twang.


Gray: Yep


Holmes: And it’s very interesting to see those dynamics. But for me, even now when you hear me talk, you don’t hear a twang when I talk. 


Gray: Yeah.


Holmes: The school I grew up in was all black, small, one of the poorest counties in the United States. Probably the second, maybe third poorest county in Mississippi. And Mississippi is the poorest state in the country.


Gray: Oh wow. I didn’t know that. Okay. 


Holmes: Yeah. Yeah (laughs).


Gray: All right.


Holmes: So, I get a scholarship to play basketball at a small liberal arts college—Bellhaven tends to pull people from all over the United States.


Gray: Okay.


Holmes: Rarely will you meet somebody who goes to Bellhaven who’s actually from Jackson. 


I had very little experience around white people, although my father—when he remarried—he married a white lady. And so, we would spend our summers in Wichita, and if you’ve been to Wichita, you know there aren’t a lot of black people in Wichita. So, I get to Bellhaven, and I’m learning a whole lot about cultural norms, and I remember I wore a long tee—do you remember when we were wearing long tees?


Gray: Of course, bro. Tall tees.


Holmes: Yeah, tall tees.


Gray: Yeah. Yeah.


Holmes: There you go. Tall tees. Because this was when I had just found out about 116. Right? This is 2006, 2007—that time.


Gray: Oh. Okay.


Holmes: So, this is when Lecrae and all those guys are slowly coming on the scene. I think I bought After the Music Stops second semester of my freshman year. And then I went through some trials and tribulations my freshman year. And I felt like I needed to reinvent myself.


Gray: Mmhmm. Mmhmm.


Holmes: So, there was this period where, you know, with Malcolm, I probably wouldn’t have said out loud I was trying to be white, but my actions were all of those things. But for the most part, I was trying to fit in more with the majority of the people that I had been kind of hanging around and socializing with. And this probably happened the second semester of my sophomore year, when I started going through this transition.


Gray: So, let me ask this. You’re in detail, essentially describing the process of assimilation.


Holmes: Yeah. Oh, that’s exactly what was happening.


Gray: And you’re assimilating into a dominant culture, but more so it’s about a culture of acceptance—a standard that has been either implicitly or explicitly presented to you as the best way to conduct yourself, to talk, et cetera.


Holmes: Right. Here’s the thing. I picked up on some things very early. I noticed that people didn’t judge you by how smart you were—


Gray: Mmhmm.


Holmes: —in the classroom. They judged you by the way that you spoke.


Gray: Hmm.


Holmes: Case in point: I have a cousin who came to Bellhaven a year after I did. We both played basketball. But she was like…she may have been valedictorian of her class. This particular cousin—she came and she never assimilated. She never changed the way that she talked. She wasn’t nearly as social, and she was a black woman. So, the experience is different.


Gray: Mmhmm.


Holmes: And one of the professors told her that she wasn’t smart enough, and tried to get her to change her degree from biology.


Gray: That’s crazy.


Holmes: And she was like, what? 


Gray: Crazy.


Holmes: So, what she ended up doing—she ended up transferring to Jackson State, graduated with honors, got accepted into the veterinarian program at Mississippi State, and now she has a doctorate and she’s a veterinarian. 


But when you have a conversation with her, people on the outside probably would judge her by the way that she speaks. 


Gray: And that’s—


Holmes: But she’s brilliant.


Gray: But that’s—again—we’re not talking…there’s a cultural standard—a set of cultural standards that we didn’t have anything to do with. It doesn’t even have anything to do with meritocracy necessarily. Like, what you can accomplish…achieve…grades…


Malcolm is saying he was surprised that he was elected class president.


Holmes: Mmhmm.


Gray: So, there was something implicit that he had already accepted.


Holmes: Malcolm understood the game. What makes Malcolm so unique, and made him so revolutionary, was that he had this keen insight, but also this boldness, and probably a little audacity, too. 


Gray: A lot of audacity.


Holmes: And he didn’t…he understood the white culture, and he understood the intricacies of white culture. He understood them—and obviously better than they understood themselves because he tried to be one of them.


Gray: Mmhmm.


Holmes: And he was successful at it. 


