Comparative Book Review Stephanie Mckenzie Book Review

  • Length: 10 pages
  • Sources: 2
  • Subject: Black Studies
  • Type: Book Review
  • Paper: #18526949

Excerpt from Book Review :

If there is a tendency among readers to view Malcolm X as a radical
figure, especially where compared to peaceful counterparts like Dr. King,
the autobiography helps to show racism in a light that makes Malcolm X
extremely sympathetic, or at least a rational product of his time.
Narratives from his upbringing, especially in his father's work as a black
revolutionary and in his family's constant state of moving to escape
threats, are especially demonstrative of the formulation of Malcolm's
racial ideas. So is this demonstrated in such passages as that where he
observes that "as always, some stupid local Uncle Tom Negroes began to
funnel stories about his revolutionary beliefs to the local white people."
(Haley, 5) This points to a distinct moment in history, with Malcolm
essentially chronicling the 20th century transition from segregated free
man to civil rights activist. This also helps to reveal the causes for
Malcolm's interest in black separatism, with the racial submission of many
fellow black men leaving him alienated and hostile.
Ultimately, this is remarkable for providing a carefully considered
analysis of a life's work which is inevitably politicized elsewhere. Such
records are important for protecting such individuals from the distortion
of history bytheir numerous political enemies while simultaneously adding
nuance to the fragmented discourses on politics and race. With progression
of the civil rights era, the absurd tendencies of philosophical discourse
on the issue of racism were being pulled aside by the concrete and bold
allegations against white America made by Malcom X's gathering movement.
The Civil Rights Era which was given its strength and impetus by the
swelling numbers of down-trodden who were gaining access to the collective
of ideas, illustrated the power of an idea in action. Malcolm X said of
his fellow African Americans, in what would be published as his autography,
that "all of us-who might have probed space, or cured cancer, or built
industries-were, instead, black victims of the white man's American social
system." (Haley, 12)
His militant resistance to the society which rendered education and
viable employment unavailable to his demographic was a prime illustration
of the evolution of racial thought. Malcolm X's resistance would be a
meaningful compass in finding the path for such an engagement, providing
proper philosophical justification for defining ideas in contrast to the
faulty conceits of the white man's shared misjudgments and offering impetus
for converting racial pride into actionable means of collective progress.
The primary feature of the Haley text is its identification of these values
as being distinctly culturally African American, for the first time
identifying the demographic by as a new one uniquely forged by a history of
slavery, segregation, lynching and inequality.

Comparative Analysis:
Perhaps a most telling moment in the Ifill text relates the two texts
directly. The author remarks on Obama's reading of Malcolm X, a fact that
should itself be considered an obviation. It almost enters into the
discourse without need for mention that the first African American
president is also a man quite versed in the literature and ideology of
those activists who sowed the seeds of his eventual opportunity. But Ifill
is successful at capturing this dynamic in such as way as to suggest
continuity and advancement in a way that Malcolm X could have only
fantasized possible. Where Malcolm X was deeply compelled to define
himself according to his race, but to shift this definition away from the
subordinating and degrading constructions of white America, Obama would be
given the opportunity to define himself otherwise.
So would Obama remark when nominated on the night of his nomination
for the Democratic Party, indicating that "'the men and women who gathered
there could've heard many things,' he said, referring to the March on
Washington. 'They could've heard words of anger and discord. They could've
been told to succumb to the fear and frustrations of so many dreams
deferred but what the people heard instead-people of ever creed and color,
from every walk of life-is that, in America, our destiny is inextricably
linked, that together our dreams can be one.'" (Ifill, 54) This idea
strikes a sharp juxtaposition to the ideas of Malcolm X, who was inclined
by the conditions around him to first strike out a space for African
Americans to obtain access to their dreams.
Taking a sharp departure from the ideas that Obama would express just
this past year, the writer here considers an iconic remark by a mentor to
Malcolm X, a member fo the Muslim clergy who pronounced of his African
American fellows, "we didn't land on Plymouth Rock, my brothers and sisters-
Plymouth Rock landed on us! . . . .'Give all you can to help Messenger
Elijah Muhammed's independence program for the black man! . . This white
man always has controlled us black people by keeping us running to him
begging, 'Please lawdy, please, Mr. White Man, boss, would you push me off
another crumb down from your table that's sagging with riches.'" (Haley,
205) The charisma to offer compelling rhetoric, a feature often spoken of
in compliment to Obama, is a feature no less present during the Civil
Rights era. But to be certain, the rancor conducted here above is distinct
and promotes a separate black identity that is no longer of value to a
figure such as Obama. This accounts for the distinct differences between
the Ifill and Haley texts, even as they examine a shared theme of racial
progress in the United States. For Malcolm X, Haley reports, this theme
was comprised of the unity and defiance shown by the black community.
Due in no small part to the efforts of Malcolm X and his Muslim
brothers, Obama would be free to practice Christianity and to run for the
presidency without raising these rancorous terms. Separation would no
longer be a political value for the banner-holders of Civil Rights. To
this point, the main point of progress identified throughout the Ifill text
is that which characterized Obama as racially neutral and therefore
inherently American.
In the sentiment elaborated in Obama's comments above, Ifill points
out that "he did not deny his race, but he generally didn't bring it up
either. You had to look in the pages of his acclaimed autobiography,
Dreams from My Father, to learn about his admiration for Malcolm X and his
collegiate flirtation with black activism. But the book also held these
words: 'My identity might begin with the fact of my race,' he wrote, 'But
it didn't, couldn't end there.' Obama and his advisers decided early that
he was not going to win the presidency by playing up his race." (Ifill, 54)
The intercession of the two texts reflects a clear contrast of ideas,
with Malcolm X taking the position that American was promised to all men
but was truly a service to the greed and abuse of the white man and Obama
instead arguing that there is an American Dream intended for all men, but
that this prospect is only won through unity and the dismantling of
racialist emphases. These are divergences that reveal much about the path
of fast evolution which has occurred since the onset of the Civil Rights
era. Quite in fact, references here to Garvey and King also illustrate
that the narrative of racial and political history in the United States is
told through certain men and women of iconic importance, but that in the
gaps of historical reflection between these individuals, much rhetorical,
ideological and political toiling has occurred. The Ifill text is shown to
be important when held next to Haley's text, because it shows that American
culture has taken great strides but that these strides would come only with
the confrontation of deep difficulty.

The presidency of Obama is an important moment in the political and
cultural history of the United States. And the primary purpose of the
Ifill text would be to contextualize this moment in terms of the history of
African Americans. In doing so, she would show Obama's emergence to be
another step on a path which has been strode since the days of Malcolm X
and prior. Ironically, it is only when held up against the Haley text from
40 years prior that the Ifill text begins to reveal its premonitions for
the future. It hints at the idea that Obama's presidency is only another
step in eroding the mores of inequality, and that it is not the endpoint of
African American struggles.
When held in light of the Haley text, it may be taken that Ifill's
assumptions are correct, that in fact there are many great lengths to go in
terms of truly eliminating the emphasis on race from the political
discourse. Referring back to Axelrod's comments as reported by Ifill, with
the first groundbreaking step, all steps along this path become easier.
The arduous and defiant struggles of Malcolm X would lead to…

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