The Autobiography of Malcolm X isn't just an important historical document, but skillful storytelling about the investigation of a mystery: why are white people like that?

In his description of his early life, he seems to clearly show that “imitating white privilege folkways” is an orientation white upbringing & schooling cultivates by hooking into attachment-seeking, but keeps it ambiguous whether he’s noticed this is what happened to whites too. He shows that privileged whites fetishize natural/bad/sexual/embodied blackness as their shadow, while blacks fetishize whites as status symbols. Again, unclear whether he’s noticed that whites also fetishize whites as status symbols.


He’s clear that white people are taught to dance through internalized authoritarian rule-following, and that black people are natural dancers if they throw off that conditioning, unclear whether he’s being coy or actually hasn’t generalized to whites.

He describes his own learning to dance as a process of learning to spontaneously move to music, combined with some amount of imitation of showoff moves others were doing. I "learned" to "Lindy hop" from white people teaching steps explicitly (consistent with how he thinks white people dance), and this bears no resemblance to the process of learning to dance the Lindy hop that Malcolm X describes. It's just a totally different way of relating to one's body. I've only very recently started to regularly be able to dance simply by wanting to move to music. I had to stop fighting myself first.


Got to the part where he discovers Nation of Islam ideology (he implies he no longer believes the chronology involving the scientist Yakub deliberately breeding white people on the island of Patmos through a policy of dysgenics). When told that all white people without exception are wicked, the concrete counterexample he comes up with from his own life is Jewish. On top of that, the one European philosopher he approves of is Spinoza! (Even Nation of Islam claims that Allah sent Moses to civilize the Jews first among whites.) But he still doesn't connect the dots, at least not yet, that whiteness is unevenly distributed.

A lot of disapproval my father expressed about self-despising Jews aspiring to white gentile beauty standards (straight hair, fair skin) is nearly word for word something Malcolm X might have written about black people.

The general case is, whites are more uniformly and persuasively educated to mimic whiteness than minorities are. This is becoming clear to me as a Jew brought up to be confused about whether we’re white. (Been getting to know some unprivileged white people lately and it’s amazing!)

March on Washington

Interesting perspective on the March on Washington beginning as an authentic spontaneous, distributed grass-roots revolt successfully coopted by Liberals and the Establishment-friendly Black clients.

Nation of Islam

After his ample lived experience that white Americans were lawless, interesting that the Nation of Islam is in part a flight to lawfulness; creating a somewhat decoupled black economy, a separate set of mores within which people are expected to keep commitments and invest in the future. This seems like it is functionally integrated with a rejection of a strategy of placation.

The Hajj

This is the payoff. Receiving real, warm hospitality from white-looking Muslims from all over, including Saudi royalty, Malcolm X figures out that palefaces don't have to be the way they are, that white nationalism seems to be more of a Christian cultural thing.

As I read Malcolm X's description of his Hajj, I reflected on the emotions American propaganda has instructed me to have towards Islam. It seems like there's a kind of panic around the idea of Sharia law, which can't really be explained by its harshness; America keeps a lot of people in badly inhumane prisons, and innocence doesn't reliably protect you from the death penalty. I think the panic I'm picking up on comes instead from the idea of applying judgment uniformly.

I see this in microcosm in my personal interactions. I am not especially vindictive in terms of imposing actual penalties on transgressors, but I am unwilling to withhold judgment when I think someone is behaving badly. When people object to this, it is often hard to elicit a clear opinion from them as to whether they think the problem is that I am unreasonably mistaken, or that someone who sincerely and reasonably holds my opinion ought to express it differently, but when I do manage to pin things down it generally turns out that they endorse a norm where criticism of transgressors is suppressed relative to other kinds of speech.

There's a large class of mostly white people who seem threatened not so much by any particular punishment, but by an invocation of the general idea that symmetrical standards of judgment might be applied to their behavior. In this antinomian perspective, only corruption feels safe and comfortable, and the prospect of revelation is met with abject terror.

There's a competing Semitic culture that feels the opposite. I'm happy to learn of an immigrant to a justice culture, and sad that I'll never get to meet him.


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Alternative explanation: people treat their ingroup well, and their outgroup badly.

In America, Malcolm X is mostly perceived as black, therefore outgroup (from the perspective of the white majority). During Hajj, Malcolm X is mostly perceived as a Muslim, therefore ingroup.

A relevant comparison would be how Muslims treat their outgroup.

I found the thing about how white and black culture relate to dancing really interesting. I think both manners of dance-enculturation (also, relatedly, singing-enculturation) were familiar to me, but seeing it spelled out clearly was helpful both for seeing both waters-I've-sometimes-swam-in, and also communicating it to others.

There are at least three ways to learn dancing: spontaneous, imitating others, and explicit teaching.

I am not sure whether the claim is that each black person reinvents the dance from scratch, or whether they need to observe fewer examples of dance before they can generate their own, or something else.

I would also assume that the dancing-learning styles are related to autistic spectrum (as it is a social activity usually learned by imitating others), so if there are white LW readers who learned dancing by reading user manuals, well, maybe it's because they are white, but also maybe it's because they are nerds.