Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"The Autobiography of Malcolm X" - Book Review


If there was any one man who articulated the anger, the struggle, and the beliefs of African Americans in the 1960s, that man was Malcolm X. His autobiography is now an established classic of modern America, a book that expresses like none other the crucial truth about our times.

"Extraordinary. A brilliant, painful, important book."

Back story:
For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by history, both the good and the ugly. I first heard the name Malcolm X in elementary school when we were learning "This day in history" and it was February 21st; the day Malcolm X was murdered.
Throughout my educational career history was the class that I felt most inclined to learn, for those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. One thing that angers me to this day is that every year our history teachers would gladly teach us all about "American" history, by that I mean that they went into depth about white immigrant struggles, the industrial revolution and the like yet quickly skimmed over Native American history and African American history within a week, sometimes in a time frame even shorter than that.
In the sixth grade during our week of learning a summarized, dumbed-down version of African American history I asked my teacher after class if we were going to learn about Malcolm X. With unmasked disgust she said, "He was a bad man". That greatly confused me because I remembered a moment on the first episode of one of my favorite shows The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when Uncle Phil and Will were having a disagreement about how Will thought his uncle forgot his roots since he lived in an upper class neighborhood:

 "You have a nice poster of Malcolm X on your wall. I heard the brother speak," he replies. "I know where I came from." 
(The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, pilot episode)

Malcolm X was always celebrated on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and I was confused as to why they would say such good things about him if my teacher stated he was a 'bad man'. Later on I came to learn a couple of history teachers I've had over the years were prejudiced and sometimes manipulated history in favor of white people as they taught us. Because Malcolm had been racist during a portion of his life they condemn him. They don't give him credit for becoming a better man and changing his views. However, how many of my teachers told us we should have such love and adoration for our founding fathers and be grateful to them. How many of our founding fathers owned slaves and were openly racist? How many of our founding fathers allowed the terrible act of enslaving human beings, genocide, the stealing of land from the Native Americans, and segregation and discrimination to occur during their presidencies? And yet, we were taught to believe that they were such good men almost to the point of being superhuman. 
I have never been one to let people tell me how or what to think. Just as Malcolm so eloquently stated; "Despite my firm convictions, I have been always a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth." I too always research for the truth. Once in a college level history class - imagine! - my teacher denied the genocide against the Native Americans that was done on our very soil and said that Christopher Columbus never did anything wrong and was one of the greatest men to ever live. I'm very slow to anger but that day I was red in the face and my fists were clenched as I and a few of my fellow classmates strongly disagreed with her ignorance in front of the rest of the class. I wanted to rip the textbook she assigned apart, for there are very few things I despise more than people trying to cover up the truth. 
 I've wanted to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X for so many years but every time I searched for it in shops or at the library I was always short in money or the book had been checked out or destroyed. I just wish I would have read this book sooner, preferably in middle school when I faced a lot of racism being a minority of mixed race as well as being an American Muslim in post 9/11 America. Reading about Malcolm's struggles and his undying determination to fight ignorance would have been great for me to read knowing that I could relate to someone who understood fully what it's like to face racism, bigotry, and blind seething hatred on a daily basis. 

My Review:

Upon recommendation by a human rights and environmental protection blogger that I have grown to respect and adore I decided to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. He's always going on and on about how wonderful Malcolm was and I wanted to see for myself what all of the hullabaloo was about.  
As Malcolm says halfway through his autobiography you cannot truly understand someone and why they may be the way they are unless you know their entire life's story. Malcolm has been considered a very controversial historical figure in both American and world history. 
His life story is one of suffering, recklessness, anger, hatred, self-discovery, awakening, and ultimately enlightenment. He went from dealing drugs and hustling prostitutes to prison to becoming one of the most influential black leaders in African American history. Having only gone up to the 8th grade he explains how he had a "homemade" education in his prison cell and worked hard to become the highly intelligent man that he was before his untimely death.  He tells his story with a strong voice and poignant speech. Malcolm always spoke with great passion fueled by his anger at the barbaric conditions of a society controlled by racism. He was known for his shock-factor way of speaking. Reading just how powerful his writing was I wish I could have heard the brother speak in real life. 
From the very first sentence I knew that Malcolm's life was worth being documented because as he mentions numerous times throughout the autobiography his life is an example of what the ghetto can do to someone. Malcolm X was a great man and is such a misunderstood historical figure. He made mistakes, trusted the wrong people, and at times in his life had really closed-minded and hateful mentalities. However, Malcolm changed his hateful perspective and was not too proud of a man to admit when he was wrong and apologize sincerely. 
This book brought to light so many issues with American society that most like to brush beneath the rug. Things have come so far from where they were in 1950 America, but there are still remnant race issues today. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is now one of my top 5 favorite books, it has inspired me and given me courage. It wasn't mandatory for us to read in school, we were always obligated to read books about white immigrant suffering but any books regarding African American history were "optional" or most often, not even available. I think The Autobiography of Malcolm X should be a mandatory book to read because it perfectly explains the African American struggle that must never be forgotten. 
I now understand why the aforementioned human rights blogger always talked so highly of Malcolm, who now I consider one of my role models. Not just because he was a minority, or an American Muslim, but because he was an amazing human being that worked hard to fight the oppression of people, and never stopped bettering himself as a person. His life ended way too soon just as his philosophy was achieving wondrous heights, and it's sad knowing he could have accomplished so much more greatness. But his legacy and words will live on and continue to be an inspiration to all humans who strive for equality for all mankind.


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