I taught The Autobiography of Malcolm X in my English 327 class this past term. I've always found the text interesting and, at the risk of sounding pretentious, important, but this time reading it was a deeply affecting experience. Conversion plays such a profound role in the narrative. This time I read the text as a story of changing who you are. It's fundamentally possible to do just that, the book suggests.
"The young...are the only hope that America has. The rest of us have always been living in a lie."
"Anything I do today, I regard as urgent."
And his representation of the Middle East, the site of Malcolm's second great converstion, resonated:
"Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and the overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this Ancient Holy Land."
Indeed, when Malcolm leaves the U.S. for the first time, he's struck by comparative friendliness. Even in Germany, en route to the Arab world, he sees this change:
"We went into a lot of shops and stores, looking more than intending to buy anything. We'd walk in, any store, every store, and it would be Hello! People who never saw you before, and knew you were strangers. And the same cordiality when we left, without buying anything. In America, you walk in a store and spend a hundred dollars, and leave, and you're still a stranger. Both you and the clerks act as though you're doing each other a favor."