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.