The Autobiography of Malcolm X is one that sparks interest and influences change in many people, black and white, who read it and continues to shape the perspectives of many more. The autobiography is a definition of the American culture and the African-American struggle for social and economic equality which over the years has become a battle for survival and is yet to be fully realized. Having been born at a time when racism was on the top notch on the African-American, he grew up with a perspective that the American dream offered lies and limitations, denying its non-white citizens the opportunity to dream. He was, therefore, one of the great voices heard in the United States during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, ascending to international prominence. His ruthless aggression saw him termed as the most dangerous man in America at one point. He was also a leader of the Muslims, a religion he learned and embraced while in prison. He attracted a lot of controversy through his advocacy, with claims that he was preaching hatred to the whites by the blacks and was in the end assassinated in 1965. This essay aims at reviewing his autobiography as it relates to the idea of orientalism.
Malcolm X’s autobiography depicts a transformation from a carefree to a devoted individual, rising to prominence. He was born in Omaha, Nebraska as Malcolm Little in 1925 to African-American parents. This was at a time when the Midwest was dominated by racial discrimination and violence that led to his father, Earl Little, being murdered, and his mother institutionalized. Malcolm then lives in a Michigan detention home until he completes his eighth grade and moves to Boston to stay with Ella, his half-sister. He picks the urban nightlife indulging himself in drinking, gambling, doing drugs, and even dating older women. He then finds a job on the railways which takes him to New York where he settles permanently in Harlem as a hustler. His hustles include selling drugs, running numbers, directing white people to black brothels, and armed robbery. This kind of living exposed him to a lot of danger, and he retreated to Boston where he became a house burglar leading to his arrest. It is while in prison that he converts to the brand of Islam promoted by the Nation of Islam.
Malcolm devotes himself to the new-found Islam faith, working in a Detroit temple and even dropping his last name for the symbolic X. He then met the leader of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad after which he quickly rose to rank from a temple assistant to the Nation’s first National Minister. Malcolm became known throughout the United States even outside his Muslim circles as a relentless advocate for black unity and militancy. This growth in power threatens the higher-ups in the Nation of Islam who suspend him despite his allegiance to the group. This eviction drives him to form his organization known as the Muslim Mosque Inc. which he envisioned as being more politically active than the Nation of Islam. He even visited the Middle East and Africa in a bid to discover the true Islam. Here he encounters a version of Islam that sharply contrasts with what he had been taught and was teaching. Malcolm believed that Islam was a religion that can solve the racial problems existent in the United States.
Malcolm’s growth in the Muslim religion through the ranks can be attributed to Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. It is Elijah who gives Malcolm his first role to recruit the youth into Islam and later as a temple minister in Boston. Here he seeks his old crowd with the aim of converting them. At first, the blacks are unresponsive to his teachings which bothers him but his continued efforts yield fruits, and the Boston temple grows. He manages to win Christians over to Islam through his refined speeches that emphasize on the complicity of Christianity in the subordination of his race. His remarkable work sees him being shifted to Philadelphia and later New York. Malcolm’s commitment to the spread of Islam across the United States converts him to a busy man moving from city to city facilitating the establishment of temples. His dedication made the Nation of Islam buy him a car and everything else he owned. He managed to transform the Nation of Islam from a 400 to a 40,000 membership. Elijah Muhammad was his mentor and all the decisions made had to be approved by him.
Malcolm and the Nation of Islam came to public scrutiny when one of its members became a victim of police brutality leading to massive demonstrations and a lawsuit in which the former won. The group was featured in a publication and a television show titled “The hate that hate produced” showing footages of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm speaking. This angers Malcolm, but Elijah could not allow him to vent his rage to the public. These attacks continued making Malcolm spend endless hours on the telephone defending the group. Elijah’s health is failing him, and Malcolm takes the front in matters concerning the Nation of Islam, representing Muhammad on panels and lecture circuits. The group membership had grown into massive numbers by 1960 and rallies could be held initially barring any white people, but eventually, anyone who was interested was welcome. With Muhammad taking a back step, Malcolm was left to deal with the administrative demands and pass more significant decisions without consulting him. This eventually cost him as the Nation turns against him, throws him out and even attempted to kill him, claiming that he has overtaken the organization. To his shock, Elijah Muhammad is behind this eviction, and this is a painful realization by Malcolm, and he likens it to a break-up after twelve years of marriage.
The expulsion from the Nation of Islam created an idea in Malcolm to establish his organization. He established the Muslim Mosque Inc. with the aim of serving the political and economic interests of black people and using his popularity and influence manages to attract publicity and support. He envisions this organization as more proactive than the Nation of Islam, concerning itself with the development of black economic independence. It is at this point that he decides to take his pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca as he explains that every Muslim should make this pilgrimage. Throughout his trip, Malcolm is fascinated by the apparent color-blindness in the Arab world, since no one was discriminated against because of his skin color. It is during this trip that the idea of orientalism is evident in his autobiography. He describes his experience in Mecca as a kind of numbness. He could not fail to notice and feel the strong unity of the Islamic world and its colorblindness under Allah. Even the white people he met in his trip had no taint of racism. As he participated in Hajj and interacted with the people in Mecca, he realized that this was the true Islam. He figured out that America’s problem of racism could be solved through Islamic religion. He writes many letters to America expressing his changed perspective on the racial problems in the country. Although he is a changed man, the press does not acknowledge his new outlook and is blamed for the eruption of violence in the country. Nevertheless, he is determined to exercise his new-found wisdom from his experience in Mecca and this he does by including every one of all races in his meetings although still restricting membership to blacks only as he argues that they have to unite first. He makes visits to Africa and the Middle East to strengthen his faith. Malcolm predicts a violent death for himself, expressing doubts that he would live to see the publication of the Autobiography.
In conclusion, Malcolm X is an excellent name in the United States and the history of Black Muslims in America. His commitment to the Islamic religion as a means to unite the black community saw him rise ranks into international prominence. He served passionately, with the belief that Islam was the solution to the racial problems existent in the United States since it offered a colorblind unity of all people under Allah. His contributions and their relevance still hold in the present day United States since racial problems are still evident.