A review of Malcolm X’s Essay on Literacy

Literacy is interconnected with any aspect of human lives: it is about both getting information and providing it. While all the people nowadays can read and write, some of them are still better in literacy which provides them with numerous advantages. Two essays, written by Malcolm X and Vershawn Ashanti Young, prove the impressive influence which literacy has. Literacy matters because it gives people access to power they may have not before.

The authors of two essays present two completely different points of view. In the excerpt from his autobiography, Malcolm X describes the moment which changed all his life: it was not a particular event, but a personal decision to educate himself. While being able to influence people while talking in person, he found himself utterly useless as a writer. “I became increasingly frustrated at not being able to express what I wanted to convey in letters that I wrote…” (Malcolm X n.d.). He decided to educate himself in the most appealing method available: by rewriting the pages of a dictionary. In this way, he improved his penmanship and learned various new words. “I suppose it was inevitable that as my word-base broadened, I could for the first time pick up a book and read and now begin to understand what the book was saying” (Malcolm X n.d.).

Thus, this practice helped him to become as persuasive in written form, as he could be in person. Educating himself led to acquiring new skills and become more powerful as soon after that Malcolm X became a public person. Another essay, written by Vershawn Ashanti Young, reviews the essential problem which is nowadays actively discussed in educational institutions and which can change everything usual to us – because it changes literacy. While it is commonly believed that all the students should be taught standardized literacy with the same norms, according to standard language ideology, Young objects this believe. He shows his protest even with his manner of writing which, if presented several decades ago, would be perceived as inappropriate. His aim is not to shock the reader or make the process of reading more complicated. Young writes about diversity and claims that real language, spoken by any person, is appropriate and should be appreciated.

Thus, these two authors have different topics and different aims of their pieces, and they may seem like contradicting ones; however, they have the same idea. Malcolm X introduces general writing – and erudition – as a weapon. Vershawn Ashanti Young, from his point of view, presents contrasting, and therefore surprising, argument – diversity of accents and languages is a weapon as well. While the perspective of both authors is different, there is something which makes their points of view similar as they both believe that literacy and its appropriate usage is a powerful tool. “Actually the dictionary is like a miniature encyclopedia,” Malcolm X states. He implies that standard knowledge, taken from a book, helped him to develop himself.

Young, on the contrast, exhorts that people are more plurilingual which means that standardized knowledge of language means nothing (Young 2010). “The narrow, prescriptive lens be messin writers and readers all the way up, cuz we all been taught to respect the dominant way to write, even if we dont, cant, or wont ever write that one way ourselves” (Young 2010). Therefore, general English might be challenging and useless. The idea of Young is that the person can express their thoughts in the most accurate way only when the message is shaped from a real language, the one the person really speaks and thinks. Both these approaches can guarantee the originality of ideas and their power.

To sum up, literacy is a significant concept which provides the individual with power and certain dominance. The way people express their thoughts has a direct impact on their position and their ability to have control. Malcolm X and Vershawn Ashanti Young, who both wrote some pieces on the related topic, might seem like following completely different ideas, but actually, their essays are complementing each other. Why the importance of standardized language is obvious; the use of personal attitudes and language habits is also a mighty weapon.


  1. Malcolm X. (n.d.). Learning to Read.
  2. Young, V. A. (2010). Should Writers Use They Own English? Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, 12(1).