Wednesday, August 24, 2005

An essay about Malcolm X that I banged out for school in less than a day, under stress..

the assignment is (PSY 200) is to "address to various aspects of human development: Physical, cognitive, emotional, personality, and moral. Select a current day or historical famous figure. Research the background of this person to determine what forces have impacted the figure's life. Distinguish between the influences of heredity and environment on their psychological development (e.g., moral, emotional, etc). What parenting practices and/or social support systems may have optimized their developmental growth and adjustment?

Biography/Personality Subject: Malcolm X

Malcolm X’s birth name was Malcolm Little. He was born on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. Malcolm’s father Earl—by his accounts a tall, darker-skinned man—was an ordained minister in the Baptist faith and was a supporter of black Nationalist ideals, as espoused by seminal black leader/speaker lack Marcus Garvey. According to Malcolm’s personal accounts, his mother Louise was a fair-skinned black woman of Caribbean descent. She was a homemaker, and Malcolm had eight siblings.
The elder Mr. Little was active in preaching and promoting black rights, which earned him the enmity of hostile whites, many of which had white supremacist ties. The family moved several times before settling in Lansing, Michigan. Around age four his family’s home was attacked by the Ku Klux Klan and virtually destroyed by arson. Mr. Little’s activism continued, but ultimately he would die under mysterious circumstances within two years’ time. The body had been badly torn up and was found laying on train tracks. Local police ultimately ruled it as an ‘accident’, though the family would allege it was the work of a white mob/Klan plot. Malcolm’s mother would go on to experience extreme emotional distress, and state social service workers took away the children, funneling them through various orphanages and foster homes while Louise herself was sent to a mental hospital.
Parenting Practices/Social Support & Effects:
Having his mother and father in his life for a longer period of time would probably have provided more optimal circumstances for his personal growth and/or adjustment. As it stands, he was one of several siblings who lost their father under presumably violent circumstances in early childhood—which is a traumatic event not likely to be discounted in assessing his personality growth. Before his father’s death, the family was subjected to terror tactics of the (usually) white-coated Klan, et. al; when his mother had her emotional breakdown and was institutionalized, it was another group of ‘white coats’—the medical establishment—that now removed his biological mother. The foster care system he lived under for a few years offered a form of care—indeed, during this time, Malcolm excelled as a student—but according to Malcolm, his foster mother and school teachers—more or less, all the other adult whites around him—were casual bigots, their everyday conversation espousing racist views. As such, these relationships had to have a profound affect on his outlook on the society he was a part of, how it viewed him, and what his role could/should be. His moral development was apparently stunted, seeing as how he drifted into crime as a natural consequence of the racial class system.
Despite being a very good student, a conversation with a bigoted teacher soured Malcolm on school; he ended up dropping out before graduating high school, and he headed to the East Coast to stay with his oldest (half-)sister, where he eventually descended into petty crime and the urban black underworld. Feigning insanity to dodge the World War II draft, he continued this lifestyle until he and a partner were arrested for burglary in 1946. Convicted and sent to prison, Malcolm read dictionaries and other books to pass the time by, and during this time he was recruited into the Nation of Islam, via his brother Reginald. Paroled in the early 1950’s, he officially joined the organization as a minister and a recruiter himself. Like most NOI members of the time, he informally adopted the surname ‘X’ in symbolic rejection of a European-derived name- thus becoming ‘Malcolm X’. Primarily reaching the urbanized North, he was instrumental in the growth of the Nation of Islam during this time, including helping to inaugurate the organization’s self-published newspaper, Muhammad Speaks (later The Final Call). His live lectures, as well as increasingly frequent appearances in print, radio and television, made him a known—and controversial—figure in the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. Internal politics with the Nation of Islam and philosophical differences with its founder, Elijah Muhammad, led Malcolm to leave the organization in 1964. later that year he would go on a trip to Mecca, Saudi Arabia—in traditional Islam, such a trip is required once in a Muslim’s lifetime. There, he met a multi-cultural group of Muslims, and adopted a worldview that was more accepting of racial diversity and cooperation. He set up his own independent Muslim mosque. All this time, he endured lingering death threats, and at least one attempt on his family’s life was made when his home was set ablaze by an unknown party. He would also adopt an Arabic-derived name, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, though still allowing himself to be called Malcolm X in public. His life was ended on February 21, 1965 when he was killed at gunpoint by three assassins.
Question: What Theories Might Apply to Assessing his Life Story?
Theory 1- Social Learning Theory:
Social learning theory postulates that people learn by observing the actions of other people and the results of those actions. This theory also says that learning can frequently occur without necessarily an alteration in the observer’s conduct. While the theory of behaviorism states that the learning process needs to be marked by a lasting adjustment in conduct, social learning pundits insist that since observation by itself can cause learning, a person’s conduct may not necessarily show said learning. Some feel that social learning theory is a ‘transitional theory’ to close the gap between cognitive-based theories and behaviorism. A change in conduct is not guaranteed. Attentiveness and outlook of possible rewards or penalties will frequently influence the outcome on human conduct.
In the case of Malcolm X, in his teen life and young adulthood, it could be argued that he, as the Observer, was at one point influenced by ‘the model’. For example, when he left his basically rural home environment in Michigan for life in Boston—later New York—he changed his style of dress and hair to fit in better with the ‘hip’ crowds of the jazz & nightclub culture that he was now exposed to and sought out. This change helped to ease his transition into being accepted into the new environment he sought fellowship with.
He would later quit the ‘square gigs’ of shoe-shining and train porter work for a relationship with Harlem racketeers, seeming to indicate that he, as the Observer, was now influenced by a third person—settling on a prominent policy (numbers) ‘hustler’ known as West Indian Archie, and taking him as a mentor of sorts. The ‘teacher’, Archie, takes note of this and congratulates the Observer for their newly-modeled conduct.
The next level is that emulated activities start to highlight the outcomes that manifest. During Malcolm’s underworld ‘career’, he became a small-scale bootlegger, pimp, and narcotics dealer. These activities brought him a not-insignificant amount of money, which he then in turn used to access a desirable material lifestyle, romantic attention, and respect among those in this particular subculture who admired such men in his ‘field’. His future arrest, incarceration, and subsequent relationship with the Nation of Islam brought about another set of Observer/Teacher roles to play out.

