The Autobiography of Malcolm X has been on my Amazon wish list for years. A couple of weeks ago the price on the Kindle edition dropped to $1.99, so I finally bought it. I finished reading it last night. I don't know what I was expecting from the book, but that was not it.
The autobiography is actually written by Alex Haley, based on 2 years of interviews with Malcolm X that wrapped up shortly before his death. In no particular order, here are some things that stuck with me from the book.
I thought he was much younger. I have always thought he was in his early 20s when he was making a name for himself with The Nation of Islam. He was 40 when he was assassinated.
I found the early chapters where he describes growing up in segregated Lansing and Boston really powerful. It is the best description I have ever read of life under segregation in 20th century America. That is probably an indictment of my DoD education, and also an indication that I should read more books written by authors that are not white.
"Bad dude finds redemption then dies an early tragic death" is the plot of half the movies ever made. It's also the story of Malcolm X's life.
I knew little to nothing about the Nation of Islam, so his years in NOI were interesting. I sort of wonder what might have happened if he had skipped the NOI phase and worked with John Lewis, MLK, and the civil rights movement earlier in his life.
"History proves that the white man is a devil." Although plenty of white people would be offended by that statement, I'm not one of them. He's not wrong within the context of his times. He had no interactions with white people that would give him any reason to doubt that edict from NOI. Our history as it relates to North America and anybody here who was not white is kind of indistinguishable from what you might expect from a devil. Treating black people with respect is not something white people have done well. We still are not doing it well today in 2018.
His description of his pilgrimage to Mecca was fascinating. It was also really interesting how his exposure to white Muslims overseas changed his thinking on race relations. He realized the problem was not white people, it was white Christians and the legacy of slavery in the US. (Not that Muslims don't have their own issues with slavery in the past.)
Black guy speaking out = immediate surveillance by law enforcement. That has not really changed has it?
The preachy sections of the book got a little tedious.
It's 2018 and white nationalists are as accepted by mainstream America as they have been maybe since Malcolm X was alive. (Hell, we have one as President.) It sort of feels like we need somebody like Malcolm X to shake things up again.
One of the most important books of the last 50 odd years, and still required reading for everybody? Yeah, I think so. Seeing his point of view and how he grew up, and understanding how that would lead to a belief that the white men are devils is instructive. Thinking through how in many white people are still earning that devil title in 2018 is depressing.
I was trying to wrap this up with a clever comparison between the turmoil in the mid 60s and the last couple of years with the rise of Trump. It's not there. There is no comparison between the legacy of slavery and discrimination faced by African Americans and anything faced by white dudes in the US, all of whom have played the game of life on easy mode, just by being white dudes.