“I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda. I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” – Malcolm X
In High School my history syllabus covered just a few pages on African-American civil rights heroes. The majority of those pages were on Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X was barely mentioned. After reading this book I was perplexed! I wonder why Malcolm X hasn’t been given the same respect as Dr. King; he contributed so much to the civil rights movement as well, yet my knowledge on this man was very minimal.
How did Malcolm Little become Malcolm X aka El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz? This is what this book is all about. His transformation was remarkable especially as he spent time in foster homes and was a hustler in Detroit. He lived in an America where smart black kids were discouraged from being lawyers etc, and thus dropped out of school at young ages. It made me think for the umpteenth time just how can society malign and vilify black people, especially black men, when society itself is responsible for restricting them in the first place?
Among the many things I admired about Malcolm X was his thirst for knowledge. He is a great advertisement for autodidactism and how effective and transformative self-education can be:
“I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there, in prison, that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.”
It was hard for me to read this book and not compare Malcolm X’s philosophy to Dr. King’s. I always thought I would adhere more closely to Dr. King’s peaceful, nonviolence philosophy, but after reading this book I do agree with Malcolm X’s ideology as well. Not that I am advocating violence, but radicalness and action is sometimes needed, as are anger and indignation. As Malcolm X said, ““So early in life, I learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.” I feel there is so much to learn from both men so I won’t say I prefer one doctrine over another. At the same time I wonder, how can people not become militant and revolutionary after having experienced so much cruelty and discrimination?
Another thing I found interesting in this autobiography was Malcolm X’s religious transformation; from having been raised Christian, to entering the Nation of Islam (NOI), he finally found his spiritual home in “mainstream” Islam. His depiction of his trip to Mecca in particular was very enlightening and a turning point in his life. His adoration of Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the NOI, was quite sad, especially as Muhammad seems to have been a bit of a weirdo. Muhammad said something along the lines of too-short women marrying tall men and vice versa is ridiculous. Also, he said that a man should ideally marry a woman half his age plus 7 years.
Malcolm is unapologetic about his views in this book and that’s what I love best about this autobiography. His writing is very candid and so informative. This is an important book for all to read. The prevalence of eurocentrism in the world is astounding and I don’t think we really realize just how established it is. Malcolm X dissected the race problem so well, I felt inspired.