I just finished reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. It’s an amazing book! One of the best autobiographies I’ve read yet! It reads like a movie (Alex Haley transcribed it), and it colorfully illustrates the mental awakening processes of a person; from a criminal to a liberated thinker and freedom fighter. I was skeptical of reading it. I mean, I thought I already knew everything there was to know about him: He was the angry alternative to Martin Luther King Jr., the one the FBI and the Nation of Islam assassinated, the thorn in the civil rights’ movement’s side—the angry black man.
After reading his book, I was especially struck by how open he was to change as it seems from the videos and quotes we’ve seen and read portray him to be opposite of open-minded.
Reading his autobiography really changed my perception of him.
Toward the middle, I began to feel like Malcolm was one of those people who, when engrossed with an idea, become consumed by it. I felt that way about his relationship with the Nation of Islam (NOI) and the honorable Elijah Mohammad. Like Malcolm was so happy to have finally found solid footing in his new fellowship and position with the NOI, that he could see nothing else. But all that changed when his ideologies started to take on a more humanist paradigm after he came back from Mecca.
And that Mecca part! What was with the whole quarantining him and not letting him get to Mecca part about? I didn’t know there was protocol to getting to perform a pilgrimage! I was so nervous for him when they took his passport and put him in this sort of half-way house. eek!
Anyway, enough spoilers.
Another thing that struck me was peoples’ skepticism about Malcolm X. I read this book, enjoyed it immensely, and, as usual, recommended it to friends. Both people I recommended it to were like, “Nah, I can’t do Malcolm X, he’s too angry for me.” “The way I see it, if you can’t fight for peace using peaceful measures, then there’s no point.”
After reading the autobiography of Malcolm X, I became conscious of how misunderstood Malcolm X is to the very people he fought for. It’s sad to say, a lot of this skepticism is engineered.
Here’s what I would say to encourage skeptics of Malcolm to read his book:
1. Don’t get hung up on the sound bites of his message. They were often misconstrued. Despite what you’ve read and watched about Malcolm X, you can never really know him until you read his words, from his own mouth, to really know his mind. He was a fighter, the underdog, kinda like Rocky. You can’t help but root for his tenacity and audacity to win. He wasn’t afraid to speak his truth. And his truth was biting and raw.
2. He wasn’t hateful, at least not by the end. His was the voice of the ‘fed up’ of his time. People were angry; he was the voice of the angry multitudes. His message evolved as he did; eventually becoming humanist. Although he was pro-black, he understood that didn’t mean anti-white.
It’s eerie how similar things are now with the black lives matter campaign to how things were in the 50s and 60s. Much hasn’t changed, despite the gloss, and his words inform and give reason to how black people feel even now, in 2015.
3. Be weary of a single story. One can’t possibly understand the civil rights era, without reading about Malcolm X, and all the other revolutionary thinkers and doers outside of the SNCC and MLK. The tenor of the era can only be accurately described by reading various accounts and thoughts of individuals who lived in and wrote about that era.
One thing is for sure, there would be no “civil rights” without Malcolm. We know civil rights to be action brought on by the peaceful protests of Martin Luther King Jr., but knowing what I know now about how civil rights came about, fear of Malcolm a.k.a the demagogue, and other aggressive freedom fighters such as the black panther party, is what drove the status quo to the bargaining table in a hurry.
MLK is important. But he isn’t the only hero.