Malcolm indicates in his autobiography the class as a bleak divider within the African American community, and he commonly uses class-based terms to criticize those who disagree with him. However, the Autobiography makes clear that Malcolm does not feel complete hatred toward black members of more privileged groups, but is rather exasperated that such class differences should drive the black population apart. For him, racial justice should be the true and combined struggle for all African Americans, not class warfare. In this sense, he wants all the black classes to at the top of the society, and he wants them to feel as equal as a white man. He says:
I spent the first month in town with my mouth hanging open. The sharp dressed young “cats” who hung on the corners and in the poolrooms, bars and restaurants, and who obviously didn’t work anywhere, completely entranced me. I couldn’t get over marveling at how their hair was straight and shiny like white men’s hair; Ella told me this was called a “conk.”
Through studying the identity of Malcolm X in his Autobiography, we find that the Autobiography is as seductive. It seduces the reader into conflating the Autobiography with the actual life and identity of Malcolm X in three ways. First, as it known that the autobiographies have a strong power to affect the reader intensively because they recount through the first person. In the sense of the Autobiography, this power is greatly sensitive by the vivid writing style, which influences the reader of the realism of the first person point of view.
Second, it seduces the reader because it matches popular notions of personality transformation and to an array of post-Marxian theories concerning diversities of false consciousness of the individual from internalized subjugation.
Third, as what Eakin describes the power of the autobiographical dream. In fact, that is considered as approval between reader and writer in which both suppose that the autobiography told is finished and goes in harmony. That would help the smooth moving of the narrative. Also, it would encourages the writer to portray in real image of his own life as if the autobiography is not part of the life described and as if the author is recounting the autobiography from outside the area. Also, the autobiography is being complicit in the hypothesis of the genre; in this case, the readers question this standpoint.
The author, Malcolm, narrates his early self, Detroit Red, as brainwashed, which is a word that appears many times in the Autobiography. The self-degradation indicates the need of self-respect that is clear in trying to make one’s hair, and to portray the image of the White man. Malcolm says:
This was my first really big step toward self-degradation: when I endured all of that pain, literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white man’s hair. I had joined the multitude of Negro men and women in America who are brainwashed into believing that the black people are inferior.
In the sense of the autobiography, Malcolm appears actually brainwashed during this period becomes doubtful. He tells us, in the autobiography, that he moves to a Black ghetto in Boston, where he conks his hair. Thus, he starts to feel restless with being around white people. He states: “Where nigger had slipped off my back before, wherever I heard it now, I stopped and looked at whoever said it” (p.119). Then, in Boston he thrives on Black culture and food and couldn’t stand” (p.143) the middle class Black people who were trying to be White. Arguably, conking, although it relaxes hair, is a distinctive Black, not White, tradition. They want to imitate the white man. In this matter, they lost their identity, and trying to take another identity of the white man.
Race and racism
We can say that slavery was the ugliest and oldest issue in American history, which caused enmity between races and effect social and political aspects. Especially before civil war period where the slaves were suffering from the racism of the whites to serve their benefits, hence there is a great barrier between the two races. Also, that made the Africans blacks as tools to support the economy of USA in the south and with the contradictory view of the north in guiding the country that caused the civil war which was the slavery a principal cause of it. This case urged Malcolm X to write his autobiography in order to oppose the white race.
The most important thing that influenced Malcolm’s life is his tight relationship with race and racism in America. Malcolm’s journey starts from a passive acceptance of the effects of racism around him. Also, he rejects that to be oppressive because of his race. Then, he begins to gain a strongly emphasize self-respect for all black men, before ultimately coming to believe in the potential for brotherhood between all men.
However, as a child in rural Michigan, Malcolm’s understanding and awareness of racism is quite restricted. For example, at the time his family is obliged to move many times because of unfriendly rural communities. Then after, Malcolm does not connect this to racism, perhaps because racism is such an integral part of rural society, and most of rural Michigan has few African Americans. In addition, he doesn’t recognize African Americans’ inferior position in the rural North as something abnormal. In fact, even after his father Eral is murdered, his mother Louis is pursued into insanity by government officials, and he is separated from his family and sent to a foster home run by the Swerlins, who use the word nigger frequently. Above all, Malcolm still cannot hear any hatred in the smear and never finds it odd. The racism surrounding him is so powerful and enduring that he internalizes it, as do many others. During his late teens and early twenties in Boston and New York, Malcolm depicts his relationship to race as mirroring that of the other young black men around him, in which whiteness is seen as good and desirable, while blackness is to either be covered up or exploited. He is questioned himself, why the black race is inferior? Though blackness and whiteness are the same, but he is still wondering why. This is exemplified in Malcolm’s relationship with Sophia; an attractive white woman brings him status throughout their relationship. Furthermore, he met her while on a date with Laura, a young African American woman, underlining his rejection of blackness in favor of whiteness.
Later, Malcolm’s brother Philbert comes to visit him on the prison, and he starts Malcolm on the path of switching to the Nation of Islam by challenging his previous views on race. He tells Malcolm that the black man is the child of God, and the white man is a devil. Malcolm reacts to this shift in mentality by studying African history, and the history of the world. In learning this history, Malcolm is able to see himself and other black people as having dignity and being worthy of respect, because they can exist as equal as white man. Therefore, studying African history allows him to create a good position for the black man. In taking the last name “X”, Malcolm symbolically is referring to this ennobling history that he feels has been from him and other black people. It opens up a new world for him and for all the black people. And in the Nation of Islam with its self-confidence, orderly manners and dress, and strong emphasis on community, Malcolm finds both fellow thinkers and expression for his shifting views.
However, part of what is distinguished about Malcolm is that even as he joins groups, he never entirely gives up his independence of thought. Ultimately, this paves the way to his ouster from the Nation of Islam after conflict arises when its leader, Elijah Muhammad, could not pass to live up to what Malcolm believes are the ideals of the organization. After Malcolm gets out of the Nation, he makes up his mind to follow through on his own religious ideals and makes the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, which according to Islam is a religious obligation. On the journey to Hajj, in both Europe and the Middle East, Malcolm is confronted by the possibility that the racial issues of the United States are not universal but rather particular to America. In this journey, he finds that the racism is only applied in the United States, but in the other countries it does not exist. He is stunned, for example, by the warmth welcome shown to him in Egypt by Abd-Al-Rahman Azzam, a man who is considered white in America. Furthermore, Malcolm looks for how the Hajj is an inherently color-blind and multiracial event, where all Muslims are brothers and sisters. These realizations force him to think again of his last stance on race. In fact, Malcolm comes to believe that all people are brothers under one God, and that racism is not inherent in the nature of whites but rather is a product of social structures that make whites act in racist ways.
These new beliefs do not mean that Malcolm abandons his critiques of white society in the United States he saw around him. Rather, as Malcolm comes to believe in the possibility of brotherhood between races, he sees it as all the more necessary to resist and fight against the specific system of oppression and racial prejudice in the United States, because that system both oppresses blacks and stands in the way of the brotherhood he now believes possible.