American life freezes for one day each year to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but May 19th tends to pass with little, if any, fanfare. However, those pursuing the protracted struggle for freedom in the United States must stop to remember El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz for his excellence and contributions to the movement for black liberation.
A rich, diverse crowd descended on the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, located in Harlem, NY, for the annual celebration titled “Malcolm X: The Evolution of a Black Revolutionary,” presented by the Malcolm X Museum.
This year, Malcolm has reemerged into the mainstream consciousness with the release of Manning Marable’s biography, “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.” It has been described by some as the definitive tale of Malcolm’s life, including a few renowned black scholars such as Henry Louis Gates, Michael Eric Dyson, and Cornel West. When brought under a critical lens, this book has egregious errors and misappropriations that could dilute Malcolm’s true essence if left unchecked.
To conduct a thorough analysis of this text and its broad implications, a star-studded panel was brought together: UMass professor Bill Strickland, Rosemari Mealy, Bill Sales – all authors of books on Malcolm’s life – community activist and author Kevin Powell, and Malcolm’s personal secretary, Abdullah Abdur Razzaq. Two late additions brought tremendous firepower to the event; husband and wife Amiri and Amina Baraka, both revolutionary activists with rich resumes in the arts.
Marable’s book features salacious, scandalous rumors of infidelity and possible homosexuality in Malcolm’s life. The panel urged the audience to look beyond them, as Bruce Perry’s 1992 work had unearthed the same “revelations,” and because they should mean absolutely nothing to Malcolm’s followers. Each panelist also pointed out glaring, basic errors such as incorrect names, and furthermore, condemned the lack of scholarship and faulty sources present in the text. Marable’s repeated usage of conditional terms such as “probably,” “if,” and “perhaps,” among others knocks holes in the notion that this book represents the ultimate description of Malcolm’s life.
Above all, according to Amiri Baraka, is Marable’s wicked distortion of Malcolm’s purpose. “A Life of Reinvention” does not rightfully acknowledge Malcolm’s intrinsic revolutionary principles and his unquenchable thirst for black liberation. The narrative is constructed in a way that demeans his purpose and frames Malcolm X as a social democrat using “radical rhetoric” to incite the masses. Well, the American government certainly took note of Malcolm’s revolutionary ethic, and his potential to make tangible change as it launched surveillance operations almost immediately to subvert his power.
Razzaq made note that Malcolm only lived in the public eye for 13 years (1952-65), and that he spent 12 of these years within the Nation of Islam; it is impossible to conduct a thorough analysis of the man without an appreciation for the effects the Nation had upon his activities and philosophies. Razzaq served as secretary from 1958 until Malcolm’s death, and is able to vehemently rebuff Marable’s gasps at scandal in Malcolm’s life. He shot down the assertions of Malcolm being gay (“straight as an arrow”) and a misogynist as the book claims (women chaired the French and Ghanaian chapters of the OAAU).
The most harmful of Marable’s reaches into the stratosphere surround the possibility of extramarital affairs. Several members of the panel took turns lambasting Betty’s bodyguard and supposed lover Charles Kenyatta, who served as Marable’s chief source for these claims. However, Marable himself acknowledges the unreliability of the source and his eagerness for financial gains toward the end of the book.
We must ask ourselves, “Why is the definitive biography of Malcolm X laden with blatant errors and fabrications?” The answer was given flatly by the panel: this book is a revisionist diversion seeking to undermine the power of Malcolm’s legacy. Baraka does not deem Marable as an assassin of Malcolm’s character; he lays this blame with the American intelligence community who actively sought the destruction of Malcolm X and all prominent factors in the struggle for black liberation. Furthermore, we have already confirmed that the American government actively pursues the eradication of all things it indiscriminately deems “anti-American.”
Malcolm X must be remembered regardless of the lewd assertions Manning Marable has attempted to attach to his legacy. He is the foremost critic of American racism, a shining portrait of black masculinity, and though oft-ignored, a brilliant revolutionary theoretician and practitioner. Malcolm’s ability to move through the grassroots and build with the people, and display the same efficiency and effectiveness on college campuses and with international heads of state marks that of an unbelievable leader who posed unprecedented danger to American hegemony and white supremacy. As a government that pursues all means to continue its dark reign, it would have been foolish for them to allow Malcolm to remain alive and lead the masses toward revolution. The powers that be simply acted accordingly.
-Christian Waterman ’13
Christian Waterman is a rising junior at UMass Amherst from Brooklyn, NY, pursuing a degree in Sport Management. He holds leadership positions in several organizations including the Association of Diversity in Sport and Student Action. His major work thus far has been Who is LeBron?, a panelist event discussing the historical and cultural significance of this polarizing figure.