Gray: Mmhmm.


Holmes: But he also knew and recognized that they would never accept him as one of them.


Gray: But bro, that’s intrinsic in the black experience in this country. You have to learn how to assimilate on some level in order to participate in society.


Holmes: Yeah.


Gray: And there are levels to that, obviously, as far as what you can achieve and how visible you can become. I mentioned the presidents before. And we’ve talked about President Obama. This, in a lot of peoples’ view, is the ultimate assimilationist. Like, he talked in a respectable way…


Holmes: Part of it too, though, is that…the way that we—the way that I spoke—because I’m going to be clear about this, too—that was a regional thing. Right?


Gray: There’s that too.


Holmes: For black people, right?


Gray: There’s that too. 


Holmes: So…because I think Malcolm would probably even say that when it comes to assimilation, I don’t think that he’s necessarily talking about the way somebody talks or the way somebody dresses or anything like that. Because when you think about the Nation of Islam—


Gray: Mmhmm.


Holmes: —these brothers were always suited up—


Gray: But their suited-up was hostile. It was almost—


(Holmes laughs)


Gray: —it felt like, oh, man. Something’s fitting to happen, or somebody’s in trouble.


Holmes: Assimilation to me is deeper than just the way that you talk, right?


Gray: It’s layers. It’s levels.


Holmes: But again, I would say…we would have to ask ourselves then, what is black culture? Because I don’t think that white people have a monopoly on being articulate, or—


Gray: They don’t.


Holmes: —annunciating your words. 


Gray: But they can judge us on how articulate we are.


Holmes: One hundred percent.


Gray: And that’s what we’re constantly encountering. Even in this podcast, we’re two articulate brothers.


Holmes: Mmhmm.


Gray: If I just fully let loose and started talking like…(laughs) like a lot of ways that we talk on the phone later—


Holmes: Yeah.


Gray: —that would throw a lot of people off.


Holmes: Sure.


Gray: Like, now some of me and my homies…but we have to learn that distinction—that skill—early. 


Holmes: Right.


Gray: There’s a way that we can lay our hair down and—


Holmes: Like third culture.


Gray: A hundred percent.


Holmes: Yeah.


Gray: It’s intrinsic to participating in this society. Code-switching is a…it’s like a muscle. You know what I mean? When you go to a certain place, you need to speak and act a certain way. And I don’t know the levels, necessarily, of what Malcolm explored, and the way this actually looked in the school setting.


Holmes: It’s in that chapter…because it’s called “Mascot,” right?


Gray: Yeah. Mas…yes. Exactly.


Holmes: It seems to me that Malcolm was realizing—not in the way that he talked, not in the way that he dressed—but Malcolm, for a moment, thought that he was one of them. In his quote, he says, I was no longer concerned with being a Negro.


Gray: Right.


Holmes: Because in his mind, it was almost like this false sense of color-blindness. Like, oh yeah. These people don’t see me as black. I’m Malcolm. And what I think he began to realize—it was when he talked to one of his teachers, and he told his teacher he wanted to be a lawyer, and what did his teacher say?


Gray: You’re a Negro. That’s not—you should probably be a janitor.


Holmes: Or a carpenter. 


Gray: The self-deception of the whole color-blindness thing is when you take the time to walk through the progressions of that, you’ve already left the discussion as far as…you’re saying that me going through this process to see myself a certain way allows me to join the majority group. But what I’m saying is, even going through the process has already alienated you from the majority group. Because the majority group’s not going through the process.


Holmes: Right.


Gray: They’re not going through the progressions. They’re not trying to convince themselves of something different, and completely ignorant to the complexities involved. And what Malcolm is saying is—he’s even saying, I was unique in my class like a pink poodle. And he’s proud of what he achieved because he—I think—is still internally wrestling with the whole Negro notion of belonging. And because he knows he doesn’t belong on some level, his achievement actually gives him some distinction.


Holmes: I don’t necessarily think that he recognized that at the moment. Because he says, It surprised me even more than other people. He says, but I can see now why they might have done it. This is in reflection.


Gray: There’s a progression in his understanding—


Holmes: Right.


Gray: —but he did say, it surprised me.


