Monday, September 6, 2010
Eight things that made their mark on me from ”The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”
1. Am I sure I am not a racist? One is the product of the context of one’s life, and I grew up in apartheid South Africa – a white South African. It would therefore perhaps not be any surprise that I have been quite petrified of being considered a racist. (At least as it pertains to ”black” people, less worried about being disparaging about ”whites”!). Nevertheless, this book was quite tough to real, especially in the beginning – where the author is quite candid about his feelings about white people, all white people. Which put me on the defensive, quite decisively so! However in the end I made peace with it. The truth was that I could understand it. We all do the best we can.
2. An indictment of Christianity – This book does not make me proud of my fellow Christians. Why is it that we have participated and perpetuated so much racism within the Christian church? I just do not understand! It is shameful, and something which needs much repentance.
3. Why he was Malcom X – I hate to sound pretentious, but I was actually moved when it emerged why he changed his name from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X. It is a dramatic indictment on the history of African-Americans. Nor can I look away from the irony of his original surname: Little. I could not think of a less appropriate name for this particular man, who was anything, but.
4. Thinking for yourself: there is no doubt that Malcolm X was a phenomenal man. Yet I am not sure that I will be able to fully appreciate what it was about him. If for no other reason that my the draw of genetics, I am a ”white”. A white South African at that. Yet even I could sense a greatness about him. What struck me the most, however, was the realisation that great men do not spring full grown from the head of Zeus! They are the product of their lives, and Malcolm X was no exception. It was particularly striking when he realises that he has not been thinking for himself, but rather blindly been following Elijah Mohammed’s thinking. Even Malcolm X had to figure out what he himself thought about things for himself.
5. Racism in 2010: Reading books by black consciousness writers have been defnining moments in my life. When I read ”I write what I like” by Steve Biko, I discovered that one of my colleagues at university at the time had been a fellow detainee and torturer victim of Steve Biko. This brought the evils of apartheid home to me such that I have spent years working on reconciling myself with the fact that, like it or not, I am a white South African. This book was also amongst the most thought provoking I can remember reading. At more or less the same time as I read this book two racist-related things hit the media. In one an African-American employee of the Department of Agriculture in the US was forced out of her job as she was perceived to be racist, i.e. towards whites. As it turned out she was anything but, and the entire affair is mind-boggling. At the same time a South African born writer was accused of racism when an article he wrote was perceived as juxtaposing car guards with baboons. I have to admit I needed to be explained where the racism lay in the article, as I did not see it myself. This latter situation made me realise that one has to accept that where so much racism has been sown over the years, there is a harvest which is being reaped! It is that simple, but means that we are no nearer to a non-racist society.
6. Who was the real Malcolm X? I did some research on the book and discovered that it is not without contraversy. There are those who believe that Alex Haley (who is apparently a more conservative African American) has ”coloured” the Malcolm X of the last chapter of the book. I am a bit sceptical of the completely changed Malcolm X, it is just a bit too much somehow. An example is that earlier in the book he contends that the biggest challenge for a interracial couple would not be the white community, but the black community’s response. However in the end, he no longer this an interracial relationship is problematic. Just because he no longer believes that white people are the devil incarnate does not mean that there would be nuanced responses to an interracial relationship. For someone who has analysed racial relations as much as Malcolm X it seems a completely unnuanced about-turn. I am just dubious, I like the human, struggling Malcolm X, I thought he was a worthy hero. Not so sure about the saint in the last chapters of the book.
7. There is something to be said about knowing something about famous people. I realised that there are so many famous people that I actually do not know anything about, other than that they are famous (and why they are famous). I certainly feel richer knowing more about who Malcolm Little/X was.
8. Know yourself. There is nothing like reading someone else’s journey through their life – and the book is written in such a way that you develop along with Malcolm X into who he became – to make you wonder about your own journey. As the sugar packets in South Africa from Hewletts say: Life is not a destination, but a journey.