"...people are always speculating-- why am I as I am? To understand that of any person, his whole life must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient" (153).
Last month I embarked upon reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The novel has graced its name on my reading list for years. In high school I read an excerpt from the book about "conking". "Conking" refers to the chemical process of relaxing or straightening a black person's kinky/curly hair. Malcolm's reflection after his first "conk" shocked me:
"This was my first really big step toward self-degradation: when I endured all of that pain, literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white man's hair. I had joined that multitude of Negro men and women in America who are brainwashed into believing that the black people are inferior-- and white people "superior" -- that they will even violate and mutilate their God-created bodies to try to look 'pretty' by white standards" (56-7).
At seventeen, having "conked" my hair for eleven years, this passage made me question for the first time the process my family deemed necessary for my beauty. Malcolm's unapologetic reflection planted a seed within me. In college, reading bell hooks and James Baldwin further influenced my ideas about my identity as a black woman and my hair. At age twenty I finally cut off all my hair and grew an afro. Almost four years later, I still rock an afro. I believe cutting my hair is one of the single greatest things I've ever done.
Seven years after my initial introduction to Malcolm's autobiography, I finally sat down to read the book in its entirety. The book chronicles Malcolm's life from childhood to death (his tragic assassination is recorded beautifully in Alex Haley's epilogue). Malcolm's honesty and candid accounts of his life are truly engrossing. He speaks to many questions I have about my identity as well as politics, economics and race relations in the United States. It is stunning how many of his insights are still undeniably relevant.
Official Website: http://www.malcolmx.com/index.html