Malcolm was known as Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, Malcolm X, and el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. His first name was representative of his knowledge of the world at the time, as he knew little about how the world worked. He started his crime life early, shoplifting from local stores. “The more I began to…steal from stores, the more aggressive I became in my Inclinations” (15). As he moved to Boston and began wearing zoot suits and conking his hair, he was known as Detroit Red.
He turns to a whole life of crime and drugs, saying the only things he was afraid of were “…jail, a job, and the Army.” This name resonates with his internal conflict, how light-skinned people were known as “red” and he hates that part of him. As we found out early into the book, he is light-skinned because his grandmother was raped by a white man. We as readers know how much he hates this part of himself, and how it is the main point of his internal struggle.
We can tell from this hatred how even black people have racist tendencies ingrained into them, like how Malcolm notices people dressing up as white people and trying to act like them, thinking they’re “better” somehow for acting more white. When Malcolm discovers the Nation of Islam and dives into the culture, he replaces the name “Little” with a capital “X,” to symbolize his hatred for his slave name. To him, this signifies the begging of the resolution of his internal conflict with his history.
It is a way of him splitting from who he used to be. In chapter 16, Malcolm parts with the Nation of Islam, saying “I realized that I believed in Mr. Muhammad more than he believed in himself.” Malcolm began receiving death threats and orders for his death because of his split with the nation, but they were never carried through due to his previous loyalty to the Nation.
He beings reflecting on teens behaving in a similar way to him at heir age, noting how dangerous their untamed violence was. He later becomes known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. He did not live with this name long, as he was assassinated shortly after his split with the Nation of Islam, only 11 months after this announcement. We see Malcolm X do a lot of self-reflection in the last few chapters, showing how wise he was with his newfound identity of el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. While Malcolm serves his sentence in prison, he is completely atheist. He is known as “Satan” because all of his profanities and grievances are directed at God, who he does not believe in at the time. When he is introduced to the Nation of Islam, by Elijah Muhammad, he beings to reflect on his past experiences. He is presented with how heavily-focused the NOI is on attacking the racial hierarchy and power structure in America, which Malcolm had been actively against his whole life.
I believe this is one of the main reasons that he was so drawn into the NOI. He truly resonates with the teachings of the religion. The Nation of Islam preached much more aggressive tactics to combat racism. Rather than self-respect and peaceful teachings like integration like King, Malcolm preached something more similar to self-defense and believed that Blacks in America should have their own place, separate from whites, in order to truly gain their freedom. Malcolm’s life experiences drew him to this because at from a very early age, he experienced violent racism that shaped his world views. His father was killed and his family was attacked by the KKK, in the chapter Nightmare: “The Klansmen shouted threats and warnings at her that we had better get out of town because ‘the good Christian white people’ were not going to stand m father’s ‘speaking trouble’ among the ‘good’ Negroes of Omaha”. I believe that Malcolm remembered this quote for the rest of his life, how his father was silenced for preaching something that was seen as “radical,” driving him to do the same.
At a young age, Malcolm was told to give up on his dream to be a lawyer by his white schoolteacher, and he did just that. He turned to a life on the streets as a hustler and never looked back at education – until he was in prison. While in prison, he talked frequently with a man named Reginald, who first introduced him the the Islamic faith. Malcolm remarks, “to say I was confused is an understatement” (161). He begins a deep reflection on all of the encounters he has had with white people in his life, since as early as he can remember. He began receiving letters from his family, telling him all about the “Honorable Elijah Muhammad.” On page 165 he goes into depth explaining the “true knowledge” of a black man, expressing the basis of his newfound religion. To Malcolm, this delve into religion is a wake-up call, as he began to “accept what is already within [him], and around [him]” .
Malcolm’s religion truly molded his worldviews, as it has its own set of history and societal outlines of post-slavery America. The NOI outlines the white man as the devil, preaching how all of the shortcomings for black people in America are a direct result of the white man. This is entirely true, how the white man created a society to oppress the black man. It preaches more metaphoric teachings as well, how the “black man was [building] great empires…white the white man was still living on all fours in caves” (165). Whether this quote is to be taken literally or figuratively, the point still resonates with Malcolm, as do the rest of the teachings of the NOI. Malcolm later additionally notes that his religion humbled him. All his life he was used to living life unapologetically, as a hustler in the streets, but when he was imprisoned he lost this sense of control. “I had to force myself to bend my knees. And waves of shame and embarrassment would force me back up”.
Malcolm X does not believe in integration. He tells of how the notions of equality and integration in a society so heavily ingrained with racism are impossible. Malcolm describes how “integration is an image, it’s a foxy Northern liberal’s smokescreen the confuses the true wants of the American black man”. Malcolm explains that all black people want is “Human rights! Respect as human beings!” (278). In his speech, Message to the Grass Roots, he describes how Black Revolution supporters are loosely using the term, and how they don’t realize the depth of the word revolution. He is all for it, but he recognizes that this involves bloodshed and violence directed at the power structure and those who uphold it.