Holmes: Yeah. It surprised him in the moment.


Gray: So, he understood—


Holmes: Yeah.


Gray: —something was different—


Holmes: Right.


Gray: —about him. And ultimately, he wasn’t expecting to get that kind of recognition. And so, there’s a reason behind—like even at that young age, there’s a psychology that he’s processing and working through. But at the same time, he knows what is being communicated to him as the standard. Because, again, he’s saying, I’m trying so hard in every way that I could to be white.


Holmes: Yep.


Gray: So, again, you’ve left the majority culture because you’re actually working through these progressions of trying to achieve something. Not only with your grades, but with acceptance, and with a sense of belonging to a culture. The majority culture ain’t wrestling with that.


Holmes: Right.


Gray: They just are.


Holmes: Right.


Gray: It just is what it is (laughs).


Holmes: Right.


Gray: So, I’m like, I think I’m blown away at the way assimilation culture is…it’s obviously such a strain on us as black people. I just got off the phone with a friend of mine who’s wrestling with this now as it relates to being a middle-class black person. You know?


Holmes: Before we go there, let’s talk about…what is assimilation? Because I think that’s an important…I resent…assimilation is the way that you talk, right? I…for me…it seems to me that assimilation is a value system, right? There’s accept it—


Gray: Can be. 


Holmes: —or there’s adopt it, right? Because, think about it—when we think about a lot of the sins of white culture—


Gray: Mmhmm.


Holmes: Right? And a lot of the cultural norms that as outsiders we can see, yo. Something’s not right with this. Because it’s always interesting to me when I find—I think it was the editor of The Babylon Bee or something—he was on Twitter a while back.


Gray: Mmhmm.


Holmes: And he was trying to offer a critique to black culture. And I was livid. Here’s the thing. My thing was—


(Gray laughs)


Holmes: My thing is, bro, you don’t know us. And when I say you don’t know us, I was like, I know you better than—I know your culture…


Gray: Mmhmm.


Holmes: …infinitely better. Then you—my culture. And why? 


Gray: Because I have to.


Holmes: I’ve been immersed in your culture.


Gray: It’s required, bro.


Holmes: Right?


Gray: It’s in the air.


Holmes: How many—outside of the black kid that you knew in college, and this kid over here—like, how many times did you go home with them, right? And even then. Even if there was one person—trust me—he was probably going through that process, right? So even what you were seeing wasn’t even black culture. Because you were always the majority. How often have you found yourself a minority amongst black people?


Gray: Again. That’s the kind of progressions we have to go through in terms of this whole idea of acceptance—what it means for us to be known, accepted and have an identity.


Holmes: So, I guess, the point I was making—when it comes to assimilation, as an outsider, we oftentimes—I look at it like this—we come into white culture and usually there are things in black culture that we know are not good. And many of us have been hurt by some of the sins of our own culture.


Gray: Mmhmm.


Holmes: So, we come into white culture, and their sins look a little different, and they may even be strong in some of the areas where we’ve been weak, right?


Gray: Mmhmm


Holmes: So we’re like, oh, this is nice. And then all of the sudden—grass is greener on the other side, right—and then all of the sudden, you stay a little bit longer, and you immerse yourself a little bit deeper, and you’re going to be like, wait that ain’t right.


Gray: There’s—


Holmes: I’m seeing this pattern. 


Gray: We’re always negotiating—


Holmes: I’m seeing this pattern, right?


Gray: Yeah.


Holmes: I don’t know—this is not good. And then all of a sudden—there’s two things that happen at this point, right? You either try to confront it, assuming that you’re in a healthy place to try to navigate it and confront it, and hold onto what you think is right—because again, and I’m talking about—I’m describing the process for a Christian.


Gray: Hmm.


Holmes: Because, again, it’s always easier for somebody who’s outside of a culture—who is looking at the Scriptures—to assess and evaluate and critique a particular culture as an outsider, right?


Gray: Mmhmm.


Holmes: So, we have these fresh eyes to see some of the cultural sins that have been held onto that are normal for them, right?


Gray: Mmhmm. Mmhmm.


