In his book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm describes the racist society in the 1930’s. As a young boy the Ku Klux Klan killed Malcolm’s father. When Malcolm grew up he wanted to be a lawyer, but racism stood in his way. Later on, he goes to New York where
he works in many illegal jobs such as: a hustler, robber, drug dealer, and pimp dealer. He then is sent to prison. There he learns about Islam in a wrong way. He also starts using his hustler techniques to win people and convert them. When he goes to Mecca he sees and learns the “true Islam”. He then is expelled from the Nation of Islam, which was the old organization that described Islam as an anti-white religion. As Malcolm moves from one environment to another he adapts and as he moves he names himself a couple of names such as: Detroit Red, Satan, Elhajj Malik Shabbazz, and Malcolm X.
There are many symbols that show that Malcolm’s view change based on the environment surrounding him. One of the many symbols is his zoot suit, and doing a conk hairstyle when he moves to New York. When he was in New York he started to befriend pimps such as Sammy the pimp, and drug dealers and robbers such as: Shorty. He also had white girlfriend, but he uses her for status reasons. He later gets his name Detroit Red when he lives in whorehouse and starts marijuana and cocaine addiction. He then is arrested and sent to prison for ten years. As one can see the environment usually affects Malcolm.
While in prison Malcolm tries to stop taking drugs. This causes him to be very frustrated, which gets him another name by his inmates: Satan. While in jail he meets Billi an educated Negro, he then starts copying and reading a dictionary. He also hears about Islam and converts. As Malcolm reads he starts to improve his English and vocabulary. He also starts to become an extremist this is evident in his saying: “Yes, I’m an extremist. The black race here in North America is in extremely bad condition. You show me a black man who isn’t an extremist and I’ll show you one who needs psychiatric attention!”
Once he came out of jail he buys glasses, a wristwatch, and a suitcase. These things symbolize his commitment in traveling to spread Islam, and his commitment to start an efficient career. Malcolm worked to free black people from racism at any price even his own death. He had once said: “Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.” He also said: “The price of freedom is death.” He also said: “If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.” His first step was to unite all black people first. He had said that in his famous saying: “Whites can help us, but they can’t join us. There can be no black/white unity, until there is first some black unity.” Later on, he believed that all oppressed people should unite. This idea is evident in his saying: “The only way we’ll get freedom for ourselves is to identify ourselves with every oppressed people in the world. We are blood brothers to the people of Brazil, Venezuela, Haiti…Cuba- yes, Cuba too.” When he went to hajj to Mecca and came back he was amazed about the “colorblindness” there. He had said: “I remember one night at Muzdalifa with nothing but the sky overhead, I lay awake amid sleeping Muslim brothers and I learned that pilgrims from every land – every color, and class, and rank; high officials and the beggar alike – all snored in the same language.” This had brought him to believe that Islam was the best solution to erase the evil of racism. This is evident in his saying: “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.” This is what Malcolm X or Elhajj Shabbazz as he named himself.
In conclusion Malcolm’s life is full of conversions, from hustler to lecturer to leader. What is pretty interesting is that his hustling skills got him to be a good leader. He had once joked by saying that he got his bachelor degree from the streets of Harlem. Once again one can see that the environment and surroundings affected Malcolm X