Monday, February 25, 2013
I had not read Malcolm X's autobiography before this class, so when I did finally start it was surprising how familiar the story felt to me. Not because I was well acquainted with his personal narrative; my school, like many in Texas, never mentioned Malcolm X in the few classes where we covered civil rights at all. Rather, his story is one that has been used by other writers, because it doesn't just encompass Malcolm X as an individual, but the time period he lived in. It was familiar to me because I had been exposed to stories of black right's, to stories of unbearable racism and need. I do not mean by these words to be reductive; Malcolm's story is not one of the “definitive black experience”, or even of the majority's experience during his lifetime. Rather, I'd make the claim that his life experiences were not wholly unique (before, perhaps, his pilgrimage and his travels to Africa which stand out as being beyond what many have and will experience) and after his death his autobiography helped shape African American literature.
What specifically struck me in the passages assigned, what felt so very familiar, were these “Blood Brothers” whose actions had been pinned on Malcolm. The autobiography is very detached about them, which makes sense given that Malcolm is made aware of them while he is abroad.
“In Lagos, I was greeted by Professor Essein-Udom . . . at his home, that evening, a dinner was held in my honor . . . a young doctor asked me if I knew that New York City's Press was highly upset about a recent killing in Harlem of a white woman – for which, according to the press, many were blaming me at least indirectly. An elderly white couple who owned a Harlem clothing store had been attacked by several young Negroes, and the wife was stabbed to death. Some of these young Negroes, apprehended by the police, had described themselves as belonging to an organization the called 'Blood Brothers' . . . I told the dinner guests that it was my first word of any of it, but that I was not surprised when violence happened in any of America's ghettoes, where black men had been living packed like animals and treated like lepers.”
It is Malcolm's response specifically that reminds me of Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, specifically the group that co-opts Guitar, the “Seven Days”. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, “The Seven Days” is a violent activist group consisting of seven anonymous members. These members use the days of the week, rather than their names, and each commits a crime on their namesake day. Their job is to take revenge for senseless white crimes against the black community, specifically murder. For instance, if a black man is killed by a white man, or a group of white people, than the “Seven Days” would find a white man to kill in retaliation.
Should a black couple be killed, the “Seven Days” would find a white couple.
The idea of a life for a life, of finding ways to reclaim agency when the court system has failed, are what these situations have in common. Whereas the normative voice in Song of Solomon seems to reject the path taken by “Seven Days” it does not vilify the participants, but portrays them as victims of a violent life. This same view rings out in the last line of the quote above. Violence in the ghettos is a result of oppressing and “caging” a portion of the population when they feel they cannot escape or change their circumstances through “legitimate” (e.g. legal) means.