Holmes: That wasn’t normal where we come from, right? We also have a clear picture sometimes, even of our culture, right? A more objective picture because we’ve been exposed to other different—right? So, we know that it doesn’t have to be the way that it is over there.


Gray: Mmhmm.


Holmes: But what happens is now you get to the point where you’ve got to either decide that you’re going to fight, or that you’re going to fly. Right? I think that this exodus that you’re seeing of people leaving, and being—and leaving angry, or just leaving period. Whatever. Leaving. Right?


Gray: Yeah.


Holmes: And then, the people that are staying—I think that’s that crossroad that we all find ourselves at some point. Where we get deep—


Gray: Yep.


Holmes: Maybe we try to confront it. Maybe we try to address it. And we were rejected, or we were marginalized as a result of what we—we were cast out. Whatever happened, we get at this crossroad, and people either leave angry, or some people just stay and keep getting abused.


Gray: But that’s the—I was going to say—that’s the third option. There’s fight, there’s flight, and then there’s negotiate. You have to figure out why you would stay and are you actually receiving benefits? What benefits are you seeking to achieve?


Holmes: And another way is not even negotiations. Some people just feel trapped. They don’t feel like they could go back.


Gray: Okay. Option four.


Holmes: I find this with a lot of guys who find themselves in ministry, right? And they’ve entered into the cross-cultural, multiethnic—whatever—realm, and they’re trying to figure out, all right. Like, this is all I know.


Gray: Fam, I went through this.


Holmes: Yeah.


Gray: When I started pastoring a white church out in the suburbs in my city, and when I made that move…I guess it could probably be traced back to even before I started pastoring in that context—I left my dad’s church—which was a black church. But it was more than me leaving my dad’s—it was leaving a subset of black culture.


Holmes: Mmhmm.


Gray: And a family (laughs) that ultimately had taken care of me, and nurtured me, and shaped me in so many different ways. And effectively what I was communicating was that the grass was greener. The theology is better. The church services are shorter.




Gray: People are nicer, and less drama, and all that different…in my mind, I concocted that this scenario of church expression was better.


Holmes: It’s like this guy who leaves—it’s not this bad—but it’s pretty much like this guy who leaves one girl that he’s been with and he knows all of her faults—


Gray: Hundred percent. The ride or die.


Holmes: All of her…Right?


Gray: Yes. Yes.


Holmes: But she’s committed, but he’s like, you know what? Like, this girl over here—she ain’t drama. She ain’t…But he hasn’t known her for six months. But he’s like, she…I think she’s the one


Gray: It’s sin nature at the end of the day. It’s like, we’re never satisfied. We’re insatiable. And we—just something new is appealing.


Holmes: Yep.


Gray: But here’s the—


Holmes: We like new—we like the newness of it more than anything else.


Gray: And we don’t even know the new. Yeah.


Holmes: And we don’t even know the intricacies of the new.


Gray: And then you find out. You actually go through the experience. Because here’s the thing. You can say the grass is greener. But you still have a learning curve. All right. There’s one way to view it when I’m driving down the interstate and I look over and see a plot of land with a house and say, wow—that looks really nice. Now, it’s another point of view to pull up into the driveway and say, wow—okay. I think this is still pretty well-kept. It’s another thing to be invited in the house. And then, it’s another thing to meet the people in the context of a dinner setting.


Holmes: Yeah.


Gray: So, I’m going through those progressions. It’s like, oh yeah. I’m welcome to drive by; I’m welcome to drive into the driveway. I may be even welcome to come in for dinner. But when I sit down to dinner, what are we going to talk about?


Holmes: Right.


Gray: You know what I’m saying? And then once we get to that level, it’s like, fam… Okay, so now I have to figure out how I can belong, or stay here, or even come back. You find yourself saying, all right. I’m going to hold onto the good things that I think I’m experiencing and learning. But at the same time, there are these other things that I may not have identified yet, but they’re unsettling.


Holmes: Mmhmm. Right.


Gray: And I feel like I’m being forced to change into something that I’m unfamiliar with, or I don’t even know if I agree with.


Holmes: Yep.


Gray: And then it turns, over time—if that same kind of effect is happening—it turns into hostility. Like, I don’t want to do that.


