Monday, September 22, 2008

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

colThe Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley by Malcolm X

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
-"I have given to this book so much of whatever time I have because I feel, and I hope, that if I honestly and fully tell my life's account, read objectively it might prove to be a testimony of some social value...I believe that it would be almost impossible to find anywhere in America a black man who has lived further down in the mud of human society than I have; or a black man who has been any more ignorant than I have been; or a black man who has suffered more anguish during his life than I have. But it is only after the deepest darkest that the greatest joy can come; it is only after slavery and prison that the sweetest appreciation of freedom can come. For the freedom of my 22 million black brothers and sisters here in America, I do believe that I have fought the best that I knew how, and the best that I could, with the shortcomings that I have had. I know that my shortcomings are many..." (p. 378-379)

-Malcolm X

I just finished reading this and it was a slow read. Not only because of the excellent, but deep, content; but because of small margins and small print. Anyways, what an excellent book. Reading about Malcolm's life growing up in the 30's and 40's, his hard times, his conversion to Black Muslim in prison and long dedication to that, and his final conversion to true Islam was an engaging eye-opener.

As a white man growing up in modern-day southern CA, this book presented ideas/lifestyles that I was aware of but had never experienced. Seeing the kind of life Afro-American's suffered through because of racism is really sad but important to know so we can learn from it.

Upon Malcolm's initial conversion to Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam, it was tough to read through his constant preaching of the "Devil White Man," though I can certainly understand where he was coming from (as I had just read where he was coming from).

Many only think of Malcolm X as a promoter of a violent resistance, whereas he never really participated in any violent activity. The skewed version of him as being a radical is in part due to the media's changing of his words and in part due to most of his live's preaching of the "Devil White Man." While some of his views were indeed radical, they were necessary. Though the ones that were over the top he later changed in his life.

For me, the book went from a good, instructional read, to an excellent story important for us all when Malcolm went to Mecca and found the true Islamic faith. Not only did he just encounter a renewed and expanded faith, he also discovered something he did not expect in Mecca: white Muslims and black Muslims (and all other colors of people) living in true brotherhood with no regard for color (or even a recognition of a difference in color).

From this point on he made a change in his life and creed. He no longer decried ALL men/women of white complexion to be devils, but had changed it to something completely different. Of this change he said: "That morning was when I first began to reappraise the 'white man.' It was when I first began to perceive that 'white man,' as commonly used, means complexion only secondarily; primarily it describes attitudes and actions. In America, 'white man' meant specific attitudes and actions toward the black man, and toward all other non-white men. But in the Muslim world, I had seen that men with white complexions were more genuinely brotherly than anyone else had ever been." (p.333-334)

Less than a year after his realization in Mecca and forthcoming change his life was cut short. The public never really accepted his modification of his beliefs to consider all as humans and acceptance of white complexioned men who did not follow the western-white-racism belief. His life was cut short just as he could of made even more dramatic change for equal rights for all.

Truly a compelling read and one that I would recommend to anyone interested in being a better person and valuing human life and brotherhood. There is truly only one race and that is the Human Race and we are all brother and sisters. May we remember that. There are no separate races, only melatonin count in our skin.

Now for some great quotes from Malcolm X:

-" the words and in the actions and in the deeds of the 'white' Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan, and Ghana. We were truly all the same (brothers)--because their belief in one God had removed the 'white' from their minds, the 'white' from their behavior, and the 'white' from their attitude." (p. 340)

-on John Griffin's book Black Like Me: "Well, if it was a frightening experience for him as nothing but a make-believe Negro for sixty days--then you think about what real Negroes in America have gone through fro four hundred years." (p. 347)

-"I said that both races, as human beings, had the obligation, the responsibility, of helping to correct America's human problem. The well-meaning white people, I said, had to combat,actively and directly, the racism in other white people. And the black people had to build within themselves much greater awareness that along with equal rights there had to be the bearing of equal responsibilities. I knew, better than most Negroes, how many white people truly wanted to see American racial problems solved. I knew that many whites were as frustrated as Negroes." (p. 375)

-"When I am dead...I want you to just watch and see if I'm not right in what I say: that the white man, in his press, is going to identify me with 'hate.' He will make use of me dead, as he has made use of me alive, as a convenient symbol of 'hatred'--and that will help him to escape facing the truth that all I have been doing is holding up a mirror to reflect, to show, the history of unspeakable crimes that his race had committed against my race. You watch. I will be labeled as, at best, an 'irresponsible' black man. I have always felt about this accusation that the black 'leader' whom white men consider to be 'responsible' is invariably the black 'leader' who never gets any results." (p. 381)

View all my reviews.


