The Autobiography of Malcolm X

by: Malcolm X & Alex Haley

Chapters Five, Six & Seven

Although Malcolm strongly believes that white society is to blame for black America’s problems, starting with slavery and continuing through segregation, his commentary in these chapters foreshadows his later belief that if blacks want a better life, it is up to them, and only them, to improve their situation. Malcolm’s taking the blame for ruining Laura’s life is an instance of the black community holding itself responsible for its failures. While Malcolm could easily blame white society and thereby ease his conscience and that of the black community in general, doing so would deny blacks power over lives such as Laura’s. In blaming himself for Laura’s downfall and thereby accepting responsibility for it, Malcolm shows his belief that he had the power to protect her from harmful influences. While Malcolm readily acknowledges that whites may be the source of such harmful influences, he feels it is necessary for other blacks to adopt a self-empowering attitude like his if they want to improve their lives.

Malcolm includes most of the details in these chapters to expose us to the tough side of the ghetto. However, the moments in which Malcolm portrays Harlem life in a positive light imply that there is an alternative to the white welfare state that offers to help the black people whom it simultaneously oppresses. Malcolm’s feeling of kinship with the patrons of Small’s Paradise shows that Harlem contains a network of people who are a source of community in a cruel world. Though money is tight, the black community prefers to help its own rather than receive assistance from a government institution, as with an elderly beggar named Fewclothes, whom the black community always given free meals. This presentation of an informal social safety net contrasts with the demeaning white welfare agencies that earlier divide Malcolm’s family. In this instance, Malcolm shows that even people pushed to the brink of survival can form their own creative solutions to social problems.


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