Theory 2- Humanist Personality Theory:
As espoused by Maslow and Rogers, Humanism promotes the tenet that, beneath whatever negative traits a person may possess, that there in an innate ‘goodness’ that lies inside all people deep down. This point of view lays contrast with the older theories, especially Freud’s psychoanalytical views, that tend to assume that humans are fundamentally flawed in the negative, and that personality develops as a person comes to grips with controlling that negative. Humanism acknowledges the unhelpful tendencies of humanity, and that there is ‘wickedness’ in the world. But, humanism also stresses that if a person/people are willing to acknowledge that they currently harbor negative/destructive traits, then, under ideal circumstances, people will come to the realization that said ‘wickedness’ is but a socialized illusion as well as ‘false goodness’, and that civil and peaceful cooperation can take place.
In the case of Malcolm X, it could be argued that he was a good person from birth, and the various traumas in his life, combined with the lingering effects of racist actions and attitudes espoused by the greater society, led him to create an attitude of ‘badness’ that fed his desire to pursue a life of a ‘hustler’ and embrace a criminal lifestyle. His conversion to the doctrines of the Nation of Islam brought him out of his criminal ‘mask’ and to a form of stability; he became gainfully employed, and had a wealth of peers, followers and observers who admired and/or respected him; his embracing of the wobbly doctrine of the Nation of Islam’s views on whites and racial separation was still a stumbling block, however, and a future ‘illusion’ to confront and release from his social outlook. His discovery of infidelity on the part of his mentor, and the growth of opposing factions to his leadership of the Nation of Islam were signs that his current belief system was not without masks and imperfections. He had to reexamine himself.
His going to Mecca was arguably the catalyst that helped him to release himself from previously rigid views and uncover the ‘deepest truth’ within him, and thus in allowing that to manifest, his latter-day attitudes of embracing more racial diversity became clear.
Out of these two, the best way to look at Malcolm X’s life story is to look at it in humanistic terms. Humanistic theory holds that human beings function as combination of mind, body, and spirit. If any one of those elements is ignored, then one is missing the point and really has made only a partial evaluation of that person. Psychological health depends on people taking responsibility for their own behavior, whether one’s actions/words are negative or positive. Human beings have an inherent worth, and even if some deeds are not positive, that person is still valuable. Finally, the goal of a human being’s life should be to seek personal knowledge, wisdom and understanding of one’s self and the world around them. Looking at the history of Malcolm X and his personal quest for personal knowledge and community equity & self-sufficiency, it seems that this description fits him quite well.

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