reading Malcolm X at seminary

For our American Literature & Theology class this semester, we’ve already gotten to read Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and James Baldwin, but this past week we were set with the awesome opportunity to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley. I’d never gotten to read about Malcolm X in history books growing up and had the sound byte of him as the violent, separatist man in my mind. But pouring over his life story, we talked about in class how Malcolm X made this progression from his childhood of seeing violence against blacks by whites to a philosophy of anger and separatism against whites out of his street education and his prison exposure and conversion to the Nation of Islam.
What many people do not know, however, is that after his rough separation from the Nation, he made the hajj to Mecca and was deeply moved by the spiritual integration of white and black peoples in this ancient faith of Islam. Converting to Islam, learning Arabic, and changing his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz were only the outward symbols of this inward revelation which he preached to all who would listen, a message still of angry indignation against a white oppressive culture that would not let up, but tempered now by a love for humanity that made possible an integrated fight against hatred and oppression of all kinds and colors.
I’ve been privileged to have some great conversations with my peers here at seminary, but I’m interested if others have read this autobiography or seen the movie. What do you think about Malcolm X and the way hisotry has portrayed him? Were you moved by his speeches, but his fight and his life story?

We felt largely that after reading this autobiography what a shame it is that many people do not see the progression of Malcolm X’s life and message but see him largely as the violent figure in opposition to the nonviolent King of the Civil Rights movement. However, the subtlety of Malcolm X’s argument was largely lost in his hostility and the violence associated with him, but rather brilliantly he recognized that imperfect systems would not foster the integration desired to equalize blacks with whites. His message to the black community to build themselves up separately regarded the deconstruction necessary in a white racist system before blacks could ever garner the respect and opportunity they deserved.

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4 thoughts on “reading Malcolm X at seminary

  1. When speaking of Malcolm X his hostility and the violence associated with him is all that really matters. Whatever subtleties he possessed were drowned in his own Racism.

    Some people grow through pain, suffering and privation – Malcolm X festered instead.

  2. As I mentioned above, i don’t think you’re alone in that opinion, but I also wonder whether you’ve taken the time to really read through Malcolm X’s entire autobiography. I think the first 300 pages certainly describe a different man than the last 100 or so. I don’t think it’s just to call another race the devil or to hold opinions of women that relegate them to second-class citizens, but I think presuming that Detroit Red, Malcolm X, and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz all hold these opinions is untrue. I don’t think Malcolm X is seen festering in his suffering and pain in the latter years of his life, but rather rising to a truer knowledge of humanity through his exposure to the colorless brotherhood he experienced at Mecca. I want to give validity to the context of Malcolm X’s anger, recognize the present injustices that are still institutionalized in our systems today, and note the range of who he was rather than essentialize him- in short, treat him as humanly as he grew to aspire to treat others.

  3. If we speak of Malcolm X as a man, then we can say he changed over the course of his life and possibly for the better. If we speak of Malcolm X as a demagogue and shaper of society then we must ignore that since it is immaterial to his “contribution” to American society.

  4. Many readers have been skeptical of the passages in the autobiography about his conversion. I believe some of his contemporaries doubted the sincerity of the realization. Does it matter? I dunno.

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