Malcolm X learned at an early age how to identify hypocrisy in those around him. He found it time and time again in his friends, lovers, and spiritual leaders. Perhaps the biggest hypocrite he meets is Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, which taught Malcolm X to act spiritually superior, then punished him for criticizing the Nation's separatist response to racism. In each case, Malcolm X recognizes the hypocrisy, acts against it, and ultimately leaves the hypocrites, including the Nation of Islam, behind.
Hypocrisy occupies a major presence in the bildungsroman of Malcolm X. At each point in his life when he embraces a way of life, it is the hypocrisy of that order which causes him to be disillusioned with it, forcing him to leave it. Recall Mr. Ostrowski's classroom as an example. Early on, Malcolm was a good student likeable by many and one whose natural intelligence and skill was evident. In expressing his desire to want to be a lawyer, convinced of such a calling because he gets the best grades in class and is clearly one of the top students, he is told that such a desire is not a realistic expectation for someone who is Black. "Be a carpenter," is what he is told. It's this hypocrisy between being told what to do in order to be successful and then being denied this success that causes him to feel disenchanted with this order, causing him to essentially leave it. In his interactions with West Indian Archie, it is hypocrisy that causes the rift between them, as Archie is jealous of Malcolm's success in a setting that he taught him. This was hypocritical in Malcolm's eyes for he was only doing what West Indian Archie taught him to do. Again, resulting in flight, Malcolm experienced a sense of hypocrisy in his relationships with Sofia and the desire to try to act in a manner that was not consistent with his own identity, but rather with one that followed a socially acceptable code for Black Americans at the time. This involved "conking" one's hair, wearing extremely fashionable clothes, and acting in a manner that compelled Black Americans to be seen as more humorous than serious while living in Boston. This involved becoming involved with Sophia. With a white woman on his arm, he perceived this as an advancement of social status in Boston. Yet, when he was arrested for petty crimes, the harsh and intense sentences handed down by the judge was, in Malcolm's mind, a response for him dating a White woman. Hypocrisy was evident here in that Malcolm did what White Society told him to do and then punished him to an extremely harsh set of sentences in the process. In a larger scope, one could argue that White society, in giving African- Americans so little of opportunity, helped move him to a life of petty crime, so punishment in such an intense manner is, in its own right, an act of hypocrisy. While in prison, Malcolm learns about religion and the nature of spirituality. It is through this that he is able to launch critiques about the hypocritical nature of religious worship, in particular the depiction of Jesus as White, reflecting his own particular distance with Christian society. Naturally, the most obvious example of hypocrisy would be his experience with the Nation of Islam, a setting where he was told and taught to act in a spiritually superior manner, but then was only to experience the opposite with the actions of his leader and guru, the Honorable Elijah Muhammed, causing him to leave it and set out on his own. At each step in his journey, Malcolm's relationship to hypocrisy was as present and looming as a shadow that one could never hope to escape.