155. The Autobiography of Malcolm X As Told to Alex Haley

Before you read this review, let me add a bit of context:

Growing up I never heard about Malcolm X and to be honest wasn’t aware of the atrocities that were inflicted on the African American population in the US.

I’m South Asian. A Pakistani. We already have a melancholic history that would take up all my study time if not leisure time. I’m not an expert on it, but school didn’t offer any insight into the world history beyond ours.

Or at least that is how I felt.

As I grew older, I came to know about Malcolm X through Hollywood, and the movie industry exaggerates and shows history from a very biased stand point. Nonetheless, I was adamant to read his biography after I saw Selma.

It moved me, and I knew I had to read it.

Fast forward a few years later, with only the Hollywood version of Malcolm X in my mind and not a lot of knowledge of who he was other than that he was a Muslim African American Activist. I was very surprised when I started his book.

Malcolm X has had a very turbulent life, from his childhood to his early teen years, there was an element of violence in each phase that even if he wanted to he couldn’t escape. But still he persevered, even at his lowest point.

Another important point that I came to know from his biography was Nation of Islam – an Islamic organization which isn’t Islamic at all – as they believe that the Founder Elijiah Muhammed is God’s divine messenger.

And so after a few weeks of finishing this book, I still cannot get Malcolm X out of my mind. From time to time I think, “What opinion would he have about this?” “How would Malcolm X react to this?” “Could our geopolitical situation be a bit different had been alive?” These are just some of the daily questions that I think about randomly.

Because here is the truth: Malcolm X’s story will put you in a constant struggle. You want a silver lining for him. After a traumatic childhood that involves losing his father very young and then having to put into foster care after his mother wasn’t allowed to care for her children, you can’t help but wish for it to get better.

The man wasn’t a saint. And he makes that very clear when he openly describes his dark past when it came to hustling in Detroit, drug abuse, robbing homes and just a life that was going downhill further and further. He truly transformed when he reached Prison and you can see how the intelligent person within him had this hunger for learning and so he devoured books despite forgetting how to read and write.

I cannot tell you how problematic it was for me to read certain parts of his life and it wasn’t till I crossed the 300 page mark that I understood how important it is for the reader to understand how he reached the place of understanding that he would eventually achieve. What I mean is, he doesn’t let his clarity of his present self cloud the thought process of his past version, and that way of writing is interesting as you get to meet different versions of Malcolm X.

Humans are bound to change with time; their ideas, faith, ideologies and principles are all subject to change or refinement, and to assume that one has reached their ultimate destination of clarity or refinement is utter crap. Malcolm X is the embodiment of how you should be open to the possibility of your views being faulty and be ready to change if the need be. That is the most remarkable thing about his life.

His trajectory on what he believes, his attitude towards White people, his views on Women were constantly evolving, and it is very easy to judge him early on. Even I judged early on and it made it equally harder for me to continue. But that is the point! You cannot judge one person or “cancel” them based on their past actions when you see they have reformed their ideas.

The autobiography of Malcolm X is the most moving book I have read till date; one that is affecting me many weeks later as well. I found it exceptionally hard to read, but that was my own prejudice affecting my reading and maybe the ache you feel when the potential or promise of a truly revolutionary person is cut too soon.

The fact that he knew he would die a violent death like his father, his grandfather and their grandfathers shows how unjust of life it was and still is for African American’s in the US. Centuries of slavery, of subjugation, of raping women, of insulting them with vile words; it is overwhelming but that doesn’t mean you ignore it or don’t acknowledge it.

He could’ve changed the landscape for African American people had he not been shot, violently, infront of his entire family, but alas that is the catch with “coulda woulda shoulda” – it just remains in a parallel dimension.

Lastly, the introduction by his daughter Atallah Shabazz and the afterword by Alex Haley are such interesting perspectives on Malcolm X to know him from a different angle. The fact that their relationship wasn’t smooth sailing from the beginning even though he agreed on the biography and the many events that took place in between that shifted Malcolm X’s entire career, faith and allegiance with Nation of Islam are truly remarkable to know.

Despite his issues with women, he is surrounded with some of the strongest women around him that stood with him through thick and thin. Helped him perform the Hajj and so much more. I do feel he was harsh on the subject of women but he was changing. I don’t what else to say, whether you read this biography or not Macolm X and his book will be relevant even many decades after his death because the world hasn’t changed a bit since he left.

Onto the basics:

  1. Rating: 4.0/5.0
  2. Favorite quote: “One day may we all meet together in the light of understanding.”
  3. Reader level: Easy but full of slangs from the 50’s
  4. Should you read: Without a doubt.
  5. Would I read it again: Of course.

Till next time,

-Sarah

 

 

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