On The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley
At first, I was embarrassed to hold this book in public. Embarrassed that I’ve lived 24 years without reading it, and that everyone would be thinking I was trying to look like a young, liberal white girl.
My ego was quickly shattered as I became submerged in Malcolm’s life story, which he told all at once at the end of his life, when he knew the end of his life was near.
Somehow, in one smooth sweep, he walks the reader along the winding path of his life as if he were living it all over again. Mr. Malcolm X recounts his experiences as he experienced them, never abandoning nor judging his evolving lens.
He grows from a young child into a young hustler. Imprisoned and then introduced to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam (in America), he becomes a minister and soon an international icon before finally making the pilgrimage to Mecca, an experience that transforms his life all over again.
He remarks a few times on how swiftly and vastly his life changed time and again. His experiences alone are incredible, intriguing and powerful. But all that happened to him, and all that he made happen, are not alone what make his autobiography so profound.
If I had learned his history in school (which I didn’t), I doubt it could ever amount to the message conveyed by Malcolm X himself.
Humility, strength, conviction, compassion and a deep knowing come together as bedrock underneath Malcolm’s account of his life and life’s work, as if he lived series of lives and reflected wisely back upon them. All throughout, his search for truth and justice is pure.
I wondered why, as I read his autobiography, I hadn’t known his story. I should be embarrassed – that my education did not hold up Mr. Malcolm X as a gleaming example for every truth seeker.
I am embarrassed of a country that whitewashes its history, that continues to divide and profit and bicker and oppress rather than exercising humility and compassion and love-grounded truth-seeking.
But of course, it’s not my embarrassment that matters. I now understand that feeling of embarrassment as a nudge that Intuition was offering me. Next time I feel that way about a topic or a piece of art such as this autobiography, I won’t hesitate to dive in. I will take it as a reminder of all the injustice I have not directly experienced (or ever will). A nudge to learn.
Toward the end of his autobiography, Malcolm X said,
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 think that an objective reader may see how in the society to which I was exposed as a black youth here in America, for me to wind up in a prison was really just about inevitable. It happens to so many thousands of black youth.
I think that an objective reader may see how when I heard “The white man is the devil,” when I played back what had been my own experiences, it was inevitable that I would respond positively; then the next twelve years of my life were devoted and dedicated to propagating that phrase among the black people.
I think, I hope, that the objective reader, in following my life – the life of only one ghetto-created Negro – may gain a better picture and understanding than he has previously had of the black ghettos which are shaping the lives and the thinking of almost all of the 22 million Negros who live in America…
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.
Mr. Malcolm X understood that history would largely paint him out of the picture, or distort his story. That’s why he felt it urgent tell his own narrative.
It happens to be a narrative that shows us what we can aspire to. Open-mindedness, humility, drive, Truth, dignity – to name just a few.
It’s up to us now to seek out histories too untold. It’s up to us to be humble seekers of truth.