Holmes: Right


Gray: Like, you’re not about to turn me into…so then you’re back at your options. You’re going to fight it, you’re going to be like, oh no, I don’t need this. I’m going to leave it. Or I’m going to say, they mean (inaudible). And I do like services being an hour. And I do like the way that the doctrine is presented this way.


Holmes: And the paycheck is nice.


Gray: And the (laughs)—get right to it. The paycheck is so much better.


Holmes: Follow the money, baby.


Gray: All the money is out here. And am I really going to go back to the black church?


Holmes: Yep.


Gray: You know what I’m saying? Like, am I going—because here we are right now. We’ve got this whole Leave LOUD movement, and largely I support it. I understand why it’s happening.


Holmes: Yeah. I understand.


Gray: But thing—


Holmes: One hundred percent understand.


Gray: The thing about it is we’re trying to contend with what does it mean to go back to the black church? Or you have to create something new, or even negotiate within the cultural context there.


Holmes: Right. Right.


Gray: But again, we’re still searching for acceptance. And I do know one thing. I’ll say this for me. I ain’t trying to be white. So, if you identify with Malcolm here—that’s just an experiential identification. I identified with that.


 Holmes: Yep.


Gray: One of my earliest memories as a child—and I was really into superheroes and all that different stuff—I’ll never forget, bro. As a five-to-six-year-old kid, just seeing Superman—Christopher Reeves’ Superman—for the first time, I remember wishing in my own head that I was white with blue eyes (laughs).


Holmes: Hmm. Right.


Gray: Because of Christopher Reeves. I wanted his life.


Holmes: Superman.


Gray: I wanted his powers. I wanted all of that. So, you’re psychologically trained to see white as right.


Holmes: Mmhmm.


Gray: As the best. As the highest form of evolution as a human being. But then, bro, you start to come into your own. You have experiences. You start to identify the ways it costs you; it takes from you. And then, at the end of the day…


Holmes: And the compromises, right? 


Gray: You gotta compromise.


Holmes: The things that you know are wrong.


Gray: That’s a better word than negotiation.


Holmes: Yeah.


Gray: That’s a better word. What do you have to compromise in order to stay?


Holmes: Mmhmm. Mmhmm.


Gray: And, bro, of course, I’ve reached that point where I feel like I’m both fight and flight. Because I still want to contend for the white relationships I have, but I ain’t trying to go eat y’alls food all the time.


(Holmes laughs)


Gray: I ain’t trying to listen to y’alls music. I ain’t trying to go to enjoy some of the things y’all enjoy. 


Holmes: I don’t think that’s really flight, though. I think that’s you being comfortable in your own skin.


Gray: But it does draw a line. Because sometimes when you refuse the invitation, it feels like a hostile act. If you just say, I’m not interested in that.


Holmes: Oh, okay. I got you.


Gray: That doesn’t tickle my fancy or…what you like doesn’t affect what I like. I love you, but I don’t do that.


Holmes: Right.


Gray: And to create that distinction sometimes challenges the nature of the relationship. So, now I feel like I’m in a position to say, hey, let me teach you something. Let me say to you that this is what I like, and I’m going to present it to you as a means for us to develop a relationship.


Holmes: Yep.


Gray: And I’ve felt kind of the adverse of that where I’m in this hostage situation to say, you’re going to be good with me as long as I accept the things that you like. But the moment I say I don’t want to watch soccer no more, or I don’t like reading these books. These authors are not credible to me anymore. Then somehow I’m out of the Christian community and the faith.


Holmes: Mmhmm.


Gray: That’s how..unfortunately, that’s how hard the line gets drawn, and those are the consequences of making those distinctions.


Holmes: Yeah. One of the things I think is important to point out here is that we all know how much power clash presidents have. We already had the episode about symbolic victories, right? Or symbolic positions. Right? This is another one. So, he’s voted class president, right? That’s purely symbolic. Mascot.


Gray: Tokenism.


Holmes: Tokenism…


Gray: Yep.


Holmes: …is what it is. And it’s one of those types of positions where the powers that be can determine how much power they want to give you or how much power they don’t want to give you. But the goal is to give this facade of progress when progress is not really being made at all. When you look at Malcolm—and he’s hitting you with, they voted me class president. But then, when he actually tried to—because typically, your class presidents—when they graduate they—


Gray: Yeah, he wanted to realize the progression of his achievement. 


