Study Guide

Reginald Little in The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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Reginald Little

Malcolm X has so many brothers and sisters that we can't even remember most of their names. And those are just his full siblings, so don't even get us started on his half brothers and sisters. So what makes Reginald special?

Lil' Malcolm

Reginald is the stereotypical little brother. He follows Malcolm around; copying everything he does like a puppy. When Malcolm moves to Harlem, Reginald moves to Harlem. When Malcolm starts hustling, Reginald starts hustling.

It's actually cute because Malcolm tries his best to be a good big brother to Reginald. That shows us that even in his drug dealing days, Malcolm is not totally bad. He still has some sense of decency.

Back to Reginald. Even though he tags after Malcolm, Reginald isn't just a Malcolm clone. He has a mind of his own.

While Malcolm does dangerous jobs to get his money, Reginald's job is totally legal. Not only that, but he doesn't chase around white women who are not looking for serious relationships. Instead he finds himself an older black woman who is basically willing to be his sugar mama. Malcolm is impressed. He says:

That was just another example of why my respect for my younger brother kept increasing. Reginald showed, in often surprising ways, more sense than a lot of working hustlers twice his age. Reginald then was only sixteen, but, a six-footer, he looked and acted much older than his years. (7.23)

The point of hustling is to get money, right? Well, Reginald was smart enough to figure out a way to get money without having to put himself in danger.

One way that you might think about Reginald is as if he were Malcolm in an alternate timeline. Instead of getting deeper and deeper into drugs and crime, Reginald takes the same situation that Malcolm is in and turns it into a safe and cushy relationship with an older woman. Sometimes it seems inevitable that Malcolm went down the path he did, but Reginald reminds us that there were other choices he could have made.

But unfortunately, even Reginald's story doesn't have a happy ending.

Bros Before… Islam?

We said before that Reginald is the stereotypical little brother, but we didn't say that Malcolm is the stereotypical big brother. Normally big brothers are totally annoyed by their little siblings, but Reginald is one of the most important people in Malcolm's life.

If it weren’t for him, Malcolm probably would have never converted to the Nation of Islam. He only listened because of his respect for Reginald. When another brother, Philbert, tried to convert him, Malcolm just cussed him out.

So when Reginald is kicked out of the Nation of Islam for improper behavior, whose side do you think Malcolm takes? If you thought he stood up for his little brother, you were wrong. This is how he treats him:

The last time I had seen Reginald, one day he walked into the Mosque Seven restaurant. I saw him coming in the door. I went and met him. I looked into my own brother's eyes; I told him he wasn't welcome among Muslims, and he turned around and left, and I haven't seen him since. I did that to my own blood brother because, years before, Mr. Muhammad had sentenced Reginald to "isolation" from all other Muslims—and I considered that I was a Muslim before I was Reginald's brother. (16.40)

Despite all they have done for one another, and all they have been through together, Malcolm is quick to kick Reginald to the curb. He decides that his family ties are not as important as his ties to the Nation of Islam.

Reginald doesn't react well to this. Just like Malcolm's mom has a mental breakdown due to the destruction of her family, Reginald loses his sanity when his brothers and sisters reject him for their new religion. He's put in an institution, and that's the last Malcolm sees of him.

This situation tells us about two things: the strength of Malcolm's dedication to the Nation of Islam, and what happens to people who are shunned. Before the Nation of Islam entered his life, Malcolm's most important social group was his family. He would do anything for them. But after he joins the Nation of Islam, his unquestioning loyalty is to Elijah Muhammad. This kind of overzealous devotion does not only apply to Malcolm, but many members of the religion.

Reginald's exclusion from his former social circle is complete. Can you imagine that everyone you ever knew suddenly hates you just because some guy told them to? You might go crazy too if your favorite brother refused to even let you into the same restaurant with other Muslims. The severity of his exclusion sets us up to understand how extreme Malcolm X's exclusion from the Nation of Islam is much later in the book. He goes through the same period of near insanity as his little brother. Only we're pretty sure he never thought he would be on the receiving end of such treatment.

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