Dear Dirty America


Educating the Shit Out of Yourself: A Formula for Self-Empowerment

March 10
16:00 2012
Los Angeles

Let us reach back a little ways through history and savor the words of Malcolm X:

At one-hour intervals the night guards paced past every room. Each time I heard the approaching footsteps, I jumped into bed and feigned sleep. And as soon as the guard passed, I got back out of bed onto the floor area of that light-glow, where I would read for another fifty-eight minutes–until the guard approached again. That went on until three or four every morning. Three or four hours of sleep a night was enough for me. Often in the years in the streets I had slept less than that.

In prison, twenty-one year old Malcolm had written out onto paper each page of the dictionary to enable an understanding of every book he read. After that, he couldn’t stop reading. The transference of ideas through language was magical to him. Books were not old and dusty things, but truly held knowledge and power.

I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive. I certainly wasn’t seeking any degree, the way a college confers a status symbol upon its students. My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America.

Most of us are far from Malcolm X’s type of turbulent time period and personal crisis, but his enthusiasm for reading should be inspirational to anybody living in these times of constant (dis)information. Arm yourself with history and science, religion and spiritualism. Empower yourself with philosophy. Read the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

Reading is a gift. Understanding is a gift. Too many in our society take reading and writing for granted. For many of us, it’s always been there, available, but not fully used. It’s not just for scholars and professors. A well-educated public might be the most powerful societal force, far more capable than heavy weapons and militarized police.

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