The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Mass Market)
Recently in reading I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown, one of the most impactful moments in the book for me came from the author’s experience with a white woman. The white woman said “I can’t fix your pain, and I can’t take it away, but I can see it. And I can work for the rest of my life to make sure your children don’t have to experience the pain of racism.” What really hit home for me was her statement that “Doing nothing is no longer an option for me.” This summarized so well for me how I have felt on my journey from becoming a non-racist to an anti-racist. I learned from Ibram X. Kendi that there is no grey area of non-racist in the middle; you are either a racist or an anti-racist. As an anti-racist I can also no longer do nothing; I must take action, starting with myself and my education, learning and curiosity.
My education even throughout my 4 years of college was sorely lacking in Black history, literature and culture. I had little to no introduction to African and African American literature and iconic figures in the Black community. From memory, one of the only books I read in high school by a Black author was The Color Purple by Alice Walker. It is a shame and disgrace that it has to be intentionally sought out instead of integrated into the standard curriculum.
I am the Vice President of my company’s African Ancestry resource group and am the only non-Black member of the core team. In recent meetings with the core team members, I shared that I was reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X As Told to Alex Haley. The response I received from several was shock that I had not read this earlier in my life. I have the impression that while this book is often read within the Black community, I cannot say the same for the white community at least based on my experiences. I’m embarrassed to say and share with you that while I knew of Malcolm X, I realize now that I knew little to nothing about him and his life.
I can only imagine that if I had read this autobiography earlier in my life it would not have had the same impact on me. There’s something to be said for reading something out of want and desire to educate yourself versus mandatory reading during secondary education or even at the university level. I think that a white person reading this autobiography without previous knowledge, assessment and awareness of their privilege and of racial injustices with the United States could potentially be offended of the concepts of the “white devil”. This offense is difficult for me to understand based solely on our country’s long history of enslavement. Malcolm X’s further explanation on the concept was very insightful for me.
“Unless we call one white man, by name, a ‘devil,’ we are not speaking of any individual white man. We are speaking of the collective white man’s historical record. We are speaking of the collective white man’s cruelties, and evils, and greeds, that have seen him act like a devil toward the non-white man. Any intelligent, honest, objective person cannot fail to realize that this white man’s slave trade, and his subsequent devilish actions are directly responsible for not only the presence of this black man in America, but also for the condition in which we find this black man here. You cannot find one black man, I do not care who he is, who has not been personally damaged in some way by the devilish acts of the collective white man!”
It resonated with me when he said “Human rights! Respect as human beings! That’s what America’s black masses want.” That still holds true today some 55+ years later!
Malcolm X’s life was a remarkable journey – from growing up in Michigan (Lansing and Detroit), ending his formal education in the 8th grade, becoming a hustler and drug dealer, to prison, to finding the Nation of Islam, becoming a minister in Boston, to his journey to Mecca, through to his assassination in early 1965. To think of all that he accomplished and overcame in less than 40 years of life.
What most impressed me though was his openness and willingness to change, adjust and admit his shifting ideas throughout his short life. I greatly appreciated his mindset to learn and re-evaluate overtime. He spoke openly about changing perspectives based on new input and he was continuously curious and absorbing knowledge starting with his time in prison. He took advantage of his time incarcerated to educate and empower himself. Some criticized that he didn’t know what he believed in, however I feel instead that he was a great man with a true “growth mindset”.
In an effort to carry on his legacy of curiosity, learning and reading, I am continuing my journey to learn more starting with Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr., The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois, and Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington based on recommendations I have received to deeper my understanding of the Black history and perspective.— Erin Dewsbury-Ribeiro, Black Stone Bookstore & Cultural Center, Ypsilanti, MI
In the searing pages of this classic autobiography, originally published in 1964, Malcolm X, the Muslim leader, firebrand, and anti-integrationist, tells the extraordinary story of his life and the growth of the Black Muslim movement. His fascinating perspective on the lies and limitations of the American Dream, and the inherent racism in a society that denies its nonwhite citizens the opportunity to dream, gives extraordinary insight into the most urgent issues of our own time. The Autobiography of Malcolm X stands as the definitive statement of a movement and a man whose work was never completed but whose message is timeless. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand America.
Praise for The Autobiography of Malcolm X
“Extraordinary . . . a brilliant, painful, important book.”—The New York Times
“This book will have a permanent place in the literature of the Afro-American struggle.”—I. F. Stone
“A great book . . . Its dead level honesty, its passion, its exalted purpose, will make it stand as a monument to the most painful truth.”—The Nation
“The most important book I’ll ever read, it changed the way I thought, it changed the way I acted. It has given me courage I didn’t know I had inside me. I’m one of hundreds of thousands whose lives were changed for the better.”—Spike Lee