Knowledge is freedom

Wasted potential


English: A street sign for Malcolm X Boulevard...

“In one sense, we were huddled in there, bonded togethher in seeking security and warmth and comfort from each other, and we didn’t know it. All of us—who might have probed space, or cured cancer, or built industries—were, instead, black victims of the white man’s American social system.”

This passage from Chapter Six, “Detroit Red,” describes the Harlem nightclub as a family network and a safe space that counterbalances the overwhelming forces of racism in the outside world. The description is typical of the autobiography in its portrayal of members of the Harlem community as victims of racial oppression. Faced with this political reality, those who frequent these nightclubs must concern themselves mainly with the basic matter of surviving the conditions of the ghetto. The nightclubs have become something of a home for these blacks. Malcolm’s assertion that the nightclub regulars use this family network without knowing it underscores how vital this support is to their survival. Many of the regulars are poised, aggressive hustlers on the outside, but their need for “security and warmth and comfort” persists on the inside.

This passage also focuses on the wasted potential of the black masses. It refers indirectly to Malcolm’s hustler friends, such as Sammy the Pimp, whose considerable business skills might have helped him build industries instead of a pimping empire. Similarly, West Indian Archie’s photographic memory and quick math skills might have gotten him far in school instead of in gambling rackets. Malcolm’s reference to the lofty career aspirations that form part of the American dream—probing space or curing cancer—underscores that these opportunities are not open to blacks, however. Instead, blacks, discouraged from pursuing any but the most menial jobs, can find a place for themselves in America only on the lowermost rungs of society.

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