Holmes: Right.


Gray: Yes.


Holmes: Class president. Valedictorian.


Gray: I’m on my way somewhere.


Holmes: Lawyer. Yeah.


Gray: I’m on my way.


Holmes: I want to be a lawyer. And he began in that moment to see…oh no. Malcolm.


Gray: My progression doesn’t mean anything in the general society sense. I actually have to do more to get there. More than my other classmates.


Holmes: Mmhmm.


Gray: Because they’re not valedictorians. They’re not class presidents. They’re not at the top of the class. Whatever title you want to give it. But it’s already assumed that they’re going somewhere. For me, it’s assumed I’m going nowhere, no matter how much I achieve. And so, we’re back to the previous quote.


Holmes: And I think even for this—I think it’s not just “assume that you can’t.” I think it was assumed at the time that you shouldn’t. 


Gray: Yeah.


Holmes: No, it was like. He was like, you shouldn’t—


Gray: Yeah. Yeah.


Holmes:try to do this. Like, you should be a carpenter.


And why did he see him like that? There were assumptions that he made about him. Prejudice. 


Gray: Hundred percent.


Holmes: Right?


Gray: Yeah.


Holmes: And to tell a kid, when a kid says that he wants to be a lawyer… and he was like—and here’s the part that got Malcolm. Malcolm was like, but there were other people that I know I was more intelligent than. That when they would say, I want to be these things, he would be like, yeah. You can do it.


Gray: And here we are. To me, the clearest example and maybe the most widespread example—again—I’m back to the presidency. You’ve got Barack Obama who has literally cut his teeth in the ways that you should in order to ascend to the role that he ultimately ascends to, but then his predecessor and the person who follows him is clearly deficient in some of the ways—


Holmes: You talking about Joe Biden?


Gray: Of course. 


(Holmes laughs)


Gray: Joe Biden can’t put together five words.


Holmes: He struggles.


Gray: Yeah. He’s literally speaking as if he is a puppeteer. 


Holmes: Yep. And I remember…when I compare him to Trump…because I think to some extent Trump—you see what you get because he can’t help it. But like you said—


Gray: I’m about to say, Nah—I’m about to say—


Holmes: He can’t help but tell himself—


Gray: Yeah.


Holmes: Trump is all about the deal. So, he’s not at the table because he cares about you. 


Gray: Yeah.


Holmes: He’s at the table because he’s trying to figure out, what are we both going to get? Or what am I going to get, and you’re going to get enough to keep you happy?


Gray: That’s what I’m saying.


Holmes: Right? That’s the deal.


Gray: He’s genuine. He wants what he wants. 


Holmes: Yeah, but you don’t—


Gray: He’s going to do what he needs to do to get it. I’m just saying…you’re right. He’s not skillful enough to hide it, but at the same time, I believe him when he talks about something he cares about, and when he kind of has a line of sight on something. This is going to come off like I admire the guy, but I think what I—


Holmes: I don’t think you admire anything. I think you like that you can see right through him.


Gray: I admire the truth. But I admire somebody who’s going to be a straight shooter even if it’s something that I completely disagree with and I’m appalled by. 


Holmes: Because you can see him coming.


Gray: A hundred percent.


Holmes: You can see him coming.


Gray: I can have a conversation with that person and feel like we had a genuine conversation.


Holmes: Right.


Gray: We left at opposite sides of whatever the subject is, but at the same time, I know where that person stands. So, again, to get back to the differences in experiences of black assimilation versus white dominant cultural experience, Joe Biden clearly is deficient in some areas that are publicly viewable and measurable. Same as Trump.


Holmes: Mmhmm.


Gray: Public speaking—even an endearment to family? These are deficiencies that are blatant. And to me, one of the greatest examples and evidences of white privilege is Donald Trump. That is to say that this guy can become president. This guy can do whatever he wants, have terrible grades, have a checkered past, stand up in front of a bunch of people and say all of the ignorant things that he wants to say, and have a fanbase—have a rabid fanbase and be on track to be reelected sometime in the near future. 


