A friend asked me about a month ago if I knew anything about Malcolm X, and I didn't. That's not exactly accurate: I knew that Spike Lee made a movie about him, and that he was a controversial African-American man in the 1960s (though I didn't know why).
I picked up Malcolm X's autobiography at the library, and committed to getting back to my friend with a little more knowledge. I notice the irony now, because I think Malcolm X himself would have said I had an awful lot of nerve giving my (white woman's) opinion about his life to a black man.
This may be the most vivid autobiography I've ever read. Malcolm X shared frank details about much of his own life, and fierce opinions about race relations in America. Even when I didn't agree with his assessments, I appreciated how his experience formed them.
I found him a very, very hard man to like. Early on, I got the impression that he pushed away a lot of people who sincerely cared for him. Later, I was uncomfortable with his unquestioning devotion (I'm uncomfortable with anyone's unquestioning devotion) to Elijah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. I was annoyed by the way he dismissed those who disagreed with him as being blind or stupid. I hated the way he talked about women.
But on the other hand... He loved learning, and reading-- there was a vulnerability about his love of study that endeared him to me. He made some points that were incredibly sensible (albeit uncomfortable). And later, when he visited Mecca, it was such a transformative experience for him. I was touched by the wonder he let himself feel, by the opening-up he allowed. I'm really glad that I held on through the end of the book, because he grew, and it was extraordinary to watch. I think there is nothing more miraculous than watching people grow.
I love reading other people's stories, and I'm grateful that Alex Haley and Malcolm X worked together to let me see a bit of life that I otherwise never could have glimpsed. His world is entirely alien to me, and it's such a gift to be able to explore other worlds. There's a good bit on which we still don't agree, but I find an awful lot of joy in those days when I'm able to love those with whom I don't agree.