Examine the importance of reading in changing Malcolm X's life.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For Malcolm X, reading proved to be transformational.  One reason why reading changed his life was that his time reading in prison was diametrically opposed to anything he did on the outside.  His life as a hustler and petty criminal involved little to do with reading classical texts.  Reading enabled Malcolm X to exercise his mind, expanding it to embrace the totality of spirituality that facilitated his conversion.  Malcolm X understood reading to be a source of empowerment.  He recognized that the more people of color that could not or would not read, the greater control White society held over people of color.  Reading was Malcolm X's first means by which he was able to empower himself, reasserting voice in a world that had silenced it.

At the same time, reading was able to bring him closer to a notion of Islam that would guide his life.  For Malcolm X, the only way he was able to fully embrace the power of Islam as a force of change in his life was through reading Islamic texts and continuing his Islamic studies through reading.  Reading becomes the means by which he is brought closer to Allah.  It is through reading in which his religious conversion is aided.  Malcolm X attributes reading as something that aids him in being able to fully advance as a human being.  In this, reading provides nourishment for both the brain and soul.  This enables Malcolm X to be a liberated individual, one who is free to question and debate the merits of an exclusionary social and political order.  Reading gives him this power, something he lacked prior to engaging in a full immersion in reading.

Read the study guide:
The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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