The Autobiography of Malcolm X | Study Guide

Malcolm X and Alex Haley

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The Autobiography of Malcolm X | Chapter 7 : Hustler | Summary

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Summary

Malcolm starts carrying a gun and begins doing robberies and stick-ups. He is always high. On one robbery with Sammy, he has a close call as police cars arrive. He and Sammy act lost and helpless, approaching the police and asking for directions. The police shoo them away rather than questioning them. Malcolm steals only as much as he needs. He feels this is a matter of strategy, not morals. Stealing too much will increase his likelihood of being caught. "Getting greedy is the quickest road to prison," he says. Malcolm spends his days taking drugs and going to the movies.

Reginald's ship comes to New York again and his visit inspires Malcolm to get an apartment for the first time, rather than a rented room. He wants to give Reginald a home base when he is in town. Malcolm shows him the nightlife, and he and Reginald watch white people flock to Harlem at night. Some are eager for "Negro soul." Some want to connect, drunkenly hugging black people and saying, "You're just as good as I am—I want you to know that!"

Malcolm gets Reginald a hustle. On the street Reginald sells cheap things for high prices, pretending they are stolen luxury goods.

During World War II racial tensions increase in Harlem. The mayor closes the Savoy Hotel; people in Harlem say it's "to stop Negroes from dancing with white women." According to Malcolm the closure is "just another one of the 'liberal North' actions that didn't help Harlem to love the white man any." A rumor spreads that a cop has shot a black man in response to the rumor there is looting on 125th street. After the riot fewer white people come to Harlem for the night life and life gets more difficult for hustlers. Many hustlers are forced to take ordinary jobs.

Malcolm reflects on how Harlem has changed since that time. For one thing, he says, few white tourists come to Harlem anymore, and even black people don't flock to Harlem night clubs but instead spend their money "downtown somewhere in this hypocritical 'integration,'" in places where they would once have been arrested.

Sammy and Malcolm have trouble during a burglary. A bullet grazes Sammy. At home Sammy's girlfriend screams and "goes for" Malcolm, attacking him. Malcolm hits her and Sammy gets out his gun, ready to shoot Malcolm. The girlfriend distracts Sammy, and Malcolm escapes. Sammy and Malcolm later reconcile, but Malcolm no longer trusts him.

Malcolm gets into the numbers racket (illegal lottery), which is controlled by white mobsters. Malcolm's status increases when he starts working for a man named West Indian Archie, "one of Harlem's really bad Negroes." West Indian Archie has a photographic memory and never writes down his customers' bets. He only has to write them down later, when he turns in his money to the banker. Malcolm then remarks that West Indian Archie could have excelled in business or finance, if not for racism.

Malcolm then gets out of the numbers racket. He works in a gambling den and later picks up a hustle steering customers to a madam. The customers are white and rich and middle-aged or older. "Society leaders. Big politicians. Tycoons ... City government big shots ... celebrities. And, of course, racketeers." Malcolm says he won't describe all the "oddities and rarities" the customers sought, but he describes some, such as being whipped, and watching a black man and white woman. Malcolm also knows of a madam who connects curious wealthy white women with black men. He observes the mutual lack of respect in these liaisons. He feels the same way about Sophia. Reflecting on these liaisons, Malcolm asks, "Who has the world's lowest morals if not whites?" He adds the "'upper-class' whites" are the worst of all, and he gives as an example the swingers parties of white people. He has "never heard of anything like that being done by Negroes."

Next, Malcolm goes to work for a Jewish man, a real estate speculator named Hymie who buys and sells restaurants and bars. Malcolm transports bootleg liquor for him; when there is a scandal with the State Liquor Authority, Hymie vanishes.

When a tall, light-skinned black man robs some Italian gangsters in the Bronx, it makes trouble for Malcolm. Malcolm collects his winnings on a 50-cent bet with West Indian Archie. Sammy later tells him West Indian Archie is looking for him, but Malcolm attaches no significance to the news.

Analysis

The numbers racket is tied to the fortunes of the stock market. For a Harlemite to hit his number and win a few hundred or a few thousand dollars, he must match some digits produced by the millions of dollars traded that day in stocks. This connection emphasizes the two parallel worlds, the stock market and the numbers racket, that serve two separate populations, white and black. While some of the white investors are independently wealthy, the black numbers players, even the winners, will never have enough money to retire. But they can enjoy a respite from barely getting by; Malcolm dreams of what he will buy when he hits. However, when Malcolm learns that white people are involved in the numbers racket, he realizes that betting on the numbers is actually a way of enriching white gangsters.

Malcolm's hustling exposes him to the sexual and moral depravity of white people. In his words, "Who has the world's lowest morals if not whites?" He notices a connection between wealth and moral and sexual depravity and sees perversion and immorality as particular characteristics of white people. As he says of the "key parties" white swingers have, he has never heard of anything like that being done by Negroes. In some sense this may be true; key parties require leisure time and houses with substantial room and privacy. However, Malcolm also compares his liaison with Sophia to those of white people who cruise Harlem looking for hook-ups with black people. Sophia the white woman is also a "specialty" for Malcolm, just like the sex workers he steers paying white customers toward. According to Malcolm's own reasoning, he is himself sexually depraved in his connection to Sophia.

Malcolm displays his moral code, at this time of his life, in his observations about hitting Sammy's girlfriend. In Malcolm's view, she needed to be hit; she was carrying on. Sammy should have accepted this; when Sammy reaches for his gun, Malcolm decries Sammy's "weakness." The weakness is in mistakenly seeing the woman as valuable. After converting to Islam, Malcolm will reject running around with white women. It is not clear whether he also rejects the idea of male superiority.

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