Essay By Malcolm X

Essay By Malcolm X-41
• • • Haley excitedly wrote that “The Negro” was “guaranteed to upset the NAACP and [White] Citizens Councils, alike.” But the chapter, crucially, is more than just provocation.Today the essay’s title may sound like the product of a bygone era, but to Malcolm the term was always outdated, an ideological fiction of white supremacy.

• • • Haley excitedly wrote that “The Negro” was “guaranteed to upset the NAACP and [White] Citizens Councils, alike.” But the chapter, crucially, is more than just provocation.Today the essay’s title may sound like the product of a bygone era, but to Malcolm the term was always outdated, an ideological fiction of white supremacy.This summer previously unpublished materials that had been seized from a private collector, who acquired them at the sale of Haley’s estate in 1992, were auctioned to the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

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• • • The published book charts a series of personal transformations: from his birth in Omaha, Nebraska, as Malcolm Little to his nickname “Detroit Red” (he had reddish hair) in Harlem, then “Satan” while he served time in prison, to Malcolm X when he embraced the Nation of Islam, and finally, after making the pilgrimage in 1964, to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.

Spanning five hundred pages and nineteen chapters, including an expansive epilogue by Haley, it is a story of dramatic metamorphosis.

Fearing it would be too controversial, Doubleday withdrew its contract after Malcolm’s death in what biographer Manning Marable called the “most disastrous decision in corporate publishing history.” The book sold six million copies by 1977 and would later serve as the basis of Spike Lee’s influential 1992 biopic.

It has shaped generations of activists and helped to define our collective understanding of race in the United States.

The book is viewed as a crystallization of Malcolm X’s political vision, yet that vision is all too often overshadowed by—or conflated with—the man himself, portrayed in the book as a charismatic leader defined by dramatic personal transformation and tragedy.

That understanding—both of the person and of the politics—now stands to be reexamined.

A month and a half later, after Malcolm called President John F.

Kennedy’s assassination a case of the “chickens coming home to roost,” Elijah Muhammad publicly chastised Malcolm and forbade him from public speaking for three months, which proved to be the most productive period of the autobiography’s writing.

The others would be “The End of Christianity” and “Twenty Million Black Muslims”—the three essays serving to summarize Malcolm’s religious and political point of view.

With the book, Malcolm had hoped to subvert the generic conventions of autobiography that elevate the singular, private person over the collective, political public.

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