The Continuing Debate over Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

As I was too sticky to sleep last night anyway I found myself researching reactions to the Manning Marable biography of Malcolm X that had recently shaken me.  Whatever its possible deficiencies, the book presents what seems to be a three-dimensional person, flawed and admirable, decisive and contradictory, inspiring and tragic.  The portrait made organic sense to me, troubled me, inspired me.  This was not, apparently, the same reaction all readers had to the book.

There was a video debate on Democracy Now from shortly after the book was published in which Amiri Baraka and a professor named Michael Eric Dyson go at it, sometimes using hammers, other times gently plying tongs, over whether Malcolm or Marable, or the good professor or the genius Baraka, was faithful to Lenin, a Social Democrat, an apologist, a racist, etc.  I could see Malcolm’s skeleton in his grave, shuddering.  The most reasonable-sounding of the three guests did not fight to get too many words in edgewise.  When he did it was mainly to brush away as nonsense the sex-related tidbits Marable received a lot of attention for including.

The New York Times review chimed in predictably, as their editorialist did in sickening fashion immediately after Malcolm was murdered.  I went from a review that concluded the book read like it was written by a committee of grad students who’d thinly sourced it, to one that praised the book as the definitive biography of the great and problematic American icon. 

What is it about American icons that so many of them seem to get executed by shady men with guns?

The most thorough walk-through of the book I found last night was presented on a website, I noticed after reading the review, dedicated to researching and publicizing the truth about the executions of American icons JFK, MLK, RFK and Malcolm X.   I thought it was an excellent review, similar to my own reactions to much of the material, ignoring the sexual suggestions so many had focused their critiques on.   I had to confront my  own knee jerk reaction to noticing the nature and mission of the website, which says a lot about how successful the mainstream media has been in marginalizing “Conspiracy Theorists”.   It is clear to anyone who thinks about Malcolm X’s assassination for more than a moment that several forces, with different agendas, played essential roles in his execution.  The same seems to go for the other assassinations, the same goes for the series of very odd coincidences surrounding and following the catastrophe of 9/11.

It is not surprising that the author of the review for that website (see link below) praised the academic Marable for laying out, in a credible, highly footnoted mainstream book, the interlocking details of certain conspiracy.  Also not surprising that the reviewer was one of the few who did not spend more than a few lines on some of the titillating details other critics had gone ballistic over.

For example, Marable concludes, in a couple of paragraphs among 495 pages of text, that the young Malcolm himself was likely the gay hustler, his “friend” Rudy in the Autobiography, who stripped and sprinkled baby powder on the rich white man who achieved orgasm during this practice.  He supports this assertion by pointing out that the rich white man, Paul Lennon, communicated with Malcolm while Malcolm was in prison, and perhaps also sent money.   Lennon is apparently also mentioned, as a possible benefactor, in at least one letter Malcolm wrote to his family from prison.    

Numerous reviewers were incensed by this suggestion of some possible variant of mercenary homosexuality on Malcolm’s part (it is the only such mention in the book) and also by Marable’s strong suggestions of marital infidelities by Malcolm and his wife Betty in the last year of Malcolm’s life.  Another reviewer, on WordPress, a gay female reverend, from the looks of it, wrote a treatise about homophobia in the black community and offered some even more detailed allegations about young Malcolm’s supposed sexual preferences from a 1991 book.

I am now even sorrier that Marable died two days before his provocative book was published.  I’d like to have heard him defend himself and his research, amplify his call to investigate the assassination and prosecute the real murderers, all of whom he names by name in the final chapters, including the man who wielded the shotgun that ripped the first, seven inch, hole in Malcolm’s chest, one-time Newark NOI member Al-Mustafa Shabazz  (formerly Willie Bradley), still alive and well, 73, and defended by his wife and lawyer in the Newark Star-Ledger as an innocent man.  I’d like to be able to get on to the exhaustive Malcolm X Project website that Marable set up, and which seems to have followed him to the grave.  I’d like to dig deeper into all this, if only for my friend in Gaj.

If nothing else, the undisputed fact that three or four hours after Malcolm’s bloody execution, police photographers and the forensics team left the ballroom, Audubon staff mopped up the dead man’s blood, and guests danced in the regularly scheduled Washington’s Birthday party dance, makes me want to holler.  It really does.

link to the review mentioned above

2 comments on “The Continuing Debate over Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

  1. Brother Bill says:

    Fascinating! Now I know that I must read the book. Thank you.

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