Home > Stuttering.Microblog > What Malcom X may have said about stuttering…

What Malcom X may have said about stuttering…

Malcom X gave a very good speech entitled You Can’t Hate The Roots Of A Tree, And Not Hate The Tree.  I’ve been entirely fascinated and in awe of Malcom X, because he was able to think outside of the paradigm of the time.  Think outside of mainstream thought.  Superficially, his perspective and speeches made absolutely no sense (to those that didn’t care to understand).  But if you try, you can see reality from inside his perspective–and it makes every bit of sense!  Not only that, but it painfully shows the flaws of the current cultural paradigm (of the time).

This has everything to do with stuttering.  And his speech (linked above) makes complete and total sense to the stuttering community.  At least it does to me, anyway.  So I went through the first few paragraphs of his speech, and changed references of race to those of stuttering.  (And since it’s a speech, it didn’t come out quite right in type; consequently, I took the liberty of changing one or two sentences so that it would make better sense in written form.)  Take a moment and read it; tell me what you think.  Am I crazy (and flying my freak flag), or am I onto something?  I’m actually pretty curious to get some responses…

The modified parts are in (parentheses).


“Why should the (stuttering) man in America concern himself (with the past, since stuttering has been found to be a genetic neurophysiological disorder)? Why should we concern ourselves?

What impact does (the prejudice about stuttering) have upon us? Number one, you have to realize that up until (now), (cultural views on Stuttering) was dominated by (those that believe stutterers are inherently weak people). Having complete control over (societal opinion), the (modern culture and the field of SLP) projected the image of (stuttering) negatively.

They always project (stuttering) in a negative light: (nervous, anxious, insecure, weakness, etc…). Why, it was so negative to you and me that you and I began to hate it. We didn’t want anybody telling us anything about (stuttering), much less calling us (stutterers).

In hating (Stuttering) and in hating the (stutter), we ended up hating ourselves, without even realizing it. Because you can’t hate the roots of a tree, and not hate the tree. You can’t hate your (nature) and not end up hating yourself. You can’t hate (stuttering) and not hate yourself.

You show me one of these people over here who has been thoroughly brainwashed and has a negative attitude toward (Stuttering), and I’ll show you one who has a negative attitude toward himself. You can’t have a positive toward yourself and a negative attitude toward (Stuttering) at the same time. To the same degree that your understanding of and attitude toward (stuttering) is positive, you’ll find that your understanding of and your attitude toward yourself will also become positive.

And this is what the (modern culture) knows. So they very skillfully make you and me hate our (Stuttering) identity and our (Stuttering) characteristics. You know that we have been a (stuttering) people who hated our (Stuttering) characteristics. We hated our (speech), we hated the (sound of our voice), we wanted one of those (fluent voices); we hated the (sound) of our (speech), hated the (sound) of our (Stuttering) that was in our (voice). And in hating our features and our (speech) and our (voice), why, we had to end up hating ourselves. And we hated ourselves.

Our (stuttering) became to us a chain–we felt that it was holding us back; our (stuttering) became to us like a prison which was confining us, not letting us go this way or that way. We felt all of these restrictions were based solely upon our (stuttering), and the psychological reaction (to stuttering) was that we felt imprisoned, chained or trapped by our (stuttered speech) and our (Stuttered Voice).  The (sound of our voice) and the features (of our speech) was holding us back. So it became hateful to us.

It made us feel inferior; it made us feel inadequate; it made us feel helpless. And when we fell victims to this feeling of inadequacy, inferiority or helplessness, we turned to somebody else to show us the way. We didn’t have confidence in (our stuttering selves) to show us the way, or (other stuttering) people to show us the way. In those days we didn’t. We didn’t think a (stuttering) man could do anything except (be silent)–you know, (stand around and nod while trying to avoid publicly speaking at all costs).

But in serious things, where our food, clothing, shelter, and education were concerned, we turned to (our fluent enablers). We never thought in terms of bringing these things into existence for ourselves, we never thought in terms of doing for ourselves. Because we felt helpless.”


(I can translate the rest of the speech if there’s interest and if I’ve got the time…  Feel free to comment or hit me up on Twitter w/ any thoughts or comments.)

Be Sociable, Share!
Categories: Stuttering.Microblog Tags:
  1. March 15th, 2009 at 19:52 | #1

    Well, the flag is only flying half way up the pole for me. I write, not as an authority on the subject, but as someone who has thought about the many facets of people who stutter for many years. There certainly are many statements in the rewrite that resonate well with reality. Those, who due to family or society with less than a positive view of self, may be subject to a downward psychological spiral that gets reinforced everyday – sometimes due to projection and misperception that is rooted in earlier development of self. Not all, however, travel this path. I had a 21-year-old severe stutterer speak in my graduate class last week. One of the things she told the class was that if someone offered to take her stuttering away, she would not allow them. She is very happy with who she is regardless of the teasing she endured when she was younger. She said that her stuttering made her more compassionate and empathetic of others. In essence, she is who she is and yes, stuttering is a part of that self. My students were impressed by her attitude in spite of her struggle to speak. She said she got her attitude from her family because they taught her that it was everyone else’s problem-no prison.

    In the revised Malcom X speech, it says, “Having complete control over (public opinion), the (societal culture and the field of SLP) projected the image of (stuttering) negatively.” Maybe I’m naive, but I’ve never gotten the impression that my field has projected the image of PWS negatively. Maybe I had an unusual experience with good mentors, but I also never got this impression at conferences. Finding the best way to help PWS may be misconstrued by some as trying to find a way to “fix” stutterers, but this may be missing the point. I have a lot of Van Riper in me when it comes to working with stuttering. I fully accept that stuttering is going to happen, but not all of the learned behavior that builds on top of its neurophysiological foundation. I’m happy to work with someone to the degree that s/he wants to diminish the learned behaviors. At the same time, there also needs to be a focus on the psychological demons that prevent acceptance of inevitable stuttering.

    The rewrite of Malcom’s speech seems too sardonic for me. It does, however, speak to the reality of some.


  2. Michael Ritter
    March 16th, 2009 at 12:03 | #2

    As a member of the stuttering community, I have to say that his speech does not make complete and total sense to me. This doesn’t resonate with my experiences at all. At best, it’s hyperbolic.

    While I agree that there is some correspondence between the black community and the stuttering community, I think that, as a stutterer, I have way more in common with the queer and deaf communities (not to mention ESL speakers). And even then, I wouldn’t go so far as to insert ‘stuttering’ and ‘stutterer’ into their speeches, because I don’t think attitudes about stuttering are propagated in the same way as those communities either. The term ‘hate’, for example, doesn’t resonate with me at all. I’ve never felt hated for stuttering, and I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever hated myself for being a stutterer either (And why would I care if someone called me a stutterer?).

    Anyway, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I think it misses the mark.


  1. March 20th, 2009 at 22:22 | #1