Malcolm X – An Invisible Man
If I had to give examples of books that radically influenced my perspective of what it means to be a black man in America, I would name Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I read Malcolm X first, towards the end of tenth grade. It’s hard for me to describe exactly how reading the novel influenced my relationship to my blackness. I can say this however: I don’t remember having an awareness of race in the United States on any level higher than the micro. I knew of racist people, but not of racist systems or modes. I’d learned about Malcolm X in school, but not much beyond the idea that he “supported violence”.
To me, Malcolm X was the story of a man who defined the term “black man” for himself, and then embodied that to the best of his ability. Invisible Man deals with many of the issues that Malcolm faced, but through a different lens. In both, a central idea is the topic of perception, and what it means to have agency in the way that one is seen by others (and whether or not that is possible). In class, we talked about the image of Malcolm X that was portrayed to the public during the 1960s, and the image that has lived on since then. While Invisible Man dealt mostly with the visual relationship between white and black people, this disconnect between perception and reality exists everywhere.
We don’t like our heroes to be human, and so in a way we categorize even leaders such as Malcolm X. It’s interesting to explore the ways in which our (and Spike Lee’s) perception of history impacts (or doesn’t change) how we view not only Malcolm X and his ideas, but our idea of our past as it relates to how we move forward.
I plan to continue exploring this idea, focusing specifically on Lee’s film, in my next blog post.