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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Growing Up

Helping someone research materials for a major term paper this week, I have had the extraordinary opportunity to learn more about an amazing leader of the civil rights movement. He is a greatly misunderstood and inaccurately depicted figure, cursed by some, be knighted with sainthood by others. I speak of none other than Malcolm X.

Malcolm's beginnings were somewhat less than inspiring. In his earlier years he went from a misunderstood and socially brutalized youth to a womanizing, drug-addicted street thug. This life of debauchery and criminality culminated in his being sent to prison for burglary, though it could just as easily ended with a bullet in his back, according to his descriptions in "The Autobiography of Malcolm X."

Being sent to prison actually turned into the turning point of his life. While in prison he continually wrote to his siblings, a habit they had all gotten into after the physical (but not spiritual or emotional) breakup of their family in the 1930s. During these correspondences, Malcolm's older siblings introduced him to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam.

Muhammad did not immediately embrace these teachings, but instead found his difficulties in reading and writing (caused by years of participation in what was then black society's counterculture) inspired him to seek self-improvement. Gradually, he came to accept Islam's teachings, choosing to embrace the peaceful nature taught by it as an antithesis to his previous life.

Upon his release, he became more involved in the Nation of Islam, taking first a humble position as an assistant at one of the mosques in the U.S., becoming later a key spokes person and advocate for the Nation of Islam and Islamic teachings in general. During this time, his animosity for white society became a prevailing feature in his life and public speaking, calling white people devils and blaming them exclusively for the plight of black society.

It was only after he began learning about significant corruption within the Nation of Islam and the Nation's censure of him for remarks made regarding President Kennedy's assassination that Malcolm broke his association with them. This break sparked his desire to more fully understand the teachings of Islam, leading him to partake in a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. There he encountered Muslims from many different countries and ethnicity, altering his perception and understanding of black-white relationships.

When he returned from his pilgrimage, he became an outspoken critic of the Nation of Islam and its increasing militancy against white society, advocating respect for the cultural differences between blacks and whites. He further urged black Americans to accept personal responsibility for their own failings, not to simply blame their plight on white Americans. This advocacy earned him a death sentence from the Nation of Islam which they were successful in executing in early 1965.

One thing that strikes me about what I have learned about Malcolm X was his candor in admitting and accepting responsibility for his earlier conduct. He gave credit for the good he was able to do in society to Allah, but retained responsibility for his own mistakes.

I draw several fundamental lessons from Malcolm's autobiography (not the 1992 Spike Lee movie):

  • One - that people can change regardless of their past

  • Two - that people must take personal responsibility for their lives and the development of their communities

  • Three - that even good people can be mistaken in their beliefs

  • Four - that those who seek to change society are, without a doubt, going to make dangerous enemies

  • Five - those that are truly dedicated to their beliefs and desire for change won't give a damn about how dangerous the opposition is

My newly formed image and opinion of Malcolm X has further fueled my dedication to House Wyldstar and to this blog. I pledge here and now to be more responsible in the maintenance of this blog and in my efforts to establish websites for House Wyldstar and the Social Policy Center and to work harder at my participation in the social change movement.

Stay tuned for further developments!

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