When Malcolm X was a boy, he endured his father's murder by, and his mother losing her sanity from, racist sanctimonious Southern whites. Unsurprisingly, he spent his later life in a quest to resolve the psychological tension of those horrific events. One might say that, by the end of his quest, he had found the Grail.
Malcolm X was largely overshadowed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - at least as I remember it - during the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s. Unsurprisingly, Malcolm X began veering more toward the universality of King as he matured. For indeed universality is the central Christian message - (Jesus having spent his entire ministry as "an unclean rabbi walking through social taboos like they were cobwebs") - and the central message of Islam, also.
Malcolm X's diagnosis of what's wrong with US culture seems to run thus:
1. The Founding Fathers declared "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". But the reality was that to create the nation the Fathers were forced to permit slavery to survive. Noble ideals notwithstanding, the nation was launched amid institutional hypocrisy.
2. Despite his oath to support and defend the Constitution (and despite President Washington's encouragement to bring native Americans into American society as equals with whites), President Andrew Jackson refused to comply with Chief Justice John Marshall's majority decision in Worcester v. Georgia (1832) that native Americans be treated as equals with European Americans. Noble ideals notwithstanding, the nation was confirmed in institutional hypocrisy.
I found it odd that never once does Malcolm X mention the Islamic slave trade in Africa, a black diaspora that began roughly seven centuries before the European-Atlantic slave trade, (see Islam's Black Slaves: The Other Black Diaspora). Slavery was not made illegal on the Arabian Peninsula until 1962 - shortly before Malcolm X's arrival there. I also found it odd Malcolm's ignoring the fact that the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments were passed by 100% *Caucasian* US congressmen, and that the abolitionist movement was funded and forwarded almost entirely by Caucasians. To this degree, much of Malcolm's sentiments were bootless jeremiads against the inevitable vagaries of human nature: How can you declaim against racism when you are racist yourself?
While I took strong issue with X's incessant blanket characterization of Caucasians as "devils", I correctly anticipated while reading that as his autobiography progressed he would mature past the blinders of racism. As an Irish American friend of mine remarked, if he had been born black in this country he would've been a lot angrier than Malcolm X, "the angriest black man in America".
Frankly, I liked Malcolm X reading this book. I liked him not because his judgment was always sound (it wasn't) nor because his heart was always full of love (it wasn't) but simply because he spoke truth to power and because he was *trying* to do the right thing. Thomas Carlyle's definition of the hero is that "the hero is sincere". By this definition, Malcolm X was heroic, and heroic stories are inspiring.
It is curious to read the printed fire of Malcolm X's words and contrast them with the cool spoken presentations he was quite capable of delivering.
I consider this book essential reading for any American who wants better to understand himself and his culture.