And for me, it’s like…President Obama is like (laughs)—he is the picture of black assimilation into this fully formed actualized view of what white people should and could accept—which is probably why he got two terms at the end of the day—but still, the heavy critique is that he didn’t do—


Holmes: (inaudible) depends on whom you’re talking to. Progressives love him. White progressives love him. Because that’s what they want. They want that assimilated—


Gray: They’re waffling these days. They like Michelle better than him right now. 


Holmes: Okay. If I’m just looking at Obama for Obama’s time, right?


Gray: Mmhmm.


Holmes: It was 2008, right?


Gray: Mmhmm.


Holmes: Obama changed this country.


Gray: Yes he did.


Holmes: Forever. The stuff that he did during—the stuff that happened—he probably played a huge role in—was revolutionary. It just—for me—it didn’t benefit black people all that much.


Gray: Well—and that’s a separate—that’s a separate—


Holmes: I think—right—I’m not trying to get into that conversation.


Gray: No. No. But to your point—so, here’s the thing. Obama did change the country.


Holmes: One hundred percent.


Gray: He is, in my opinion, the classic assimilationist example.


Holmes: One hundred percent.


Gray: Because he had to give up—so, there’s the option. What do you have to compromise? (inaudible) You got to get that brother up. I don’t care if that’s your church. I don’t care if this person literally helped you and formed you in the way you became—who you are—you can’t keep that. You can’t keep that in the part of your identity journey.


Holmes: Mmhmm.


Gray: You gotta identify with all Americans. And that don’t identify with all Americans. And that’s primarily a lot of the critique the black community gives him is to say, we want you to identify with us. We deserve to be represented in our full complexity.


Even the people that speak loudly in ways that are nuanced—and we may not necessarily all agree with what they say—it’s a part of our family. But you’re told as a measurement of experience and white America, that’s forbidden. That’s got to be gone.


Holmes: Mmhmm. Mmhmm.


Gray: And yet, an experience of white America is that we’ve got to accept Trump and say, like, oh no, he’s accepted, though.


Holmes: Mmhmm.


Gray: I’m like, fam! What in the world are you being forced to deal with? It’s unequal. It’s ultimately a hostility that causes us to—in Malcolm’s case, he had to work through a psychological progression to see himself beyond what his teacher concluded about him. And ultimately he had to love what it meant to be black. He wanted to be white. And then he finds himself at a place where he’s just like, integration actually is an invitation—that’s his perspective. It’s like, when you try to live in their world on their terms, you’re inviting the trauma that comes with that. 


And then you have to work through that to even discover yourself again. Or to negotiate, compromise, whatever you need to in order to succeed in whatever your craft is. Or just leave. Do what I say. Leave. Find yourself and your identity in the black community that you feel safe in, and the cultural representation that comes with it.


Holmes: Here’s the interesting part and the cool part about Malcolm. By the time you get to the end of the book, he is no longer anti-integration, and no longer anti-partnership. But there is this standard, where he’s not going to let his values get compromised by white culture.


So, there’s this story of a white lady who walks up to him after a conference and is like, I want to join your group. I want to join your group


Gray: Oh yeah.


And Malcolm just basically tells her—


Gray: She says—


Holmes: —you can support us, you can give, and we appreciate the support, but—


Gray: You talking about the movie? From the Spike Lee depiction of it? Because there’s the white woman who walks up to him at the college.


Holmes: Uh-huh.


Gray: Says, hey, I care about your issues.


Holmes: Right. 


Gray: What can I do? 


Holmes: Right.


Gray: And what’s the response from Malcolm?


Holmes: His response is, you can give, and you can support, but you can’t join us, because when white people join us, they tend to take over.


Gray: Denzel’s depiction said, nothing. And he kept walking (laughs).


Holmes: Yeah.


Gray: So, here’s the thing. It’s like, I know, bro.


(Holmes laughs)


Holmes: That’s not what happened.


Gray: But essentially—essentially—nothing. But, no—it’s like the extreme of today. Dr. Umar—super separatist—like, we don’t need nothing from white people. We can’t even marry white people. Et cetera. Et cetera.


