In “Learning to Read”, Malcolm X describes his plight with illiteracy, and it is a gripping tale. If you are a black man or a follower of the Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam.There is nothing more intriguing than the plight of a man struggling to rise from misfortune and to make himself better and more educated. The story of Malcolm X is interesting; he turned the negative experience of imprisonment into what could have been the educational opportunity of a lifetime for many, and he does view it as such. He achieved a level of intelligence on his own during his incarceration that many do not even acquire when studying in college. He was self motivated, and what he learned made him long to learn more; however, his self education also produced an inflammatory view of the white man, one, which if he were college educated, he may not have acquired.In “Learning to Read”, one of the main reasons that Malcolm X states that he wanted to become literate was to be able to better express himself to Mr. Elijah Muhammad, his prophet in the study of the Nation of Islam.
Muhammad’s teachings drove Malcolm to learn, but definitely guided his readings and his studies and the way that he interpreted what he read and what information he sought. He states, “The teachings of Mr. Muhammad stressed how history had been “whitened” – when white men had written history books, the black man simply had been left out. Mr. Muhammad couldn’t have said anything that would have struck me much harder” (insert page #). This statement is indicative of how Malcolm X guided his self education, what he sought to learn and how he sought to learn it – he desired only to learn what would enhance Muhammad’s teachings.With Muhammad’s anti-white message driving him, Malcolm devoured book after book, searching for what he calls the “truth”.
“You can hardly show me a black adult in America – or a white one, for that matter – who knows from the history books anything like the truth about the black mans’ role” (insert page #). While this may technically be true, through his own admission, Malcolm X found plenty of literature on the subject. “I took special points to hunt in the library for books that would inform me on details about black history” (p).What he found, however, almost contrary to his previous statements, were books available and studied at institutions of higher learning all across the United States of America: Durant’s Story of Civilization, H. G. Wells’ Outline of History, and Gregor Mendel’s Findings in Genetics were among some of the more popular literature that Malcolm used to enforce his beliefs in the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, selectively choosing excerpts and chapters to fit his anti white agenda and beliefs.While it is quite spectacular that a man who could not read was able to not only read but to comprehend this literature, his interpretation or view of such facts and information was skewed by his philosophy and devotion to the Nation of Islam. “Mr.
Muhammad, to whom I was writing daily, had no idea of what a new world had opened up to me through my efforts to document his teachings in books” (p). He was unable to read and learn objectively, which is the main problem with his self education. He states, “I certainly wasn’t seeking any degree, the way a college confers a status symbol upon its students.
My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the dearness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America” (p).Another problem that the writings of Malcolm X pose is his limited audience. While now read and studied by all, his audience at the time of publication seems to be the exclusively black man, and his intention is never subtle, “Four hundred years of black blood and sweat invested here in America, and the white man still has the black man begging for what every immigrant fresh off the ship can take for granted the minute he walks down the gangplank” (p).
Admittedly, by the end of the essay, Malcolm states “I’m digressing” (p), drawing me to the conclusion that the essay truly is not about a man’s gripping tale of literacy and knowledge, but moreover a speech to the black man on how to overcome his oppression, since, Malcolm also states in this essay that “The American black man is the world’s most shameful case of minority oppression” (p).In more than one instance, the author draws attention to the travesties committed by the white man, but not just to blacks. His intention is clear, to win the black man over to the Nation of Islam because as he states, “Mr. Muhammad’s teachings spread …swiftly all over the United states, among all Negroes…[t]he teachings ring true – to every Negro” (p). The essay paints a very ugly picture of the white man throughout the last few hundred years.
I will never forget how shocked I was when I began reading about slavery’s totally horror. It made such an impact upon me that it later became one of my favorite subjects when I became a minister of Mr. Muhammad’s. The world’s most monstrous crime, the sin and the blood on the white man’s hands, are almost impossible to believe…I read descriptions of atrocities, saw those illustrations of black slave women tied up and flogged with whips…evil white men with ships and clubs and chains and guns…I read the histories of various nations, which opened my eyes gradually, then wider and wider, to how the whole world’s white men had indeed acted like devils, pillaging and raping and bleeding and draining the whole world’s non-white people. (p).
What Malcolm fails to recognize, however, are the full truths. Perhaps he was not exposed to, or he skipped over the part of history in his reading where Africans were in the slave trading business far before the white man joined in. Did he see how desperate villagers ran from their own people in a quest to escape being shipped as a commodity? Didn’t anyone ever tell him? Or was his study skewed by his quest for black separatism.In addition to Malcolm X becoming a minister of Elijah Muhammad, he also “emerged as the leading spokesman for black separatism, a philosophy that urged black Americans to cut political, social, and economic ties with the white community” (p).
Perhaps he also missed the book that contained the Emancipation Proclamation.While it is no less than magnificent that a street hustler rose from literacy to become one of the most well known black activists and intelligible speakers of all time for black rights, it is also quite a shame that this powerful black man did not have more guidance in his self education so that his messages would portray more of the truth and possibly offer more peaceful, amiable, and workable solutions to equal rights other than just rising up against the white man.It is true that Malcolm X acquired a great deal of knowledge on his own, and he did it in the most unorthodox of ways – by copying the dictionary. Self knowledge is a good thing, but with knowledge comes power, and the better your knowledge is, the more rounded it is, for example, like an education that you would receive in a college, the better you are able to fully understand topics, to research more effectively, and to present facts more objectively.The purpose for Malcolm X’s self education was primarily to become a strong disciple to his prophet, Elijah Muhammad, and he did fulfill that quest. His writings are continuing proof of that legacy.
The essay “Learning to Read” at first sight presents a powerful, intriguing, and motivating lesson in self education; that it takes the desire and self discipline to learn, and then once the learning begins, it is amazing. One of the strong messages that this essay emphasizes that can carry over to mankind is that no matter what you desire, you must work hard to achieve it. Malcolm X, despite his confines to prison and his limited 8th grade education, did just that.