How does Malcolm X's understanding of his own identity change over the different phases of his life?How does Malcolm X's understanding of his own identity change over the different phases of his...
How does Malcolm X's understanding of his own identity change over the different phases of his life?
How does Malcolm X's understanding of his own identity change over the different phases of his life? How does this understanding change in reference to race?How does this understanding change in terms of what it means to be a US citizen?Additionally, do you think that issues of race and equality are control issues in the US today?
Others have covered well the various changes in identity Malcolm X experienced over the course of his life. I agree that he underwent a gradual expansion of spiritual consciousness. I will focus on two pivotal experiences that changed Malcolm's sense of identity.
The first was learning to articulate himself while in prison by copying out an entire dictionary from A to Z. As he increased in literacy, whole worlds opened up to him through books. He saw there was larger picture in life than simply existing as a petty criminal. He began his search for life's higher meaning.
As a prominent member of the Nation of Islam after his release from prison, Malcolm was part a black separatist church that preached that whites were the devil. Later, while growing increasingly disillusioned with the Nation of Islam, he completed the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia in 1964.
One of the five pillars of Islam says that a faithful Muslim, if he possibly can, should make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his life. This pilgrimage profoundly changed Malcolm. For the first time, he experienced all races being treated equally and was himself treated with dignity and equality by whites. He began to see that the black divide was bridgeable and that all people could be brothers. He rejected racism, left the Nation of Islam, and founded both the Muslim Mosque and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. In 1965, he was assassinated before he could fully explore the ramifications of his new ideas of universal brotherhood.
In a speech he gave the year before he died, called "The Ballot or the Bullet," Malcolm said that blacks were second-class citizens in the US, and that this was the equivalent of being slaves. He stated:
What do you call second-class citizenship? Why that’s colonization. Second class citizenship is nothing but 20th century slavery. How are you going to tell me you’re a second-class citizen. They don’t have second-class citizenship in any other government on this earth. They just have slaves and people who are free.
Race and equality remain controversial issues in America today. Our racial problems have not yet been fully resolved.
Malcolm’s understanding of self evolves throughout his different stages of life. I use the term “evolve” to indicate a higher spiritual consciousness and I find it appropriate to see how he advances towards this end in each of the different phases in his life. For example, as Malcolm Little, he first understands that the political and social institutions of America at the time might not care for those who are in need or for those are of color in America. As Red, he understands the reality of calculating odds and others’ motivations in their actions. It is in this phase that he possesses a strong grasp of how people are and of what they are capable. As Malcolm X, the issues of racial identity and subjugation become critically important to him on both a personal and political level. His own sense of self becomes inextricably linked with the political struggle in front of him. In his last phase, he incorporates his political and personal struggle with a transcendental one that seeks to understand spirituality in a context that provides meaning to all senses of strife. It is in this phase that Malcolm is able to perceive reality in a larger light, one that is not so chained to contingency and irony, but rather to one that connects to all and seeks to establish broader conceptions of meaning
There are many different topics and questions to address here in so short a space, so let me get you started in the right direction at least.
The key shift in Malcolm X's identity came when he adopted "X" as his new last name. The name on his birth certificate was Malcolm Little, but he argued that since he was the descendant of slaves stolen from Africa, Little was actually a slave name - as slaves were often given the last name of their owners. He came to realize that he would never know his true identity - his African heritage. He felt an acute sense of loss, as that identity could never be recovered, so the adoption of "X" was a symbol of his mourning and outrage at his own personal loss. Thousands of other African-Americans did the same thing in solidarity with him.
He also came to realize, perhaps quite early in his life, that he felt he did not belong in American society. He felt that he was a visible legacy of slavery, that he was openly discriminated against in law and in life, and that whites would never accept him as an equal. Because of this, Malcolm X advocated the use of force to protect black Americans and for a time even backed the idea of creating a separate black nation within the borders of the US.