But there’s still even something to uncover about his reasoning there. 


But the other side of it is—I don’t know—name your assimilationist. Candace Owens. Everything that white people say is right and good, and we need to embrace everything that they say. Because they’re right, and it’s true.


So, at the end of the day, I think we find ourselves in a place of nuance again. Where we should be able to understand what’s being said, and also the dangers of the extremes.


Holmes: Yep. See the good that’s there. Appreciate it. Thank God for it. But you get to the point of assimilation when you are unable to critique.


Gray: Yeah.


Holmes: And I know so many people who—they can not critique it. They’ll critique black culture all day.


Gray: Yep.


Holmes: Even though they ain’t been a part of black culture for ten, twenty, twenty-five years.


Gray: Yeah.


Holmes: But they will not say one bad thing about white American culture; white evangelical culture in our case. Because they’ll critique white culture, but not white evangelical culture.


Gray: And here’s the thing, too. And I just gotta say this. I know we’re running short on time, but…


Holmes: Sure.


Gray: The call is—for a lot of white folks in particular—when are black people going to critique black culture and actually deal with the issues that we have internally? My response to that is that’s being done, but maybe not being done publicly. There are internal spaces that we make where it’s a family issue and a family discussion. It’s not for mass consumption. Because this white gaze or white lens on what we should be doing—


Holmes: It’s usually taken and weaponized.


Gray: Ain’t nobody trying to hear what you think we should be doing. You don’t get to judge the way that we discipline our own and/or the way we address our issues.


Holmes: And it’s not sexy to the media, either. The media likes to promote and show footage of things that are interesting to white culture. And they’re not interested in black people working in their communities.


Gray: No. They don’t ever promote when we are actually in the streets trying to work with gangs, or when we’re actually in the streets, trying to support—bring support to families.


Holmes: And let’s be honest. We’re not super PR savvy, nor are we trying to necessarily get PR for these things.


Gray: Again. We’re back to Malcolm. Malcolm says that the media is an element of white supremacy. The institution that actually promotes and provokes ideals that align with white supremacy, so naturally, they’re not going to cover that. They’re not going to show our advancement. They’re not going to show our sophistication. They’re not going to show our higher qualities in the ways that we address these things, because it’s not designed to. 


So, I just want to encourage white brothers and sisters out there who are like, what about you guys? Dealing with your issues? Et cetera. Et cetera. We are. But it’s not being covered. I’m telling you. At least not to the degree that our faults are. We’re being demonized as a measurement of the construct of white supremacist media.


Holmes: Mmhmm. 


Gray: And the way that we get depicted is not in the full range of our beauty and who we are and our complexity, but our worst faults. And the justification of the impoverished, the oppressive state that we’re in—see, you deserve that. You don’t know how to take care of your own.


Jackson, Mississippi is one of those examples. You mentioned in a previous pod—like it’s black people down here. And see? Here’s the thing. We could depict that in a certain way to say, wow—that’s cool. That’s beautiful that this many black people can live together in harmony. But it gets depicted the opposite way to say, oh no. Y’all are just poor and broke and you can’t do nothing better.


Holmes: Mmhmm.


Gray: And that’s terrible, man. We have to do work to actualize the full vision of the beauty of our community. 


Holmes: Absolutely. Thanks for tuning into Make it Plain. For more resources related to Malcolm X, please visit our website,, where you can subscribe to the show at Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon, RadioPublic, Google, or via RSS and never miss a show.


While you’re at it, if you found value in this show, we’d appreciate a rating on Apple and Spotify. Our goal is three hundred ratings on Apple Podcasts and one hundred ratings on Spotify. You can also just share the podcast with a friend or relative that you think might enjoy the episode. Give it to them anyway if you think they might not like it. You might be surprised.


Be sure to visit and download this free resource—Make it Plain Season One Discussion Guide. Join us next week as we continue our reflections on the words and life of Malcolm X.


Gray: Peace.

Phillip Holmes

Phillip Holmes is a marketing executive and owner of Highest Good Media. He and his family are members of Redeemer Church.

Taelor Gray

Taelor Gray currently serves as pastor at Linden Fellowship while doubling as a hip-hop artist. He and his wife have two children.