Friday, June 10, 2011

My Review of Manning Marable's Malcolm X

The biography of Malcolm X written by Manning Marable has been the subject of great controversy on the public airwaves and in newspapers, magazines, and blogs across the globe. Even before the book was published, a loud harangue against it was heard from every direction as Black public figures denounced it as slanderous and heretical for subjects it broached that they would rather not see in the light of day, namely Malcolm's homosexual activities during his youth. Malcom's daughters took to the airwaves to condemn the book for destroying the rosy picture of their parent's marriage that was consecrated in Spike Lee's Hollywood biopic, Malcolm X. Many saw Marable's biography as a betrayal, an attack on Malcolm and his legacy. The kindest of Marable's critics diagnosed him as misguided. Very few within the Black community came to Marable's defense. Having just put the book down, I must declare that almost all of Marable's detractors truly have no basis for their assessments of the book. I would further assess that those who have most adamantly denounced this book, particularly those within the Black community and in Black activist circles, all harbor beneath their criticisms a guttural pathos deeply rooted in patriarchal coda. This book triggered in them deeply held fears concerning the public face of the reconstructed Black man who, defiled by slavery, must be defined in every manner possible as masculine and as a man, leaving no room for such things as homosexuality. In this light, any construction of Malcolm X as having same gender sexual experiences is an act of betrayal. This line of thinking was championed by Amiri Baraka who lambasted the book for 'mentioning things that are irrelevant and unfounded.' I wonder what these keepers of the flame make of the Eddie Long scandal?

Those disturbed by Marable's references to Malcolm's homosexual experiences, which constitute little more than two pages out of a five hundred page book, have sought to weed out Marable's "agenda" in airing such things. After reading the book, I find Marable to bear no agenda in his assessment of the man we know as Malcolm X except to present a truthful and complex portrait of a complex historical figure who played a major role in shaping the Afro-American community and the world at large during the 20th Century. This book is a tribute to Malcolm X and his legacy. The only agenda I can see coming forth from this book is a slight socialist bent with Marable not failing to reference such figures as Jack O'Dell and the iconic publication Freedomways. Baraka did not fail to address this either as he declared that Marable had been "duped" by communists, socialists, and other radical leftists in his writing of the book.

What this book does most successfully is answer a question I posed to Angela Davis through correspondence via email several years ago and that is what ever happened to Malcolm X's plans to take the United States before the World Court in The Hague and have the country charged with crimes against humanity for its treatment of Blacks and other minorities. Marable, perhaps for the first time in a major scholarly work, documents the fate of Malcolm's two organizations, the Islamic Moslem Mosque Inc (MMI) and the secular, political Organization for Afro-American Unity (OAAU) and their rapid decline after his assassination in 1965. Marable develops Malcolm's image as a major political force in revolutionary, Third World, and global politics as he reconstructs Malcolm's travels throughout Africa and the Middle East and his courting of African and Middle Eastern leaders such as Nasser in Egypt, Sekou Toure in Guinea, and Julius Nyerere in Tanzania in an attempt to get the newly liberated African nations to support his plan to condemn the United States before the World Court. In the end, the OAU passed a weak resolution praising the passage of civil rights legislation in the US, but criticising the slow movement of racial progress in the country. Marable paints a vivid picture of Malcolm X as a venerated dignitary and political leader hosted by the governemtns of African and Middle Eastern nations including Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Egypt during his lifetime. He also underscores the idea that since his death, Malcolm has also been embraced by billions of muslims, Third World and African descended peoples across the globe; the government of the Ayattolah Khomeini was the first government in the world to issue a postage stamp bearing Malcolm's image. The United States government has since issued a commemorative Malcolm X stamp as well. Malcolm, in his role as a political emissary acting on his own accord, set the stage for the Black Panther Party and other Black revolutionaries in the United States that followed him who established their own political connections with governments in Africa and the Middle East, China, Cuba, and other parts of the Third World. Marable highlights the connections between Malcolm's legacy and such figures as Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro, and Huey Newton.

Malcolm X's legacy as a leader in the struggle for civil and human rights in the United States is also clearly defined in the book. Marable draws Malcolm's image from under the shadow of Martin Luther King, that of the budding integrationist as defined in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and definitively articulates Malcolm's basic positions that held constant throughout his lifetime. That fundamental belief can be summarized as a belief that all people have a right to self-determination and can righteously act upon that right even to the point of violent struggle. The playwright Lorraine Hansberry, a friend of Malcolm's, articulated this position well in response to a question posed to her by a white student with regards to her position on civil rights. Hansberry told the student "we must argue, beg, petition, and shoot through the windows until we get what we justly deserve." This legacy of self-actualization is Malcolm X's present to the world. Manning Marable's biiography of this venerated, iconic figure is highly commendable and should be embraced by everyone.