Editor’s Note: Hi everyone! This week I am happy to introduce another young and vocal activist Kayla Austin to our Anti-Racism series with her review of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Kayla Austin is a rising senior boarding student at Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan outside of Detroit. She is a passionate creator, influencer, entrepreneur, film maker, and inventor. She plays both the Varsity Basketball and Track teams and was elected Freshman Class President in a new school in a new state. She impacts her school culture by participating in the 4A diversity club and leading efforts within the residence hall.For the past 4 years, Kayla has been focused on making a difference in the area of gun violence against kids. Kayla was selected as one of 50 African American girls to participate in Black Girls Lead program at Columbia and the BET Black Girls Rock Televised program where she was also honored by Monarch Magazine as a part of the Red-Carpet Media team.
“Joining that fight looks different for everyone, it can be praying, organizing, or even just proudly taking up the spaces you are in, but together we must obliterate racism–by any means necessary.”– Kayla Austin
For all my teenage years I have dedicated a huge part of my life to engaging in activism. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a book that had been recommended to me several times, and it wasn’t until I ended my freshman year that I could finally find the time to read it.
Malcolm X is a person who is often left out of school history books and sometimes villainized while Martin Luther King Jr.’s activism is taught in every school curriculum. As a Christian, Martin Luther King Jr. strongly believed in peaceful protesting and in letting others “slap the other cheek”, meaning he chose not to physically engage in conflict.
However, sometimes left out of history books is that there were many people who didn’t necessarily agree with King’s methods of fighting for civil rights. Malcolm X was one of those people. His motto was “by any means necessary” meaning do whatever it takes! There are some that villainize Malcolm’s motto but when we truly think of the way America has functioned through history… has America been a “slap the other cheek”, peaceful nation? As kids many of us are told that if someone hits us, we hit them back. I think this idea is how Malcolm and many of his followers felt. So, before we all decide whether we agree with how Malcolm wanted to fight for racial justice, we have to personally evaluate if we are the type of person who lets our other cheek get slapped, or if we directly respond to situations.
Malcolm begins the autobiography introducing us to his childhood which was rough. His father was a Christian minister, and later lost his life to white supremacy. Malcolm had many other siblings and grew up with just his mom. Eventually he and his siblings were separated as his mother became mentally unstable due to the untimely death of her husband.
Throughout the autobiography Malcolm receives many different names at different times in his life. I would categorize Malcolm as going through three major transitions in his life, his name changing along with each one. That being said, Malcolm Little begins to go by the name of Detroit Red and starts to engage in troubling behavior finding himself in prison. Although Malcolm had grown up with a Christian father he had strayed away, but while in prison he meets someone who introduces him to the religion of Islam. His time in jail is where he studies Islam and begins to understand how this religion connects to his blackness and becomes truly engrained.
As African Americans our last names are usually the last name of our ancestors’ slave masters. It is for this reason that Malcolm decides to go by the name of “Malcolm X”, “X” representing the last name he never knew. When Malcolm is finally released from jail he begins to engage with the Nation of Islam; he follows the “Honorable Elijah Muhammed” and looks up to him.
Malcolm slowly starts to become the spokesperson for the Nation of Islam and absorbs some enemies within the organization. It is while his name is Malcolm X that he begins to dislike white people, his pain and all he had endured lead him to this mindset. He viewed them all as bad to the extent that he did not believe in white allies. Malcolm became what some would describe as “radical” and was forced to leave the organization. He then finds himself taking the Hajj trip to Mecca. On this trip Malcolm X becomes El Hajj Malik El Shabazz and had begun to see the diversity within his religion of Islam. The followers of Islam he witnessed ranged from all skin tones. It is here that he realizes not all white people are bad, and some are even apart of his religion. Malcolm returns home to America with a new outlook on the world.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a wonderful book and while I enjoyed giving a summary, I’m going to stop right there! Right now, there is more discussion about justice and civil rights, the debate between Malcolm and Dr. King’s methods have come back into question. Now is an important time to truly internalize Malcolm’s journey and all that he stood for. It’s important that regardless of how one feels about the way protesting should take place, we must acknowledge that racism is alive and well in America. It is up to each of us as individuals from every race and every background to combat this systemic issue. Joining that fight looks different for everyone, it can be praying, organizing, or even just proudly taking up the spaces you are in, but together we must obliterate racism–by any means necessary.