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Mathematics Goes to the Movies

by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross


Malcolm X (1992)

REPORTER: ..would you mind explaining for us the meaning of your name, which is the letter X?
MALCOLM: During slavery time the slave master gave the negro, so-called Negro, named the so-called Negro after themselves. The honourable (?) Elijah Muhammad teaches us that once we come into the knowledge of Islam, the knowledge of ourselves, we replace our slave name with an X. X in mathematics representing the unknown. Since we've been disconnected or cut off from our own history, our own past, our own culture, our own land we use the X, the unknown, until we get back to our country.
REPORTER: I see. Thank you.