The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Chapters Seventeen, Eighteen & Nineteen
Summary—Chapter Seventeen: Mecca
America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.
Malcolm explains that every Muslim must, if possible, make a pilgrimage, or hajj, to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Malcolm has no trouble receiving financial backing from Ella, who has also withdrawn from the Nation of Islam. When Malcolm applies for a hajj visa, he learns that his status as a Muslim must be approved by Mahmoud Youssef Shawarbi, a Muslim United Nations advisor.
Malcolm leaves the United States and goes to see sights in Cairo. He then flies to Jedda, Saudi Arabia, where officials confiscate his passport and tell him a high court must establish whether or not he is a true Muslim. Officials send him to a crowded airport dormitory, where he reflects on the various languages, colors, and customs of the Muslims around him. Malcolm calls Omar Azzam, a friend of Shawarbi’s, for help. Azzam vacates his father’s suite at the Jedda Palace Hotel for Malcolm. This hospitality impresses Malcolm, who enjoys fine food and conversation with Jedda’s elite and is lent a car by Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal himself to make the hajj to Mecca.
Malcolm describes his sense of wonder at Mecca. During his visit, he admires the Islamic world’s lack of racial divisions. At the end of the hajj, Malcolm writes letters home that express his changed perspective on racial problems in the United States. Having met white-skinned people who are untainted by racism, Malcolm now locates America’s problems in the white attitude generated by four hundred years of collective violence against blacks. He sees Islam as a solution to America’s problems. Malcolm signs all of his letters “El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz,” which becomes his official name, although the world continues to refer to him as Malcolm X.
Summary—Chapter Eighteen: “El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz”
The American Negro has been entirely brainwashed from ever seeing or thinking of himself, as he should, as a part of the nonwhite peoples of the world.
Malcolm learns that leaders and intellectuals of nonwhite nations are interested in the plight of American blacks. Malcolm flies to Lebanon, where he is warmly received. In Ghana, a high commissioner gives Malcolm ceremonial robes. Malcolm then visits Liberia, Senegal, and Morocco before returning home. In New York, reporters besiege him with questions that imply a connection between him and race riots erupting across the country. The press’s failure to acknowledge Malcolm’s new outlook frustrates him.
Summary—Chapter Nineteen: “1965”
I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against.
In Harlem Malcolm holds meetings for a new organization, the Organization for Afro-American Unity. He emphasizes its inclusiveness of people of any faith, though it excludes whites from membership. Malcolm believes that whites should change their own communities in separate organizations and that black people must unify before they band together with whites to fight racism. Malcolm returns to Africa and the Middle East for another eighteen weeks, meeting with many world leaders. He confesses to feeling stifled in his new endeavors by his reputation. He predicts that he will die a violent death, doubting that he will live to see the publication of his autobiography.
Analysis—Chapters Seventeen, Eighteen & Nineteen
Malcolm’s articulation of a new vision for black Americans, urging them to see themselves as one of a number of nonwhite minorities seeking justice worldwide, shows how his openness to new experiences allows him to develop philosophies that greatly contrast with those he espoused previously. His visits to several African nations that have recently won their independence from European colonial powers, as well as to socialist Egypt and anti-imperialist India, inspire his vision of a worldwide context for the civil rights movement. Instead of resisting the differences between their version of Islam and his own, he thoughtfully considers how their philosophy can be applied to blacks in America. Malcolm’s intention to bring the United States in front of a U.N. tribunal on the charges of mass human rights violations demonstrates the extent of his commitment to a new kind of Islam.
Though Malcolm first espouses a worldwide view of racial oppression in this chapter, earlier sections of the autobiography hint that Malcolm will eventually relate the struggle of blacks in America to the struggles of other oppressed groups. For example, while describing his first impressions of New York City in Chapter Five, “Harlemite,” Malcolm traces the history of the Harlem ghetto as a place where minority racial groups have confined themselves. In seeing blacks as part of a series of American immigrant groups’ struggle to escape the ghetto, Malcolm relates racism against blacks to bias against Germans, Italians, Jews, and the Dutch. But Malcolm feels that prejudice against blacks, while similar to the prejudices against these other groups, is more deep-rooted and more difficult to remedy. He aligns the struggle of American blacks with the struggle of minorities in other countries because he believes that the political and economical problems of American blacks are more similar to the problems of blacks in other parts of the world than to those of other groups in America. Though ethnic minorities in America have had to fight prejudice, they have not suffered the same degree of oppression and subjugation as the many black peoples whom whites reduced to slavery.
The great change that Malcolm undergoes at the end of the autobiography parallels the change that he earlier undergoes in prison. In both cases, he abandons his radical views on race and broadens his perspective. His time in prison, during which he educates himself and converts to Islam, shows him the need to bring the struggle for equality to the black masses. After his release from prison, he no longer wants to get by for himself; rather, he wants blacks to unify and fight for their due as a people. Similarly, his time in the Middle East exposes him to new points of view and offers him new insight into how to resolve racial tensions. For example, during his pilgrimage to Mecca and his subsequent stops in the Middle East, Malcolm witnesses the “colorblindness” of the Islamic world. This colorblindness refers to a model of racial integration that Malcolm actively resists earlier. Seeing its effectiveness in another environment, however, changes Malcolm’s attitude toward it. He emerges from his travels convinced that oppressed nonwhite groups throughout the world must unite to eliminate white oppression altogether. In both cases, Malcolm’s openness to the wisdom around him helps him develop a more mature outlook. His constant growth as a person shows that he is not a mere angry revolutionary who wants vengeance against whites but a leader sincerely interested in achieving racial harmony.
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