Written by Patricia Turnier   
Saturday, 11 March 2023 21:25

This brilliant and hard-hitting autobiography was written by renowned author and journalist Alex Haley. It portrays Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malek El-Shabazz (in Arabic: الحاج مالك الشباز) who did not wear a White mask, a concept popularized by the late famous psychiatrist Dr. Fanon. Malcolm X openly and bluntly denounced discrimination suffered by Black people. He was against compromise and did not hesitate to denounce the Uncle Toms of his time as well as the duplicity of people claiming to be allies of Blacks. He blamed the enemies of African-Americans. In the book, readers will discover his transformation as well as his paradigm based on a Pan-Africanist vision notably reinforced following his trips to Africa and the Middle East. Malcolm X was an intrepid, resilient, fascinating and complex character due to the fact that after finding himself in delinquency, he converted within the prison environment into an autodidact and tribune. In addition, he adopted Islam as a new religion to become a preacher and activist. Malcolm X also knew how to transform himself on a personal level. He got married and became a family man. He loved his wife and children thoroughly.

This autobiography is essential for understanding the history of Black Americans through the eyes of Malcolm X during the segregationist period. He had a vision for the cause of African-Americans and understood that the problem was one of human rights rather than civil rights. According to this analysis, he had the firm intention during the 1960s to bring the file of Black Americans to the United Nations so that it would be internationalized. This is probably the real reason why he was assassinated on February 21st 1965. Unfortunately, he was no longer alive when his autobiography was published, and did feel that he would not live long.

Several themes are addressed in the book, by way of examples: his militant position, his vision of non-violence (its limits, its magnanimity, etc.) advocated by his contemporary Dr. Martin Luther King, his adherence to the self-defense of Blacks, racial separatism, his opinions on the foreign policy of the United States of his era and the politicians of his time such as Kennedy, his views on integration and the tokenism1 that may arise from it, the importance of self-determination of African-Americans, the racial pride of Black people countering the myth of their inferiority, the symbolic meaning of the letter X, the importance of the psychological return of African-Americans to Africa, the Black holocaust. The symptoms of racism did not interest Malcolm X; he attacked the causes, in other words, the roots of this gangrene. He had extraordinary knowledge because he knew what was going on at all levels of American society. As a former pimp who acquired extensive knowledge on various subjects, he had intellectual and street intelligence.

Readers discover the evolution of Malcolm X, particularly following his visit to Mecca where the activist realizes that there are Muslims of various races praying peacefully to the same god. This experience broadened his horizons, and he shared this in his memoirs. He eventually dissociated himself from the Nation of Islam so he could, in 1964, found the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) inspired by the OAU (Organization of African Unity). The OAAU aimed to unite all Black Americans without distinction of religious and/or political affiliation.

Importantly, Haley had great respect for the family of Malcolm X. He arranged for 50% of the royalties from his book to go to the widowed Dr. Betty Shabazz. Haley said Malcolm X taught him the importance of self-discipline which led to the writing of his first book, the autobiography of this public figure. This experience paved the way for him to later write Roots, the international success adapted into a TV movie.

It should be mentioned that the famous Spike Lee Malcolm X biopic dating from 1992 was inspired by his autobiography. Denzel Washington brilliantly played the role of the preacher and deserved an Oscar for his interpretation. The late James Baldwin (a friend of Malcolm X) was the first person Hollywood approached to make the feature film. He even traveled to Los Angeles in 1968 to write the screenplay. However, this project came to fruition decades later with director Spike Lee. That delay is specifically explained by the fact that the American company Columbia Pictures, which had commissioned Baldwin to write the screenplay, wanted changes to be made, which the essayist had refused because it was important for him to respect the memory of his friend. FINALLY, his script took the form of a book called One Day, When I Was Lost: A Scenario.

As a conclusion, the profound autobiography of Malcolm X recounts his beginnings when he became fatherless (his dad was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan during the 1920s, he was a follower of Marcus Garvey) until his last accomplishments such as the creation of his OAAU organization before his death. The multiple interviews conducted by Alex Haley form the basis of the book.


1 This is a neologism and anglicism consisting of a practice used in order to carry out symbolic efforts of inclusion with minority groups in order to avoid accusations of discrimination.