The Autobiography of Malcolm X
One particular university’s “token integrated” black Ph.D. associate professor I never will forget; he got me so mad I couldn’t see straight. … He was ranting about what a “divisive demagogue” and what a “reverse racist” I was. I was racking my head to spear that fool; I finally held up my hand, and he stopped.
“Do you know what white racists call black Ph.D’s?”
He said something like, “I believe that I happen not to be aware of that” – you know, one of those ultra-proper-talking Negroes. And I laid the word down on him, loud:
~ Malcolm X (1965)
What do you know about Malcolm X?
I confess that I did not know much save for the fact that he wore emblematic horn-rimmed glasses, that he is a revered personality in African American human rights movements, that he was a Muslim somehow tied to the legend of Mohammed Ali, and that he had the peculiarity of having an alphabet for a surname.
Well, I am glad that I am now a little more enlightened about him. I got a front row seat to his painful upbringing, heights of success, self-renewal, and then betrayal and violent death through The Autobiography of Malcolm X. In him I saw an anger, a love and a passion for his people. He had a Mosaic calling upon them. A man of action, he spoke with brutal honesty and exuded a rare type of commitment and courage. He cast a spell on masses with his charisma that is still in effect today.
I looked up his pictures on the internet the other day, and my-my, what a very handsome man he was. I could understand why his father kept excluding him from deserved disciplining that he readily gave to his other children. Being a babied last-born, I have lavished in such favors, too – many times. But Malcolm X had younger siblings. As he stated, the favoritism was inspired by his light complexion, an effect of being biracial, which was by chance not seen in his siblings.
A White slave master conceived Malcolm’s mother with his African American grandmother. Malcolm’s mother, too, was white complexioned – extremely so, such that she could pass as white in an Apartheid-like system. However, he – like his mother – loathed the effect of White genetics on him and referred to it as the blood of a rapist devil. At a desperate time in their family, his mother would be instantly fired from a job on being discovered to have African American children despite being the child of a White man. Such is the paradox of racism. This particular recollection of his past alone is a powerful echo of the impact of slavery and colonial history with consequences that scathe our lives today.
His relationship with his once spiritual adviser and former boss Elijah Muhammad exemplifies man’s vulnerability to distortion and misinformation. However, his success in discovering the foundations of his faith for himself later on is praiseworthy. Not looking up facts for ourselves is what we human beings love to do, regardless of ethnic, religious or political orientation. The many ways we naively submit our consciences to other human beings is frightening. There are so many reports today of students being radicalized to the point of committing mass murder, as was the case recently at the Garissa University and the Westgate Mall in Kenya, and that of many ‘believers’ pulled to abusive and murderous cults. Malcolm’s sworn loyalty and commitment towards the prosperity of the Nation of Islam, and consequent events after their fall out illustrate excruciatingly how blinded passion is fatal entrapment.
I can’t help but wonder what transformations would have taken place if he was still alive, and wonder still why there never arose one quite like him among the African Americans to take his place. Despite his false starts and his high profile, he was given to constant correction, change and improvement – a quality the Bible applauds, even though he said his errors had made him look foolish. He accurately explains that as a man he was entitled to such fault.
It makes me wonder whether those being radicalized into terrorism in the name of Islam have gotten their hands on this autobiography, and whether they accept his ideologies. Malcolm X embraced Islam because the Bible was misrepresented. He embraced Islam because he saw a brotherhood and a unity in it in Mecca that Christianity had not afforded him. I would not say that his argument gave sufficient validity to his conversion to Islam, neither am I refuting its relevance. I say this because we see how he was able to retrace Islam to its origins, and how he renewed his faith in it, despite it being misrepresented by Muhammad. Thus several questions come to mind:
Would he have had a problem with the Bible if Christians had not misrepresented it to him?
Was it the Bible or its believers in question?
Do those who kill Bible believers do so because of the said misrepresentations?
What would he have had to say about purported Muslims killing Africans?
(Unlike terrorists, many times Malcolm restrained himself from forming a divide between him and other African Americans despite their differences in faith or ideology. He preferred maintaining a united front within the community to better fight the common racist enemy.)
Malcolm X explained that his fundamental issue with the Bible is that it was used to oppress Non-Whites. Therefore, was he not throwing the baby with the bath water by turning to Islam?
Also, he criticized the historical Christian bloodied crusades whereas Islam also bears similar painful history through Jihad, and currently, terrorist acts on innocents by extremists who profess the latter faith add salt to injury. I frankly would not have been surprised if he took yet another turn in his faith had he lived longer.
What was beautiful about this man was his conviction, his pursuit of the truth and his readiness to die for it. His blatant-truth-telling was harsh but compelling. His readiness for action and to die for beliefs founded on a true course would capture any girl’s heart, and stir up any boy’s masculinity, as per their responsibility to their community.
His weakness: gullibility towards doctrine that would harm him. His passion for his mission was so strong that he himself confessed to coming short of the kind of husband that his good wife deserved. I celebrate him, and am even humored, by his ability to call out thieves and hypocrites for what they are in his fingerprint point-blank manner at a time when addressing the issue of duplicity, racism or opportunistic double-standards by those in power was a taboo.
I’ve never seen so many whites so nice to so many blacks as you white people here in Africa. In America, Afro-Americans are struggling for integration. They should come here – to Africa – and see how you grin at Africans. You’ve really got integration here. But can you tell the Africans that in America you grin at black people? No you can’t! And you don’t honestly like these Africans any better, either – but what you do like is the minerals Africa has under her soil …”
Those whites out in the audience turned pink and red. They knew I was telling the truth.
“I came here to tell the truth – and if the truth condemns America then she stands condemned!” (1965, p.355)
His voice comes in handy at a time when Americans are protesting against continued police brutality and homicide arrests of unarmed African American civilians.
However, there were times when his frankness – because of false doctrine taught to him – lacerated and excluded those who were convicted to change. What is the need for the existence of any religion or faith if not for the purposes of the improvement and the salvation of humanity? I love that he was man enough to recant many of his teachings after his pilgrimage. All in all, he had done well for himself as a school dropout, and would have been an even more effective arrow in the quiver for his community had he the right kind of leadership and education from the onset. His Pan-African ideologies would have gone a long way in improving the well-being of his community, had he the time to put them to full effect.
I do not remember feeling so much anger after reading a book. I do not remember feeling so pushed to be part of a solution either. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a must read for every individual of every social class or race. I have just been acquainted with him via this book, yet I struggle so much to refer to him in past tense. His personality was so dynamic that, had his doctrine been selfish, he would have won converts for himself under the alias of a spiritual messiah.
I also have to pay respect to he who the book was told to – Alex Haley, the writer. Both the teller and the told were able to recapture his street hustling days so well, that it enabled me to better understand today’s artists’ adaptations of yesteryears’ imagery of a lavish lifestyle – the suits, the cigars, the suave demeanor, the flashy lifestyle – as they did his struggles, up until his death, sending me, from the riveting apex of his prime, to a downward slope of sadness and mourning.
I do not think there is a retelling that can do Malcolm’s essence justice, save for hearing from him for oneself as via this book. It helps that it is written from first person perspective, as is the obvious case in autobiographies. One way or the other he infects with his conviction and personality, and inspires heart-rending empathy that extends to his family. And probably, his humanity speaks to us more than his achievements.
Malcolm X strikes me as a martyr, a pilgrim, a hero, a stud and a mammoth revolution icon. May we never forget.