The thought of writing any kind of review on one of the most important books ever written is an incredibly daunting task. This is actually my second time reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley. I count it among a group of life-changing books; along the lines of Angela Davis’s Are Prisons Obsolete? and I wanted to revisit it all these years later to see how I would react to it now that I’ve studied Malcolm’s work further. Instead of a review of the content of the book, I wanted to take a critical look at my reactions.
Reading it with different eyes, I found that the misogyny of the Nation of Islam (NOI) bothered me much more than the first time around. Along with Malcolm’s own opinions on women. It’s something that I couldn’t just gloss over this time around. However, one of the most interesting aspects of re-reading it was the reaction I got on the train. I do most of my reading on the train to and from work, and without a doubt, this is the book that has gotten the most reaction. Once a white man looked at the cover and shook his head in disgust. Others looked and smiled.
Yet, the most interesting was the woman who asked me what I thought of it after trying so hard to get my attention. Unbeknownst to me, she had been followed into the train my a man who was trying to talk to her and ask her out. She was not interested, but he kept insisting, at one point when she told him she wanted to talk to me about the book I was reading, he responded with, well you can talk to her later, I got on this train just to talk to you. I felt the hair stand on the back of my head when I heard that.
I intervened and began talking to her, and he soon left. We ended up having a great conversation about the book, Malcolm and how his views changed once leaving the Nation of Islam, but also about men and harassment. She told me the story of her cousin who was killed in Louisiana for giving a man a fake phone number and how that has made her weary to reject men outright for fear of how they might retaliate. That is the reality that women live with. It is why there is a #YouOkSis hashtag on Twitter around the street harassment and more that women deal with.
The point of this story in relation to the book is the conversation it started and why it was started. The book brought us together and gave us something to talk about but also the fact that I was uncomfortable with the NOI’s views on women in it and the harassment that I witnessed were not lost on me.
More than 10 years after reading the first time, I still find myself agreeing with Malcolm’s thoughts on radicalness and action, anger and indignation. I still loved the fact that he is so unapologetic about his views which make for extremely candid and informative reading. It remains one of the most inspiring books I have ever read.