The Autobiography of Malcolm X

It’s somewhat sad that the Autobiography of Malcolm X is also meant to be a specific political and social message, as well as serve as a brilliant account of the life of a thoughtful and brave leader. X thought he would be dead by the time the book came out, and was also probably a little concerned about what he wanted his reluctant critics to think about him: so that they would take his message seriously. So, instead of celebrating change for change’s sake, X decided to underplay it, to an extent that if don’t watch out for it, the book will seem more like a testament to the angst and the rage of the African American in mid-nineteenth century. It is that, I don’t deny it; but it’s also an account of a man’s life – a life of change: change in reverence of concepts, in thoughts, in mind-sets, in lifestyle, and more so, a change in life itself.

Malcolm X went from being a shoe-shiner, to a hustler peddling drugs in the Harlem ghettos, to armed robbery in Boston’s Roxbury area, to prison (where he had all his education – not the kind which prisons typically dish out), to being a minister in a temple, to being the most ardent mouth-piece for a socio-religious movement, to revelation in Mecca, to being the charismatic leader of African-Americans, to a martyr.

We see these transitions through X’s eyes; and this has to be attributed to the writing skills of Alex Haley, who ghostwrote the Autobiography. But what hit me more was that though the changes are what the book is about, X’s thoughts preceding his committing to any change is never discussed. Some changes, he had no hand in them; some others, he went through them while knowing that they would alter the very nature of his built up case, cause, and life. He clearly explains why he changed, but he never touches upon what he went through before these changes. The uncertainty of any major self-orchestrated life change is what I would have loved to see X muse upon…….Every such change in my life, however miniscule it might be, makes me wonder…..

Apart from that one complaint, there is also a shocking lack of supreme skepticism about religion in the book. Someone as sharp, as obviously intelligent, and as widely read, embracing a new religion to the extent of being ready to die for it – makes me conclude that the driving forces must have been of an order of magnitude that I cannot even imagine. Maybe in a larger context of history, it will all make sense. A must read.

ps: Most house burglars get thwarted by dim lights of bathrooms.

4 thoughts on “The Autobiography of Malcolm X

  1. Talking about thoughts you had before a change is tough – you don’t know whether its the easy way out or the right way, and once you have decided, you don’t want to go back to it and reflect on what it is, only to realize that oops, maybe you should not have run after all.

    Its easier to go and “just do it”, just like Malcolm X is easier than kitchen enclaves, but lets not get into that 🙂

  2. Malcolm X, Change, Passion, Religion……

    The Xs of the world are made and destroyed by accident. For every X made and read there are 100s ruined and unread. It’s easy write about yourself when you are Malcolm X after all the changes. I’ve probably stopped seeing truth in biographies. The story that is told doesn’t tell the full story. I need those zillions of untold stories to get the picture.

    Right now I’m sick of great men. They’ve stopped turning me on. Probably I’ve realized I aint good enough to be one. And I’ve realized long back that if I don’t run the show, I don’t care who does. May be these are shades of failed narcissism and unspectacular megalomania.

    Anyways, it’s gotta be a good read. But seldom have I known an author virile enough to propagate his species through his writing.

  3. IMHO, Biographies are collections of life experiments that worked, much like in research..nobody talks about the failed experiments that taught you what works – and got you to the successful experiment. Also, most of the times the doer does not know what worked, but is left with the option to take the news to some place and create a change. Now, when one has to write about the cognitive processes that took him to that pinnacle, most brains dont map the events/lessons/ turningpoints, maybe because the trigger might have come from a totally unexpected quarter or the trigger must have exploded in his subconscious without a whimper. And, we are too soon to dismiss the element of chance..

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