First of all, my sincere apologies for the delay- life has been really getting in the way of my plans for this month.
In honor of Black History Month in February, we picked The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while, and this was such a great opportunity to read it with the group. I knew very little about the life and work of Malcolm X. aside from the fact that he was a prominent activist for the civil rights of Black Americans. Even my high school education, which barely skimmed through American history, only mentioned Dr. King from that time, not Malcolm. Malcolm X. reminds me of Bhagat Singh, an Indian freedom fighter who also pushed for radical change and action, urging the people to be louder, and was pretty critical of Gandhi’s push for a non-violent movement at that time. Malcolm was far from flawed ( in fact, his opinion of women in the first half of the book made me want cringe so much), but much of what he said about the treatment of black people in America and how white people (in general) perceive the black man today is still so relevant. He learnt from a very young age that he had to hustle to survive, and that his existence had no guarantee in a world that could not see him past the color of his skin. He struggles with his identity and his roots and catches on very early to the social conditioning that black people have undergone to think that white people are superior to them, and how they’ve assimilated in order to survive. His experiences with women in his youth- oh boy. It’s also evident that his recounting of those stories as he got older is not without remorse- and I definitely believe that had he lived longer, his views would have been less sexist. A series of mistakes lead him to straight into prison, and it is during his time here that Malcolm engages in a lot of contemplation, and channels his rage and boredom into reading. (“The ability to read awoke inside of me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.” His relationship with Muhammed and conversion to Islam were fascinating, and one can see how as a disillusioned young man this was the crutch he needed, to discover himself, to have an identity, and to channel his rage about the injustices done to black people. I think it’s very easy for white people to read this book and go “oh wow he’s so angry!” or be uncomfortable with his animosity towards white people, and I think it’s important to sit with those feelings and remember that there’s so much baggage that comes with those feelings. It’s why, whether they admit it or not, white Americans will more easily celebrate Dr. King over Malcolm (King was just as revolutionary as Malcolm, but his push for non-violence is highlighted over his demand for action, casting Malcolm as “angry black man”.) There’s so much to unpack here on how Malcolm and King’s lives, messages, and legacies have been represented, and the discomfort white people experience with Malcolm’s confrontational approach, how that translates to the perception of black people in general and how nonblack people perceive movements like #BlackLivesMatter- I’m far from qualified to discuss any of these things, but these are things to think about and talk about, for sure. Malcolm never doubted that he would die violently, and he remains a contentious figure in American history. This autobiography is a crucial text to read. It is not only important as a tool to read Malcolm’s words and message, but also to be cognizant of where Malcolm’s anger comes from, the history of violence against black people, and how all of these are relevant in the movements we see today.
I’m sure you’re already aware that we’re reading Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario in March. I haven’t finished reading, but it’s been interesting to hear from those who have. We still have 11 days left in the month if you’d like to join us! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the Slack if you’re not already in it. You can also use this sign-up form, if that’s your preference. Sonia Nazario has graciously agreed to answer a few questions from the group for a club Q&A, and her responses should be in by the end of this month.
Due to popular demand, we’re going to try hosting the book club on a monthly basis. For April, we will be reading Headscarves and Hymen: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy. Since each book’s discussion is being held in it’s own channel, members can opt in or out of the month’s discussion based on their personal preferences and schedules.