T.J. Shelby said...

I'm glad you read it and experienced it. I first read it when I was 17. It changed my whole perception of history. I immediately realized that if I had been born in that situation, I would have been an aggressive Malcolm X follower and not a passive King Jr. follower.

An excellent follow up book is called "Martin, Malcolm & America: Dream or Nightmare" ( I used to have it but I think it was lent out and never returned. Used copies are under $5 and I highly recommend it. It weighs the lives of Martin and Malcolm and their influence on America.

One of the most fascinating spoilers I can give you is the author posits that while Martin was typically the pacifist and Malcolm the more confrontational applicant, it was towards the end of their lives that they seemed to see the value in the other's role. Malcolm became more of the pacifist and Dr. King was tired of being patted on the head and wanted faster change.

Now think in context of religion. Not just understanding but now comprehending the immense racism, social and institutional, let me ask you a question. Had you been born as Malcolm X and Mormon elders knocked on your door (pre-1978) would you have responded? Forget being Malcolm, be anyone of African would you have responded?

Those members who converted in the face of that have a faith and testimony I do not comprehend. It borders on pure spiritual knowledge and that is why it infuriates me so intensely when the wicked traditions of our fathers still seeps into our current religious environment. The ignorance perpetuated by the few can only be overcome with education. I shouldn't be surprised as it was only 30 years ago that the alleged "ban" was lifted.

Great review and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Nicole Shelby said...

excellent review.

while i have never thought of myself as a discriminatory person - whether through color, or culture, or religion. i found that this book deepened my sympathy for the plight of those who have been the sufferers of the behavior of others. also, to have seen through his eyes and better understand how the african-american people feel about their own history in this land.

alex haley also wrote the book "roots". which i found brilliantly written. i couldn't put that one down and gobbled it up in days.

i think any book that expands our own narrow views can be beneficial to us.

and reading these types of books fuels my own outrage that a group of people - any group - could be so thoroughly undermined and degraded. that it could really be believed that a color could eliminate humanity.

it's like reading books about the atrocious treatment of the jews in europe ("the hiding place" or "the diary of anne frank" for example). or watching movies like "empire of the sun" or "blood diamond". i can never understand, nor do i want to, the mindset that allows such brutality against a brother.

i think this must be why i favor reading fiction so much. i can separate the story from my own personal reality. but, reading history? whew. i know that it's important to understand what did happen, and what is still happening...but once personalized, it's so difficult for me to compartmentalize it and go back to changing diapers.

i always rush through the end of the book of mormon. i can't stand the extreme hatred and sadness of it. and yet i understand why i need to understand it all better. we should never be complacent to the plights (whether small indignities or large atrocities) of others, either individually or as a group.

so, does any of this affect my current life? i hope so. i hope i am more understanding and accepting of the supposed differences of others. i hope i am not the cause of pain to another. i hope that i am not the one who takes away another's freedom. or stand quietly by while someone else does.

the most stirring stories are of people who have stood up. who live with strict integrity between their beliefs and their practices. whose behavior - regardless of consequences - is in accord with what they know to be right.

i think maybe i've rambled enough for now. hopefully, my jumbled thoughts had some sort of clear expression, or at least pointed to what i was trying to say.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

This is one of the most important books I've ever read. It helped me see racial discrimination more clearly, for all parties involved.

One of the most poignant parts of the book for me was when Malcolm looked back on the "white devil" doctrine he once advocated. While in retrospect he recognized the message was false, he commented that it seemed perfectly reasonable to many blacks who heard it because all they had ever encountered from whites was hostility or crippling condescension.

I also thought it was interesting that when Malcolm later had a change of heart and agreed to work with whites, he insisted that blacks and whites form separate organizations that would work together. He feared that if they formed just one organization the blacks would settle into the familiar pattern of letting whites take the reins, and they would never develop their own leaderships skills and potential.

I was also intrigued by Malcolm's observations about white international businessmen. He noted that they rarely had any trouble treating blacks as equals when they were abroad in countries where blackness carried no stigma. However, even if they wanted to maintain that mindset when they returned, they often found themselves slipping back into old hierarchical habits. American whites were used to acting superior, and American blacks were used to being treated as inferiors. When everyone around you assumes a certain (flawed) reality and acts accordingly, it's hard not to fall into the same pattern yourself.

It makes me wonder what cultural influences shape our beliefs and behavior. A few that come to mind are assumptions about what gives women value (e.g. beauty, career), or the notion that immorality and rebellion are exotic and fun. Even when you know the views are flawed, it's hard to completely escape their influence when those messages come at you from all sides.