Saturday, May 05, 2012

Tha Artstorian: Educating Malcolm

Educating Malcolm
by r2c2h2 tha artivist aka tha artstorian
The autobiography of Malcolm X serves as a great testament to the man who once said that “people don't realize how a man's whole life can be changed by one book” (Haley & X, 2008). The book chronicles the extraordinary odyssey of Malcolm X, one of the most inspiring and polarizing figures in American history. Malcolm X was a man always in transition, always becoming but never being; always reinventing his character to fit the zeitgeist or tenor of the times to maximize his environmental situation but never letting said environment define or limit himself nor his objectives. Always updating his persona and strategy to keep from becoming outdated or obsolete but never distancing himself too much to become irrelevant or out of touch, Malcolm as icon, demagogue, charlatan or iconoclast (whatever your preference) represents many things to many people. Whether he was Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, Malcolm X or El-Hajj Malik Shabbazz, he was anything but boring, complacent or predictable. Malcolm in all of his transformations or manifestations understood the value unpredictability, wisdom and knowledge played in him maximizing his resources and roles. Malcolm once said that he learned early in life “that if you want something, you had better make some noise” (Haley & X, 2008). Whether he was running and hustling in the streets of his beloved Harlem like a predator looking for an easy dinner or speaking on the street corners of his same beloved Harlem like an apocalyptic street prophet with a passionate, urgent and colorful rhythmic rhetorical fervor urging Black folks to not be afraid of who they are and what they can achieve if they sought true unity and purpose among themselves or addressing and debating sometimes cynical  ivy league and privileged audiences in the hallowed halls of Harvard or Oxford with such silver tongued eloquence and sharp wit that even those who disagreed with his world view were nevertheless charmed by the sincerity of his beliefs, Cheshire cat grin and engaging intellect, Malcolm never lost fact that “education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today” (Brainy Quote, 2012). Malcolm believed “that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they'll create their own program, and when the people create a program, you get action” (Haley & X, 2008).
Reading Is Fundamental
I suppose that it was inevitable that my word-base broadened. I could now for the first time pick up a book and read and now begin to understand what the book was saying. Anyone who has read a great deal can imagine the new world that opened. Let me tell you something: from then until I left that prison, in every free moment I had, if I was not reading in the library, I was reading in my bunk. You couldn’t have gotten me out of my books with a wedge...Months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life. (Haley & X, 2008)
Before he was a school dropout, Malcolm was a stellar student who had ambitions of becoming a lawyer. However, his dream was deferred and then destroyed when a white teacher told him that Blacks couldn’t be lawyers and that he should be a carpenter instead. It wasn’t until Malcolm serve extensive time in prison that he had the time to rediscover his love of learning and began to read books. According to Knowles, as a person matures, his or her self-concept moves from that of dependent personality toward one of a self-directing human being and the most potent motivations are internal rather than external (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). Self-motivation is key in any endeavor involving potential individual human achievement, especially those individuals operating in adverse conditions. In fact, once he is motivated no one can change more completely than the man who has been at the bottom (Haley & X, 2008). Malcolm soon became a prolific reader, a bibliophile with a voracious appetite for knowledge. Malcolm stated “right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life…As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive” (Haley & X, 2008). Knowles contends that an adult is more problem centered than subject centered in learning. It could be reasoned that Malcolm’s self-education in prison laid the foundation for what was to become his life’s work. Malcolm’s homemade education gave him “a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America” (Haley & X, 2008).
Race & True Islam
