Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Literary Interlude, for Black History Month


The next day I was in my car driving along the freeway when at a red light another car pulled alongside. A white woman was driving and on the passenger's side, next to me, was a white man. "Malcolm X!" he called out—and when I looked, he stuck his hand out of his car, across at me, grinning. "Do you mind shaking hands with a white man?" Imagine that! Just as the traffic light turned green, I told him, "I don't mind shaking hands with human beings. Are you one?"

This passage, from The Autobiography of Malcolm X, speaks not just to African-Americans—as Malcolm X himself might have done in his earlier, more incendiary years as a member of the Nation of Islam. This time, he's speaking to blacks and whites, and challenging all of us to look past skin color, at the people underneath all of us. Here is the resounding human insight Malcolm X spent his sadly short but remarkable lifetime finding, and the frankness and sense of self-examination with which he recounts that quest is one of the things that makes his classic autobiography—which I've been reading, on and off, for the past few months—one of the great documents of our age.

It's a passage everyone ought to keep in mind not just every February, but all year round.

Just felt like sharing that with you all.

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