Being Noah Tesfaye #38: Learning from History — Malcolm X

I’m here, sitting at my favorite coffee shop, writing what I think is going to be another blog post, amongst people that I have no idea who they are. But I do know that I always see the same people around here, which is kind of reassuring I guess. The one thing that still blows my mind, the one thing that I still don’t get is that I don’t see any more black people, no one else like me. I literally almost break my neck whenever I see another black person here. It’s like a shot of pure energy hits my spine.

This lack of people like me, other African Americans, has been a weekly occurrence for sure. I mean, when you really think about it, I always find it really frustrating to be that one person that people will always look at and judge, but I’ve gotten used to it, or at least I think I’ve gotten over it. Where am I going with all of this? Well, this week I really got to start reading a new book. Initially, I thought I would be getting a story about a movement and the reasonings behind that movement. But what I got, what I’m still learning even only through six or so chapters, is that there are people who are like me out there. I am of course talking about this book: The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley.

I bought this book in the stash I bought in New York back in February that I so often refer to. I’ve always wanted to read it. I knew it was an important piece of literature: that it was able to redefine the way so many would think. As a young black man, I wanted to be able to discover something new about who I am, what this heritage I am now a part of really means. This is what I wanted. What I didn’t realize necessarily, and maybe even not yet, is that I don’t just want to read this book, but I need to read this book.

Every single book I’ve read in English in high school has been written from every perspective except for a free-thinking, free-spirited African American. When people talk about “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I reckon that while I may have enjoyed the story at the time reading it, I find the story to be less inspiring now in hindsight. It is a book about the white man saving black people, which although I understand in parts its sincerity, I can’t help but look at it as a story as such. The black people in the community were helpless, had no real power, had no substantial reason to live aside from their own families.

That is why I am so profoundly struck with such awe at Malcolm X’s biography: it bluntly tells you how he feels to be himself in America, unapologetically. It doesn’t give me the necessary reflection I want to hear within books that I enjoy, but it tells a story that I somehow understand. I understand his frustration to constantly be forced to appease people that we KNOW are not good for us. I understand how he knows he deserves more in life, deserves to be a bigger, more powerful person. I understand his unabashed love for New York City, and specifically Harlem. Everything he says, no matter how bizarre, no matter how absurd, I get it. This is the first time since Between the World and Me that I’ve been able to read a book that really struck to me personally where I can really see why he feels the way he does.

It’s kind of weird to connect with someone that for so long was seen, and is still seen today, as an extremist. I’m still only so far in the book, and to be completely honest, I cannot wait to finish reading. But it does shock me that one cannot at least take the time to understand where he has come from. It’s a story so powerful that you cannot even begin to realize that it really did happen. But it did. And he lived fortunately long enough to tell it.

I don’t know how the story will end. I mean, I do know how it ends, but I want to see where he ended up, what his state of mind was at the end of this journey, of this path to self-discovery. But if there is anything that I am most excited about by reading this piece of history is to learn how I can apply some of his own messages to my life. How can I learn to become someone who truly focuses on what he believes in? How can I be a better person? How can I make sure that I can uplift those around me? All of these questions are goals that I have and that I hope to fulfill in the future once I finish reading. Now, I’m going to go back to finishing the book and I’ll see you all here next week…

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