Transformative learning occurs when there is a transformation in one of our beliefs or attitudes (a meaning scheme), or a transformation of our entire perspective (habit of mind) (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007).  Malcolm’s 1964 pilgrimage to Mecca is a perfect illustration of transformative learning.  Meizrow further states that transformative learning is “the process by which we transform our taken-for-granted frames of reference (meaning schemes, habits of mind, mindsets) to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, emotionally capable of change, and reflections so that they may generate beliefs and opinions that will prove more true or justified to guide action (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007).  Malcolm who was a follower and national spokesperson of the Nation of Islam for a little more than a decade, often promoted the concept that the majority of whites were devils who could never be trusted nor respected as decent human beings due to the systemic oppression that they imposed upon people of color in America and around the world. However, when he separated from the Nation of Islam under questionable circumstances in early 1964, Malcolm found himself not only free from any organizational responsibilities and obligations but also free to pursue to form his own philosophy and organization as well as explore the possibilities of working with groups and individuals who he once was critical and apprehensive of due to their strategy and objectives but now can find common ground with in terms of trying to unify the diverse African Diaspora. The Mecca pilgrimage was definitely the beginning of this enlightenment phase in his sojourn. Malcolm after spending most of his life trying to survive Jim Crow and American apartheid expressed his utter shock and amazement in what he saw at Mecca in terms of racial harmony through the following statement:
I saw all races, all colors, blue eyed blonds to black skinned Africans in true brotherhood! In unity! Living as one! Worshiping as one! No segregationists, no liberals; they would not have known how to interpret the meaning of those words. (Haley & X, 2008)
Malcolm further reiterates his amazement when he describes that even in sleeping arrangements among his fellow pilgrims that discrimination as it relates to race and class was also non-existent:
I remember one night at Muzdalifa with nothing but the sky overhead I lay awake amid sleeping Muslim brothers and I learned that pilgrims from every land--every color, and class, and rank; high officials and the beggar alike--all snored in the same language. (Haley & X, 2008)
When Malcolm discarded or outgrown the old NOI ideology and started to embrace “true Islam” (in his case Sunni Islam) he started to see how religion can be used as a tool bring all races closer together instead of keeping them a part or divided.   Malcolm stated that true Islam taught him “that it takes all of the religious, political, economic, psychological, and racial ingredients, or characteristics, to make the Human Family and the Human Society complete” (Haley & X, 2008).  This epiphany also made him realize that all whites were not devils or the enemy and could be useful allies in eliminating the race problem and helping to create true justice and reconciliation for the human family.  True Islam for Malcolm helped him to see that one should be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. He also felt that true Islam could be instrumental in helping to eliminate white supremacy and institutional racism in America and that its benefits should be embraced by his fellow white Americans:
America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white, but the white attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all together, irrespective of their color. (Haley & X, 2008)
Once Malcolm saw ‘the light’ he knew he could not go back to being the same Malcolm as before. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity (Haley & X, 2008).
Conclusion: Why Am I As I Am?
Why am I as I am? To understand that of any person, his whole life, from
Birth must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient. (Haley & X, 2008)
In conclusion, Malcolm X was a realist - he had a way of looking at the world that was honed by years on the streets and in prison (50 Cent & Greene, 2009). Malcolm knew well that in order to solve any problem you must first find the root cause of it and diagnose it. However, he also soberly knew that America “goes in for the surface glossing over, the escape ruse, surfaces, instead of truly dealing with its deep-rooted problems” (50 Cent & Greene, 2009). With that said and against all odds he took it upon himself to be the change that he wanted to see in the world by first transforming himself. What made Malcolm so successful and effective as a leader was his willingness to change when he was confronted with or exposed to new information and his sincere humility when he admitted he may have made mistakes in reading or understanding certain situations. Malcolm’s legacy is truly about facing facts and accepting “the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it” (Haley & X, 2008). In the end, through his example Malcolm teaches us why it is always important to keep “an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth” (Haley & X, 2008).

Brainy Quote. (2012). Malcolm X. Last page update unknown. Last retrieved 2/12/2012 from
50 Cent & Greene, Robert. (2009). The 50th Law. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Haley, Alex & X, Malcolm. (2008). The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Bridgewater, NJ: Paw
Prints/Baker & Taylor.
Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in Adulthood: A
Comprehensive Guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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