The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I remember watching the 1992 movie, Malcolm X, and even enjoyed it so freaking much that I promised myself I would read the Autobiography as soon as I could. He was very much someone I could admire. Respect. Empathize with. Strongly disagree with. And finally, wholeheartedly agree with him.
Of course, to my everlasting shame, it's now 2020. I'm JUST NOW getting around to reading it.
Alex Haley helped Malcolm X turn his life into a brilliant narration, spent years talking, being friends, and after Malcolm X's assassination in 1965, also recounts the tragedy of this wonderful man's death.
But above all, Malcolm X was a real man. Courageous, smart, opinionated. He was honest about his entire life: his shortcomings, his youth as a hellion, a con, a drug dealer, and a thief. About the way he treated women and his kin, his brothers. How he went to prison, fervently hating all white men.
But then he changed. His life was all about change, honesty, and discovery. He discovered books, taught himself to read, and read voraciously. He found help and heart in the teachings of an American Muslim leader that showed him what he believed took on the heart of the matter. That the endemic racism of all whites, the prejudice, the deviltry of their actions had taken everything from the black man. Their history, their bodies, the heart. Malcolm X devoted himself to this man and through his eloquence and charm brought 40,000 new believers to this Black Muslim community, building it up with anger and definite firebrand techniques.
But it wasn't until he went on the Hajj to Mecca that he understood something new, strange, and beautiful. That out of the 22 million angry black people in America, there were almost 200 million black people living in relative peace and harmony around the world. Strangers and leaders and worldwide press were amazed and thrilled to see an American Muslim take on the Hajj and to take on the leadership of bringing the humanitarian plight of the Black people back in America to the world.
Was he in the right place at the right time? Absolutely. And it was precisely that sense of welcoming and harmony and community that Malcolm X got thrown into that changed his worldview forever. People were fundamentally decent. Blacks could work together, live and love each other in harmony. Whites, too. And it was this eye-opener that sent him back to America with a different message.
He still fought with Martin Luther King Jr. He still called everyone out and spoke the truth, that there IS something really wrong, but now tempered it with wisdom, hope, and a new kind of truth.
He was lionized in the wide world. He was vilified in America. The media blasted him for being THE angry, militant black man. Blamed him for all of society's ills. He eloquently told them they were full of shit. He stood up. He didn't back down.
His American Muslim church was torn with strife and jealousy and controversy, unfortunately, and Malcolm X, far from pointing fingers or complaining that all his funds had been stolen, continued speaking in universities, parliaments and media engagements while suffering multiple death threats from whom he thought were angry black Muslims under the instruction of his old teacher. His house was firebombed. When he was finally shot down, his wife and four children were penniless and scared.
Anyone who knew him in real life, and not through the general media, realized the kind of man he was. Fundamentally decent, smart, and unfailingly honest. Eloquent, forceful, and a real warrior of the spirit. He made lots of mistakes, but he always forged forth and admitted every one of his failings, striving always to make things right. Decent. Better.
And let's face it, the times before the sixties DID need someone to stand up against the lynchings, the institutional cons, the ignorance, the prejudice, and the brutality. To say that a black man is a militant hate monger when he's standing up to protect himself from a tidal-wave of injustice is pure bullshit.
I read this like a story because Alex Haley is a great storyteller, falling in and out of sympathy for the main character, rolling around in his joys, anxieties, and failings, getting lifted up in his great successes, and higher when he learns mercy, temperance, and a real justice beyond the simple, if all-consuming, hate of his youth.
I wonder what he would have become if he hadn't been cut down at this, the most excellent prime of his life. Most of all of our modern ideas on racism and how to solve it comes from Malcolm X. We can't ignore his beginnings. It makes the later discoveries all the more potent.
I love you, man. Simple. Pure. I love you.
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