A poll taken in the 1990s indicated that nearly eighty-five percent of young black Americans considered Malcolm X their personal hero (Newsweek). He inspired millions with his ideas and actions alike. Based on my reading in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X’s legacy is still felt strongly today. From his ideology and message to his inspiration of the Black Power Movement, Malcolm X’s effect cannot be ignored.
Though his legacy is largely open for different interpretations because he did not leave behind a large body of written work, my interpretation will be based on my reading of the first two hundred pages of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Malcolm X’s legacy is not one that can be easily defined; it is complex and open for interpretation. He meant many things to a large and diverse group of people, varying from savior of African Americans to an inflammatory racist radical. Above all, Malcolm X inspired people with his amazing story of redemption.
Malcolm X was came from a background and went through a variety of obstacles that face the stereotypical black man in the ghetto. Even from his early childhood, Malcolm X was saddled setbacks that could have easily defeated a lesser person. Malcolm came from a troubled background in which the violent murder of his father caused the economic collapse of his family, spawning the mental deterioration of his mother. After that, Malcolm was shuttled around several different foster homes, never feeling truly settled. In his young adult life he was transient, and had many life experiences that would ingratiate him to his future followers.
Malcolm lived the life of a hustler, a drug addict, a thief and robber, and a prison inmate. Not only that, but he was in the company of poverty, which is the continual bane of the average ghetto dweller. Malcolm went from this background, rose above it all, and became a leader who strove every day to better himself. Several times in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, he mentions how his life would have ended differently had he accepted defeat and succumbed to the pressures that white society pressed on the average black.
His book is full of examples of people who gave up and spiraled downwards, such as Malcolm’s ex-girlfriend Laura. Laura started off in a better socio-economic situation than Malcolm, and even had more schooling, yet she ended up “a wreck of a woman, notorious around black Roxbury, in and out of jail. ” (Haley, 80) Besides his relatable and inspiring story, Malcolm X’s approach appealed to those impatient with the slow results of more mainstream civil rights movements, such as the ones advocated by Martin Luther King Jr.
These Americans, Northern blacks outcast from mainstream white society, felt that Malcolm’s philosophy and suggestions more appropriately articulated and expressed their views and frustrations. These people were drawn to the more militant and active stance that Malcolm X advocated. He held beliefs that could be held to be inflammatory, and these types of expressions properly appealed to and represented the frustration many people felt. Throughout the memoir, Malcolm frequently referenced the injustices that white people inflicted on black Americans, and seemed to imply that they were generally to blame for the problems in the ghetto.
He stressed that it was not just southern whites oppressing black Americans. This was exemplified when Malcolm bemoaned the closing of the Savoy Ballroom, because he believed that the whites wanted to stop black men from dancing with white women. Malcolm called this “just another one of the the “liberal North” actions that didn’t help Harlem to love the white man. ” (Haley, 131) This belief that whites were to blame for all of the problems that black Americans faced reflected the views of many black Americans who were living in the ghetto.
The social protest advocated by those such as Martin Luther King Jr. , were considered too slow or ineffectual for these people, who felt that the change they strove for would never come. Malcolm’s more radical beliefs, such as mass black relocation to Africa, appealed to these people. Malcolm X’s message of white moral inferiority seemed plausible when looking around at a segregated and cruelly racist world. Malcolm preached the need for black autonomy and separation from the America’s social and political mainstream.
He implied that white Americans and the decadent mores of their western society caused the high crime rate in black communities, with the blacks there striving for the unattainable goal of being white. Malcolm urged black Americans to strike out and take control from their white oppressors. He told black Americans that they let the whites push them around and ruin their lives. He said “someone must be the boss. if it’s even just one person, you’ve got to be the boss of yourself.
” (Haley, 164) Malcolm believed that white Americans oppressed blacks, blamed and criticized the blacks for their problems, and then refused to help try to fix the problems. He said that he had “no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight. ” (Haley,21) He suggested that the white Christian religion was hypocritical, with whites doing anything but loving all of their neighbors, and he urged black Americans to give up on the entire religion and convert to the Nation of Islam.