Book Review – The Autobiography of Malcolm X
The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a written collaboration between Malcolm X and author Alex Haley. It is the story of Malcolm X’s life from his perspective, describing life events and realizations from childhood, through multiple phases of reinvention and enlightenment, and concluding with the chapter 1965, which was the same year as his death. This final chapter establishes Malcolm X’s general outlook on his life, where he discusses his understanding of race relations in the US, his role in the Civil rights movement, and the social impact he wishes to have. He also anticipates his untimely death, and reflects on how his perceived demagogue role in society should eventually shed light on, expose, and then destroy the racism that is so deeply intertwined in the fabric of American society. Throughout the book, the authors establish a framework of the society and circumstances that Malcolm X developed within. It attempts to paint a picture of Malcolm X as a product of his surroundings, and follows his life’s timeline while narrating his changing understanding of the world around him as it developed. The book argues for an empathetic understanding of the black condition in America, and advocates for a critical look at the power structures that exist that serve to oppress Black Americans. The Autobiography chronicles the events that shaped Malcolm throughout his life. Malcolm X was born as Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925. He was the son of political activists that were devoted advocates of Marcus Garvey and his ideas of black racial purity, Black Nationalism, and the Back-To-Africa movement. Retaliation from the white community against his parents’ political activism eventually led to his father’s likely murder and his mother’s institutionalization due to mental illness. He and his siblings were placed in foster care and in the 8th grade, Little left school, relocating to Boston to live with his sister, Ella Little. With minimal supervision, Malcolm became a hustler, burglar, and narcotics dealer in Harlem. (X & Haley, 1965) In 1946 at the age of twenty, Malcolm was arrested for burglary and was sent to prison. He recalls the circumstances of his prosecution and imprisonment as being heavily influenced by his intimate relationship with a white woman, which was seen as a symbol of status and also as an incredible insult to the white establishment (X & Haley, 1965). While in prison, Malcolm’s siblings introduced him to the Nation of Islam, a small black-nationalist religious movement led by the charismatic Elijah Muhammad. His conversion to the nation of Islam led Malcolm through a religious and scholarly epiphany. Malcolm Little emerged from prison 8 years later as Malcolm X, discarding his “white given” last name for a symbolic X. Energetic and charismatic, Malcolm was quickly promoted through the ranks of leadership in the Nation by Elijah, traveling across the country and earning hundreds of thousands of new recruits to The Nation of Islam. He gained infamy for his advocacy for a more militant approach to black empowerment than other civil rights leaders of the time were taking. His enigmatic persona and dangerous message led to a surge in his popularity and interest in his teachings from the University circuits to the media. (X & Haley, 1965) By 1960, Malcolm’s notoriety, influence, and a number of other issues caused a rift between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. There were rumors of death threats and contention against Malcolm from within the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X was saddened and conflicted when it was revealed that Muhammad had broken some of the sacred tenets of the Nation of Islam’s strict moral guidelines by fathering a number of children out of wedlock, and in March of 1964, Malcolm X announced his severance in ties with the Nation of Islam. He soon founded the Muslim Mosque, Inc to address what he saw as shortcomings of The Nation. He converted...
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Stone, A. (1982). Autobiographical occasions and original acts. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Wood, J. (1992). Malcolm x: In our own image. New York, NY: St Martins Press.
X, M., & Haley, A. (1965). The autobiography of malcolm x. Guernsey: Penguin Books Ltd.
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