Malcolm X and Race
From the excerpt Learning to Read, in the autobiography of Malcolm X, this philosopher recounts how he learnt to read, and he speaks about how the process of learning to read led him to his discovery of the accounts of the treatment of black people by whites in history. The picture of a white man through his eyes is a fascinating one.
Malcolm’s feeling that he needed to be articulate in the formal sense, and his meeting of Bimbi in prison – whose command of language and stock of knowledge he envied- pushed him to take on reading in prison. He remembered how he skipped words he could not understand and, eventually, ended up not having understood anything in the book. He requested some tablets, pencils and a dictionary, in which the existence of the innumerable count of words baffled him. He recounts how he learnt the dictionary word after word and finding himself having learnt, in addition, about people and places from the same dictionary. He was finally able to read.
In the Norfolk Prison Colony’s library, weekly debates between inmates were held on subjects like “Should Babies Be Fed Milk?” He made use of the library; he read intensively. He read about white people- how they viewed and treated other races. He was fascinated with the arguments in those books. He broadened his reading as a further investigation of the ideas contained in them.
Among the things he read about is the argument that history was “whitened.” The black person’s responsibility was simply ignored. Muhammad wrote that no one, neither black nor white, could tell him something he knew about a black man’s role from the history books. There are history books about black people. And truth is that whether or not they were left out of history depends on how they are represented. Enslavement of the black is mostly learnt from the history books since that is the only medium that was available then. That is how that period and other accounts have been passed on. The rarity of the black people good side in history books should not be strange. Only the whites could write. And they focused on the good side of themselves. As to what was written about black people, slavery and evil.
The autobiography also mentions his dispute about the creation of the white man. Malcolm’s disapproval of the association of the white man with superiority motivated him to read further about genetics. He found out, according to the autobiography that if one places a black person first, a white person can be produced but a black man cannot produced from a white man because the white gene is recessive. His racism reveals really strongly.
From another angle, he violates the incompatibility of evolution and religion. Religion accounts for the existence of human beings and everything else in the world as a creation of a Super Being. On the other hand, genetics is connected to the scientific theory of evolution, in which living things change in form with time to survive and adapt to new environments (Francis 77)
. If God created the black man, then there would be only black people; and if he created the white man, then there would be only white people. Malcolm’s reading of the horrors of slavery made such an impact on him that he decided to become a student of Mohammad. He expressed h is appalment by describing slavery as the “the world most monstrous crime, the sin and the blood on the Whiteman’s hands”. He recounts reading about atrocities that were don’t to black people. Once again he expresses condemnation of the conduct of white people towards black people. He read about women tied and beaten using whips, about black mothers having their children snatched away from them, of dogs being incited to chase after slaves and of fugitive slave catchers, white persons holding whips and chains and clubs and guns. His consistent use of the word ‘white’ rather than a substitute like ‘slave owner’ shows his disgust for white people and makes slavery look like solely white people’s expression of racism.
In his crediting of his reading in prison, which he actually extended at home, he described it as having given him a little more feeling towards the deafness, inability to speak, and blindness that afflicted the black American people. While he ironically associates the American people with such limitations, he seems to imply that reading raises people from naivety. He remembers his reply to a call from England that he would never be caught with fifteen minutes of free time reading something that would never help a black man. He also recalls his speaking in London, on the airplane traversing the Atlantic when he was reading a file on an account of how the United Nations suggested it would cover the human rights of exploited minorities. He describes the black man as the most disgraceful case of minority coercion, who only thinks only of himself as only an issue constrained within the United States. He asserts that the black man must win humans rights first before they consider civil rights. That’s when he could begin regarding himself as one of the globe’s great people. While the slavery period is long gone, Malcolm still feels that black people are denied humans rights, though he doesn’t specify them. He stresses that it must be fought for before the fight for civil rights begins, implying that civil rights and human rights are two separate entities.
He thinks of America as being having been built on four centuries of blood and sweat. He calls it and investment in the African people on that land. He is angered by the fact that, in his own views, the white man has still instead on keeping the black man begging. He praised the prison for having enabled him to far more intensively and even comments that things would have gone differently if he had not gone to prison.
The prison enabled Malcolm X to read extensively and develop his language skills and word power hence enabling him to read more and more books. In his reading, he finds himself coming across books about the oppression and maltreatment of black people by white people and strongly expresses his discontent. As to whether his selection of books is biased, or if white people did not write the good things they did to black people (if any) like they wrote ‘good’ things about themselves is another question. However, Malcolm X appears to a strong anti-white racist and it can also be seen how he justifies his position.
Keith, F.Charles Darwin and the origin of species. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007.print