Ta-Nehisi Coates has an affecting post up on Malcolm X inspired by his re-reading his Malcolm’s biography in middle age. I know nothing about the man, and so I’ll let Malcolm’s words speak for themselves.
I believe that it would be almost impossible to find anywhere in America a black man who has lived further down in the mud of human society than I have; or a black man who has been any more ignorant than I have been; or a black man who has suffered more anguish during his life than I have.
But it is only after the deepest darkness that the greatest joy can come; it is only after slavery and prison that the sweetest appreciation of freedom can come. For the freedom of my twenty-two million black brothers and sisters here in America, I do believe that I have fought the best that I knew how, and the best that I could, with the shortcomings that I have had. I know that my shortcomings are many.
My greatest lack has been, I believe, that I don’t have the kind of academic education I wish I had been able to get — to have been a lawyer, perhaps. I do believe that I might have made a good lawyer. I have always loved verbal battle, and challenge. You can believe me that if I had the time right now, I would not be one bit ashamed to go back into any New York City public school and start where I left off at the ninth grade, and go on through a degree. Because I don’t begin to be academically equipped for so many of the interests that I have. For instance, I love languages. I wish I were an accomplished linguist.
I don’t know anything more frustrating than to be around people talking something you can’t understand. Especially when they are people who look just like you. In Africa, I heard original mother tongues, such as Hausa, and Swahili, being spoken, and there I was standing like some little boy, waiting for someone to tell me what had been said; I never will forget how ignorant I felt. Aside from the basic African dialects, I would try to learn Chinese, because it looks as if Chinese will be the most powerful political language of the future.
And already I have begun studying Arabic, which I think is going to be the most powerful spiritual language of the future. I would just like to study. I mean ranging study, because I have a wide-open mind. I’m interested in almost any subject you can mention. I know this is the reason I have come to really like, as individuals, some of the hosts of radio or television panel programs I have been on, and to respect their minds — because even if they have been almost steadily in disagreement with me on the race issue, they still kept their minds open and objective about the truths of things happening in this world. Irv Kupcinet in Chicago, and Barry Farber, Barry Gray and Mike Wallace in New York — people like them….
Every morning when I wake up, now, I regard it as having another borrowed day. In any city, wherever I go, making speeches, holding meetings of my organization, or attending to other business, black men are watching every move I make, awaiting their chance to kill me.
The entire post is worth reading and I think we should consider adding Malcolm’s autobiography to our book club. This passage better describes my desire to learn than anything I’ve ever read; coming from a man who didn’t have the opportunity to graduate high school and who was living with the apparent knowledge that others intended to kill him. Heavy stuff and worth further study.