The Color of Water and Malcolm

1 January 2017

Abraham Maslow’s theory of “Hierarchy of Needs” consists of 5 things humans need. From top to bottom, top being the more complex needs and the bottom the more basic needs is; Self-Actualization, esteem, love/belonging, safety, and physiological. Self-actualization is the level of need that pertains to what a person’s full potential is and realizing that potential. It is broken up as morality, spontaneity, and lack of prejudice. Based on the two texts I read, The Color of Water by James McBride and The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told by Alex Haley, I consider both James McBride and Malcolm X “self-actualized” men to a certain extent.

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James McBride is a “self-actualized” man to a certain extent because throughout his life he had a white Jewish mother and he never judged, hated, or feared her; he had nothing but love for her. Out of the 3 main things I believe that make someone “self-actualized” this expresses his lack of prejudice and that must have took a lot out of him to not judge her even though everywhere they went people would always stare as they saw his white mother with black children following her and calling his mother names such as “nigger lover”.

The reason why I say Malcolm X is a “self-actualized” man to a certain extent is because in Chapter 2 of his autobiography, Mascot, Malcolm is sent to a reform school where he says something that gets stuck in my mind. He said “I don’t care how nice one is to you; the thing that you must always remember is that almost never does he really see you as he sees himself, as he sees his own kind. He may stand with you through thin, but not thick; when the chips are down, you’ll find that as fixed in him as his bone structure is sometimes subconscious conviction that he’s better than anybody black. Malcolm X isn’t directly saying it but from this you can tell he doesn’t hate white people but he does have a dislike for them. Prejudice is defined as an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason and based on this definition Malcolm X lacks prejudice because he didn’t just dislike white people out of blue it took him years before he decided he disliked them. The next step in becoming “self-actualized” is spontaneity. Both Malcolm X and James McBride expressed spontaneity.

In chapter 14 of The Color of Water, James is sent to stay with his sister Jack in Kentucky. James easily adapted to life in Kentucky, he would hang out with Jack’s husband and his friends on what they called the “Coner”. James became so comfortable in Kentucky that he got a job pumping gas. James says “…I stayed there three summers straight, always managing to get tossed from summer school in New York City just to get sent down there. ” To me this shows that James was so spontaneous that not only did he adapt to life in Kentucky but he favored it over life in New York.

In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm also expresses his spontaneity when his mother breaks down from his father’s death and raising so many children by herself when he is sent to live at the Gohannas’ home. Then Malcolm is sent to a detention home for putting a thumbtack on his teacher’s chair. Malcolm says when his time to go to reform school came up “two or three times-it was always ignored…I was glad and grateful. I knew it was Mrs. Swerlin’s doing. I didn’t want to leave. This shows that even with being away from his mother and family Malcolm was happy and adapted so well to life at the detention home he felt he didn’t have a reason to leave. Another step in becoming “self-actualized” is morality. From what I’ve read in The Color of Water James lacks morality. In chapter 14 James admits to smoking weed and drinking. James said “My new friends and I shoplifted. We broke into cars.

We snuck into nearby Conrail/Long Island Rail Road tracks and broke into freight cars, robbing them of bicycles, televisions sets and wine. James even admits to stealing purses even after his own mothers purse was stolen right in front of him and he says “I had no feelings. I had smothered them. ” Without a doubt James had no morality, at least not in his teenage years. The reason why I keep referring to chapter 14 isn’t because it’s the only chapter I’ve read, but because I feel as though this is a very important chapter that gives you a clear view of what James was going through in his teenage years and how these events made him grow up into the man he is today.

When Malcolm X was young he lacked morals like most of us. It wasn’t until Malcolm was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison when became a Muslim and adopted morals. In chapter 2 of Malcolm X’s autobiography Malcolm attempts to be a boxer but ends up getting beaten by the same white boy twice. Malcolm says “A lot of times in these later years since I became a Muslim, I’ve thought back to that fight and reflected that it was Allah’s work to stop me: I might have wound up punchy. This shows me that ever since Malcolm became a Muslim he no longer believed in physical violence. Supposedly there are six steps in becoming “self-actualized” I chose to focus on morality, lack of prejudice, and spontaneity because they stood out the most to me and seemed like excellent topics to focus on. The other steps are creativity, problem solving and acceptance of facts and both men have these accomplished these skills as well.

When Malcolm finally went to school he was told by his teacher he could never be a lawyer and he accepted that because in those times it was rare for an African American to have a good job. Malcolm believed the only way to solve segregation was complete separation of the races, which I believe expresses his creativity as well as his problem solving skills. James on the other hand is creative because when he visited his mother’s home town he sat down in a restaurant and was able to imagine the town before the restaurant was there.

James accepted that he had a white mother which shows his acceptance of facts and finally since James didn’t know much about his mother’s childhood he decided to visit her old neighborhood to learn more about his mother and family which shows his problem solving skills. The reason why I said James McBride and Malcolm X are “self-actualized” to a certain extent is because James lacks prejudice, has spontaneity, but lacks morality. Malcolm on the other hand is prejudice to certain extent, has spontaneity, and has morality.

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