Books and Horizons

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.

1 comment:

  1. I read it back in the day, and I am glad we both kept reading because the amazing transformation of one man has to give us hope for ourselves and all others


"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."
-Saint Molly Ivins