My rating – 5 stars *****
During the George Floyd protests, online activists listed book titles that would help increase black history awareness. The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley was among those recommended to me.
With this writing, Malcolm X hoped to shed light on how growing up in the black ghettoes shaped his life and character. And he knew it would require a great deal of objectivity on the reader’s part.
Indeed, there are harsh truths—painful and soul-crushing truths that justify every bit of anger black people feel. There are also misogynistic generalizations along with expressed anger and vindictiveness particularly toward white women, but, as he stated later in the book, “Anger can blind human vision.”
It works both ways.
With the “Black Lives Matter” movement, I saw an inability to comprehend that people of color merely demanded the same due process, dignity, and justice given to white people. Those enraged by the protests could not put themselves in those people’s places or even imagine being in that position themselves. They were above it all, and facts didn’t matter. My impression was that they don’t understand because they generally don’t deal with black people personally, Generally speaking, their knowledge of black people is what they see on the news. Or they base their conclusions on the actions of a few, something they wouldn’t do with people of the same race and ethnicity.
There’s been an obsession with “sameness” that has baffled me since I was a child.
Interesting analogy—when my child was born, I had to get an Rh immune globulin shot because I am Rh-negative and didn’t have the Rh factor marker to mix with Rh-positive blood. If I hadn’t done that, and my son was born Rh positive, my immune system would have made antibodies to reject what it detected as a foreign invasion by attacking his red blood cells. That foreign invasion response. The impulsive instinct to reject what isn’t the same, not close enough, and thereby threatening. It’s part of humanity’s defective design. I don’t recognize you, plain and simple. You don’t belong here. Get out. It’s like a bad science fiction movie where you can’t get through to the people affected and can’t save them.
Malcolm X said that, in writing this book, he hoped to help “save America from a grave, possibly even a fatal catastrophe.”
I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.
I remember, years ago, while dating a biracial man, a black woman said to me, “He’s a black man, honey. You can’t possibly understand a black man the way he needs to be understood.” I didn’t know if she was right or wrong. Sure, I realized, from an early age, that discrimination and oppression were completely unacceptable. I was always willing to understand. I’m certainly a lot more aware now than I was then. Yet there is still more to learn.
Responding to speculation as to why he was the way he was, Malcolm X said, “To understand that of any person, his whole life, from birth, must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient.”
He talked a lot about how reading forever changed the course of his life. “People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book,” he said. (And although women were hardly a second thought in the time that he lived, this applies to them, too.) 😉
The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley has that ability to change lives. Mr. Haley did an excellent job with it. The pacing was slow—at times, a little too slow, but I’m glad I was patient. It is an important book to read. It proves, as far as I’m concerned, that reading is a must. It has been one of my saving graces in life, and it is what pulled Malcolm X up from the dark, deep, underground tunnels that kept him in the oppressor’s grip, a cycle of self-sabotage and self-loathing that his oppressors created for him and so many others like him.
Exploring works like Native Son by Richard Wright and The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley is a great start for people interested in learning why this great divide continues to exist.
However, according to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, “As of 2017, Americans spent an average of almost 17 minutes per day reading for personal interest (as compared to almost three hours watching television and 28 minutes playing games and using computers for leisure). Younger Americans (ages 15 to 44) spent, on average, less than 10 minutes per day reading for personal interest.”
I firmly believe a lack of reading and exploring is one of the many problems we have in this country.
The truth is, you don’t have to like a person to learn from them, but I ended up liking the person who told this story. The tragic end to his extraordinary life saddens me. Malcolm X was open-minded and remained teachable. He came to understand we are not all alike, all of us white people, and it’s the same thing everyone needs to realize about every other race and ethnicity.
His conclusion was, it isn’t necessarily “the American white man who is a racist, but the American political, economic, and social atmosphere that automatically nourishes a racist psychology in the white man.” And that “it takes all of the religious, political, economic, psychological, and racial ingredients, or characteristics, to make the human family and the human society complete.” He felt certain if this weren’t the case, we’d have a humane, empathetic society where all of us, rich and poor, could be treated with dignity and respect. He liked the idea of not seeing an inherently evil “enemy” but rather a society that “influences him to act evilly.”
Even Christianity—a religion black people clung to for comfort and hope—became part of that racist psychology. He noted that “The Christian church returned to Africa under the banner of the Cross—conquering, killing, exploiting, pillaging, raping, bullying, beating—and teaching white supremacy. This is how the white man thrust himself into the position of leadership of the world—through the use of naked physical power.”
I so admire the spiritual courage this man had in his search for the truth.
And the truth is, essentially, what makes sense to you after all your exploration and your quest for authenticity. I say it all the time, no group, no matter who, what, or where is perfect. We always have a mix of good and evil. Or, to be kinder, some have seen the light, and others have yet to see it. Let’s hope they keep looking.
“The most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution. All too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.” -Martin Luther King, Jr..
MORE BOOKS RECOMMENDED TO ME
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn along with Malcolm X
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs
Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois by W.E.B. Du Bois
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Negro History by Carter G. Woodson’s by Carter G. Woodson