Essay On Malcolm X

These passages, the famous scenes of Malcolm in his cell reading Spinoza by the dim light coming through the bars, are among the most memorable in the book – and, I would argue, offer clues to the enduring appeal of the book for educated white readers.For one thing, his metamorphosis from functional illiterate to world-class intellectual seems to confirm the liberal white piety that all poor black people lack is education, while at the same time taking the onus for providing this education away from white society. No special program was required, no tax dollars had to be expended to send him to college.After his father’s death, Malcolm’s overwhelmed mother slowly lost her grip on reality and landed in a mental institution, causing young Malcolm to quit school after the eighth grade and strike out for the East Coast, first to Boston, and then to New York’s Harlem, where he became a pimp, drug dealer, and burglar.

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That most illogical of propositions – – begins, in the pages of Malcolm X’s memoir, to seem the only rational conclusion one could draw. This is why the ending, both Malcolm’s abandonment of his black separatist ideology and his eventual martyrdom, is so crucial to the story’s appeal.

The great enigma of the book is Malcolm’s attachment to Elijah Muhammad, the quiet, gnomic nonentity at the head of the Nation of Islam.

We relish his public jousting matches against racist whites and “Uncle Thomases Ph.

D.” Most importantly, we begin to see the world through his eyes.

You couldn’t have gotten me out of a book with a wedge. This former ghetto hustler and thief could not have been more different from me, but he was experiencing the same intellectual transformation and feeling the same intellectual excitement that I was.

It wasn’t just that I admired Malcolm in these passages. For fifty-odd pages, this white college kid from the California suburbs identified with – idealized, even – the angriest black man in America, and I’m going to guess I wasn’t alone.In his new biography, , the late Manning Marable argues that “[i]n many ways, the published book is more Haley’s than its author’s.” Marable claims that Haley, a liberal Republican who favored racial integration, tempered Malcolm’s more extreme positions, particularly his anti-Semitism.In addition, Marable argues, Haley helped to idealize Malcolm, smoothing over the bumps in his sometimes rocky marriage to Betty Shabazz and skirting possible homosexual behavior in Malcolm’s past as well as an adulterous affair Marable contends may have continued right up until the last night of Malcolm’s life.Still, the primal power of this emotional identification with Malcolm can’t be underestimated, because from the prison section onward readers like me aren’t just following the interesting adventures of a historical figure – we’re traveling with him.We feel his triumph as he races around the country establishing mosques for the Nation of Islam.There is, of course, a fundamental callowness in this.Malcolm was reading to save his very life, whereas I was reading to finish college and follow my parents into a secure white-collar profession.All Malcolm needed – and in a certain kind of white reader’s mind, all poor black man needs – is some time and a little self-motivation.More subtly, though, the prison section draws educated readers because it offers them an unexpected emotional connection to an angry, uneducated black felon.We go with him back to the Harlem streets he once knew and meet the ruin that West Indian Archie has become, a ghostly figure “in rumpled pajamas and barefooted” living a cheap rented room.And because we have come to trust Malcolm’s razor-sharp mind, we begin to draw the same conclusions that he does, that white people are to blame for this tragedy, and for the wider tragedy of black poverty in Harlem and around the nation.

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