The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley

I’m sorry to say that the subject I most disliked was mathematics. I have thought about it. I think the reason was that mathematics leaves no room for argument. If you made a mistake, that was all there was to it.

I was a true hustler—uneducated, unskilled at anything honorable, and I considered myself nervy and cunning enough to live by my wits, exploiting any prey that presented itself. I would risk just about anything.

Full-time hustlers never can relax to appraise what they are doing and where they are bound. As is the case in any jungle, the hustler’s every waking hour is lived with both the practical and the subconscious knowledge that if he ever relaxes, if he ever slows down, the other hungry, restless foxes, ferrets, wolves, and vultures out there with him won’t hesitate to make him their prey.

[...]one could be as lazy as he wanted, if he would only use his head[...]

West Indian Archie had the kind of photographic memory that put him among the elite of numbers runners. He never wrote down your number; even in the case of combination plays, he would just nod. He was able to file all the numbers in his head, and write them down for the banker only when he turned in his money. This made him the ideal runner because cops could never catch him with any betting slips. I’ve often reflected upon such black veteran numbers men as West Indian Archie. If they had lived in another kind of society, their exceptional mathematical talents might have been better used. But they were black.

About cocaine. Cocaine produces, for those who sniff its powdery white crystals, an illusion of supreme well-being, and a soaring over-confidence in both physical and mental ability. You think you could whip the heavyweight champion, and that you are smarter than anybody. There was also that feeling of timelessness. And there were intervals of ability to recall and review things that had happened years back with an astonishing clarity.

I can give you a very good tip if you want to keep burglars out of your house. A light on for the burglar to see is the very best single means of protection. One of the ideal things is to leave a bathroom light on all night. The bathroom is one place where somebody could be, for any length of time, at any time of the night, and he would be likely to hear the slightest strange sound. The burglar, knowing this, won’t try to enter. It’s also the cheapest possible protection. The kilowatts are a lot cheaper than your valuables.

I had sunk to the very bottom of the American white man’s society when—soon now, in prison—I found Allah and the religion of Islam and it completely transformed my life.

I am not saying there shouldn’t be prisons, but there shouldn’t be bars. Behind bars, a man never reforms. He will never forget. He never will get completely over the memory of the bars.

So, feeling I had time on my hands, I did begin a correspondence course in English. When the mimeographed listings of available books passed from cell to cell, I would put my number next to titles that appealed to me which weren’t already taken. Through the correspondence exercises and lessons, some of the mechanics of grammar gradually began to come back to me. After about a year, I guess, I could write a decent and legible letter. About then, too, influenced by having heard Bimbi often explain word derivations, I quietly started another correspondence course—in Latin. Under Bimbi’s tutelage, too, I had gotten myself some little cellblock swindles going. For packs of cigarettes, I beat just about anyone at dominoes. I always had several cartons of cigarettes in my cell; they were, in prison, nearly as valuable a medium of exchange as money.

Schopenhauer, Kant, Nietzsche, naturally, I read all of those. I don’t respect them; I am just trying to remember some of those whose theories I soaked up those years. These three, it’s said, laid the groundwork on which the Fascist and Nazi philosophy was built. I don’t respect them because it seems to me that most of their time was spent arguing about things that are not really important.

In fact, history’s most tragic result of a mixed, therefore diluted and weakened, ethnic identity has been experienced by a white ethnic group—the Jew in Germany. He had made greater contributions to Germany than Germans themselves had. Jews had won over half of Germany’s Nobel Prizes. Every culture in Germany was led by the Jew; he published the greatest newspaper. Jews were the greatest artists, the greatest poets, composers, stage directors. But those Jews made a fatal mistake—assimilating.

It was like being on a battlefield—with intellectual and philosophical bullets. It was an exciting battling with ideas.

Anything I do today, I regard as urgent. No man is given but so much time to accomplish whatever is his life’s work. My life in particular never has stayed fixed in one position for very long. You have seen how throughout my life, I have often known unexpected drastic changes.