I want to continue today with Malcolm X, whose Autobiography was a strong influence on me when I first read it in my late teens. I both identified with Malcolm X and realized I had a lot to learn from him, primarily about the experiences of people whose lives were different from mine. I admired his desire for knowledge and authority, his passion for books, and his diligence in prison, where he studied the English language with obsessive fervor.
It’s crushing, annihilating to me to know that we now have a president whose illiteracy is celebrated by a massive swath of Americans, while others shrug it off as acceptable. Malcolm X spent his days in prison memorizing the dictionary. Decades later, America elects a man who can hardly utter a three syllable word.
I wish I could quote his entire book. But this will do:
I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew 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. 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 deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America. Not long ago, an English writer telephoned me from London, asking questions. One was, “What’s your alma mater?” I told him, “Books.” You will never catch me with a free fifteen minutes in which I’m not studying something I feel might be able to help the black man.
Photo of Malcolm X from Wikipedia