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Free Study Guide-The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X-Free Notes
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THEMES

Major Themes

Racism in America

"…In the black streets of America/ they kill the dream of America…" These lines from the well- known Afro- American singer, Tracy Chapman's album reveals that face of America which only the blacks can see every day- the ugly face of Racism. And only the black Americans who experience it right from their birth, can express, what it is like to be discriminated in every sphere of life, only because of one's color. Tracy Chapman expressed it through a song, while Malcolm X expressed it decades ago through his fiery speeches. Obviously, any book on this charismatic black leader, would be incomplete without discussing the subject - Racism

Over the years, much has been said and written on Racism. It is important to study this phenomenon which has resisted every reform and struggle against apartheid. The dream that Rev. Martin Luther King referred to in his historic speech decades ago lies unfulfilled even today. In fact neo-racism and killings by armed 'skin heads' in the U.S. as well as Europe has become a serious issue today. The target of these neo-racist groups includes not only blacks, but also the Asian and Chinese population staying in the US and Europe.

In the book Malcolm X the writer goes into the history of the blacks, traces their origins and states that blacks should not seek to integrate into white society. By doing so, he believed that blacks would always be dependent on the whites for employment, education etc. Instead, blacks should organize politically, as well as economically so as to generate enough resources among the blacks to fulfil their employment, as well as educational needs. In this endeavor, both as a member of the Nation of Islam and later as an independent leader of the OAAU, he was fighting a two -pronged battle. Namely, he not only fought against the American government's racist policies but had to constantly fight his own black people who he believed had been brain -washed into worshipping the 'superior' white race. For the common blacks in America (a few decades ago) had no idea of their history, roots, or culture. The average black youth in America imagined Africa to be a country teeming with wild animals and snakes, not to mention wild men who lived in thick forests. The youth could not be blamed for this ignorance. This is because American history books did not teach anything about their glorious past. In the book, Malcolm's history text in the eighth grade had only a short paragraph on the blacks.


Through his own experiences from childhood to adulthood, Malcolm reflects the life and condition of the average black youth in the United States. The discrimination, the insults, the hatred and the feeling of alienation faced by the black Americans each day is depicted through Malcolm's own experiences in his home town Lansing and later in Harlem, New York. But while accusing the white Americans for not accepting the blacks as equals, he also blamed the blacks for their lack of unity and adoration of everything white. A classic example of the lack of pride in one's own color and ancestry is the common practice among black youth then, of 'conking' one's hair to straighten it. The entire process of straightening one's curly hair was an extremely painful one, as lye was used to burn the flesh of the head until the natural curly hair became limp. And all this was endured so as to make the hair look like a white man's hair. Young Malcolm also used to conk his hair for a long time when he was on his own hustling and peddling drugs in Boston and later in New York. The attitude or the feelings of black youths who conked their hair is expressed in the following lines (chapter three, Home Boy):

" …(By conking my own hair), I had joined the multitude of Negro men and women in America who are brain washed into believing that the black people are 'inferior' - and white people 'superior' - that they will even violate and mutilate their God- created bodies to try to look 'pretty by white standards".

When Malcolm X was a minister of the Nation of Islam, he like all the other members believed that all whites were devils and the cause behind the black man's plight. It is only later when he visits other countries in the Middle East and Africa that he realizes that the root cause of Racism was not the whites. In fact, even in the US, he had met several white media persons and students who were opposed to racial discrimination. He also realized the need for black unity on an international basis. A unity that can help create a powerful black lobby within America (with active support from other African countries abroad), to influence important economic and political decisions of the Government. Malcolm X did not live long to put his ideas into action. This is because he was assassinated in 1965, when he was about to address a public meeting.

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