3 Ways The Story of Malcolm X Will Change The Way You Look At Life
Feb 7, 2016 @ 8:41 EDT
By Natacha Moussi
I can’t remember what led me to pick up this book from Chapters in April of 2015. It must’ve been someone’s list of top 5 favourite reads, which included the Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley. I came in to reading the story without any knowledge of this man’s history. I had no idea what made him different from Martin Luther King Jr. I found the book lost among bookshelves in the autobiography section of the store, and there was only one copy. I didn’t think too much of it, but I trusted the source that recommended the read well-enough to purchase it and give it a go.
A few pages in, I was hooked. The story is told through Malcolm X’s very words, in such a way that is compelling, relatable, and absolutely mesmerizing. I would actually get lost in the story, imagining myself in a different time and place. I could not put the book down, and I did not want it to end. I’d say it is the richest book I’ve ever read, because it is riddled with life lessons that apply to literally everyone, regardless of skin colour or circumstance.
By searching essays on Malcolm X’s story, it’s easy to notice that everyone can have a different interpretation of what the message is really about. Some will focus on racism in America and the distinct approach Malcolm had to rising above and trying to instil consciousness in black Americans. Others will write about his faith, and debate the efficacy of The Nation of Islam on the quality of black people’s lives.
Without belittling any of these major issues, I believe that by looking deeper, we can actually identify the source of the chaos as it still exists today. Sure, we’ve come a long way from that time, but there is always work to be done. By reading Malcolm’s story, one can learn a great deal about themselves and begin questioning their views on the world.
Here is what I captured from brother Malcolm:
1. You must identify yourself before letting others identify you.
Everyone you meet will categorize you as a colour, ethnic group, sexual orientation, gender, faith… Some will do it to exclude you, others will do it to include you. Being included will feel good, and you’ll be inclined to label yourself and join the group so that you don’t feel alone anymore. But make no mistake, even when the purpose of labelling is for acceptance, in both cases it will mess with your self-identity and you will get lost.
Malcolm’s struggle with identity:
– Malcolm spends his youth feeling excluded from white society, which sends him in a life of crime.
– During his 7-year prison sentence, he’s invited to join The Nation of Islam, which identifies him as a person of power because he is black. This enables Malcolm to educate himself heavily and begins shaping his worldview.
– Being part of a labelled group, Malcolm keeps identifying himself in such a way that excludes others, as seen when he rejects the offer to help from a white college student (which he admittedly regrets later on).
– When he finally separates himself from the group to perform Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), Malcolm finds himself surrounded by people of many different identities, and finally begins to evolve and break off from constraint labels. This is when he comes to the realization that people, no matter how different they can be, have more similarities than they have disparities. He begins identifying himself as any other human being, rather than solely a black man.
2. You must shape your own faith, no matter which religion you choose to practice.
That includes atheism, which you may argue is not a religion, but regardless, it’s just another way of seeing the world. So for the sake of my argument, let’s consider atheism another religion (with no guidelines).
Love and unity are the reasons why we practice any kind of religion. The religion is the how we go about achieving it. Look at any of the major world religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, they all have the same basis of love and unity. However, religions differ in their views on how to attain the ultimate goal, and on top of that, different sub-groups of the same religion will also have varying practices based on their cultural backgrounds. That’s what causes people to misunderstand each other.
At some point, one must come to the realization that we are in a constant conflict with ourselves, being human and having survival needs, and then transcending the human experience (seeing beyond our personal selves). Once you become conscious of that personal conflict and the way you behave, you can begin to understand the struggle everyone goes through, and start evaluating which established religious guidelines seem to make the most sense to you in attaining more love and unity, or even arguing some guidelines that seem to be too rigid. The only way to shape your own practice is by constantly evaluating your actions and the effect they have on the world around you. And then you must let others find their own way. As long as you understand that they are also just trying to reach love and unity, you can already find common ground and be more open to hearing the way they think.
At the end of the day, the what is what actually matters most and gets you going: believing in something greater than yourself. That’s what having faith is all about.
Not having any kind of faith can leave someone unstable, hopeless, and very easy to manipulate, because they have not developed their own foundation. In Malcolm’s case, he struggles with his own survival up until his incarceration, and then is introduced to a sub-group of Islamic religion, called The Nation of Islam. We can already see that, on the positive side, his new found faith gives him the springboard to begin nurturing his curiosity, a thirst for achievement and ultimately gives him hope for a better life. However, he goes into great detail on the history of The Nation of Islam, and we learn that it is not based on love and unity, but rather on a story that identifies groups and separates them. So the how to achieve love and unity is completely mis-guided.
Luckily, Malcolm eventually begins to question the practice and goes on a quest to find the actual roots of Islam, learning and shaping a better way for himself.
3. You must learn, grow and evolve.
Curiosity is the one ingredient you need to explore and to grow; grow out of bad habits, out of mis-educated thoughts, stereotypical biases, even deeply engrained views on the world that come from your upbringing and surroundings. Once you decide to open yourself up to curiosity, the whole world opens up to you, and suddenly it seems like a better place.
This is my favourite lesson from Malcolm’s story. The constant evolution of this man is absolutely admiring. The most important being that by the end of his life, his worldview was becoming more and more moderate, as life experience offered him different perspectives. And I find it sad that many will quote Malcolm from a time of his life when his views were more extreme, without considering his evolution.
The man goes from a life of non-existing faith, to a religion that could be considered extreme. Quite often, people need to go from one extreme to the next to eventually find balance, and that’s what happened once Malcolm performed Hajj, and finally opened himself up to another world. And he describes his growing pains in great detail, because these life experiences are not always a walk in the park. Oftentimes, it’s the unfortunate events that lead us to grow. The important thing to remember, is that even in the most defying moments, there is a lesson of growth.
By the end of his life, Malcolm had transformed into a man who identified himself as a Muslim because he believed in the way the true roots of Islam led one to live in love and unity. He eventually shaped his own identity, going from a con-man to an unshakable family man and true leader, and calling himself el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. It was his curiosity and self-education that enabled him to get that far. But all of it started with the one thing that propels anyone to success:
About the Author
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