Malcolm meets a nice black woman named Laura, who is kind of prissy but very nice and respectful. Malcolm always enjoyed dancing with her and notes how he had never danced with a woman that danced like Laura. His relationship with Laura was brief, but Malcolm noted that “Laura was not like the rest”. However, when Malcolm met a white woman names Sophia, his views changed. He sought after her to achieve the status of being with a white woman. He wants to feel control over Sophia. We can see by the way that he treats women that he does not give them much respect. This brings about another point, that no matter how hard it appears one can fight for social justice, they can still hold suppressed prejudices and mysoginies. Even today, misogyny runs rampant in both black and white communities.
I believe that Malcolm was a very powerful leader. He was outspoken and was easily able to manipulate his audience with captivating hooks and detailed rhetoric and stories. I don’t believe that Malcolm X considered himself a civil rights leader, simply because he did not do what he did for the fame or for the money, and he did it purely because he truly believed in everything that he said. He is now considered a leader of the civil rights movement, because of how influential and revolutionary his ideas and preachings were. He frequently reflected on his life to give him insight and wisdom on how to handle situations that he is faced with. “Every instinct of the ghetto jungle streets, which would have scoffed at and rejected anything else, was struck numb”, as he recalls his first time reading of the teachings of Elijah Muhamad.
“Today, when everything that I do has an urgency, I would not spend one hour in the preparation of a book which had the ambition to perhaps titillate some readers. But I am spending many hours because the full story is the best way that I know to have it seen, and understood, that I had sunk to the very bottom of the American white man’s society…”. “I know today that I did believe in him firmly…In the years to come, I was going to have to face a psychological and spiritual crisis” (214). “Many a time, I have looked back, trying to assess, just for myself, my first reactions to all this. Every instinct of the ghetto jungle streets, which would have scoffed at and rejected anything else, was struck numb” (167).
“All praise is due to Allah that I went to Boston when I did. If I hadn’t, I’d probably still be a brainwashed black Christian”. “I truly believed that if ever a state social agency destroyed a family, it destroyed ours. We wanted and tried to stay together. Our home didn’t have to be destroyed…And ours was not the only case of this kind”. We know as a society that the power structure of America is threatened when a well-educated minority speaks up and gathers a support system. While we might not ever know for sure why Malcolm was assassinated, it is not an unfair assumption to say that it was an inside job. In the 1900s especially, events like these were common, with political figures like Martin Luther King being assassinated just the same. If Malcolm X had not been assassinated, I believe that he would have grown a lot as a character, with his developing aforementioned personality as “El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.”
This book shows us that even amongst a movement designed to combat hatred and discrimination, there can be internal division. As previously discussed, Malcolm X was not welcoming to the teachings of Martin Luther King and believed that a more aggressive approach needed to be employed. For that reason, I do not believe that Malcolm X would have been a partner with King.
I think that the way the information in the book was gathered does have an impact on the content it emphasizes. Not only were the stories in the book told from Malcolm’s point of view, but they were also only what he felt comfortable sharing with Haley. I believe that the book would have been potentially more aggressive if written solely by Malcolm.
Huge controversy surrounds the police’s effectiveness, or lack thereof, surrounding Malcolm’s assassination. Despite this, the media was not shy when telling the public about his assassination. They printed headlines like “Malcolm X Murdered” and “Malcolm X Gunned Down,” showing how the public, on both sides, had very strong opinions about him. I think this affected his legacy by showing how society, and, more specifically, a few radical members of society, treat people that they view as a threat to the power structure or to their own personal beliefs.
No matter how sheltered or liberal of a place you grow up in, if you are any race other than white, you will inevitably face some kind of racial bias or discrimination. I myself have personally been a victim of this many times in my life. I believe that being on the receiving end of hate truly opens your eyes to the level of which it can affect a person. Most people that have not experienced it do not understand how it feels and say things like “Sticks and stones,” or “just brush it off.” White people, in our society, do not know what racism truly is. Though there are many people that are true allies in the fight against racism institutionally and culturally, they will never truly understand what it is like to experience it on a day-to-day basis. That being said, the experiences of people of color truly shape their view on the racial aspects of our political and social climate. They are more inherently keen on the issues and how to deal with them, while white people only have anecdotal evidence.
This, in turn, gives them more of an idea on the different racial identity experiences in America, how they can see what other people experience more easily than someone who has only experienced the best of the best. Though the denotation of “racism” is used often in politics, when speaking of aspects regarding intersocial issues, it is important to consider the power held by both sides of an argument. People of color have no power allocated to them based on their race as white people do in society. This is one of the driving factors shaping someone’s experiences and opinions around discrimination. When you make someone powerless, they feel what it is like to be on one extreme end of the spectrum. When you give one person all of the racially distributed power in a society, you make them feel how the opposite would. These two extreme differences in experience are what drive, as I see, the aggressive and often hate-filled arguments and debates over racial identity, diversity, and discrimination.