Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way

100 Books While 40: The Autobiography of Malcolm X


Title: The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Author: Alex Haley and Malcolm X
Published: 1965

Visionaries and assholes seem to be the same. The personality trait that causes someone to buck the established order and current thinking is the same one that made Steve Jobs an insufferable turd to be around. Malcolm X saw and spoke what the rest of America couldn’t or wouldn’t. It’s impossible to understand how perceptive he was to the oppression of black people inherent in our past and present all the while displaying stunning misogyny.

Seeing the validity of his arguments through that thick smear of sexism and egotism was without question the most difficult aspect of taking in this book. Malcolm X loved himself. He is effusive in describing all the sacrifices he made at the altar of Islam, but rather than these sacrifices being to Allah, they were serving to inflate his own sense of righteousness.

I have no idea what it must have been like to be an intelligent black man in the 50’s. I have no doubt that he suffered, just as I have no doubt that black Americans suffer today. From the lens of 2016, when most of Malcolm X’s positions are accepted as accurate and valid by most progressive-minded people, that added dose of ego and woman-hating is particularly hard to take. Weeks spent in this pool left my fingers pruned. I couldn’t wait to get out.

Unrelated kind of, I have just discovered I am reading Walden for no good reason. I thought it was on this book list. Not so much. Henry David Thoreau, a rich kid, goes into what amounts to Concord’s city park and lives off the grid for two years. This experience drives him to think he knows all about society, one that he’s just disengaged from, and specifically for the unwashed masses. The points that Thoreau makes are solid, but it’s wrapped up in the excrement of how worthy he is in his own eyes.

I suppose wisdom is wisdom, and we don’t really have the luxury of being choosy. Plus, none of us gets out of this without mistakes and faults, and great ideas don’t necessarily come from pleasant people. Mary Poppins was right about that spoonful of sugar.

3 thoughts on “100 Books While 40: The Autobiography of Malcolm X

  1. So interesting to read your take on this book. I read it long ago, when the sexism passed me by (it was in the water, the food, the air at that time) and I was just blown away by his passion and anger. He helped to open the eyes of this privileged, white, middle-class suburban girl. (Talk about a recipe for ignorance.) I can see how hard it would be for me to feel the same way about it now. TaNahesi Coates, on the other hand, is a man of your generation and has passion, anger and insight aplenty. Much has changed; and nothing has changed.

    • At the end of the book, Ossie Davis wrote his perspective on speaking at Malcolm X’s funeral. He in essence says that Malcolm X was a person of integrity and passion at a time when this could not be said of many black men. And regardless of your opinion this was itself something to be respected. And I tend to agree with this. I know that my perspective is anachronistic. This is primarily why I value his contribution even while tossing out some of the rubbish that came along with it.

  2. Fun facts: Walden Pond was about a mile from town, and Thoreau’s mom did his laundry and cooked for him. So, not exactly total solitude.

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