Marable’s take on Malcolm X: Mixed bag
• Sun, May 22, 2011
By Dawud Walid
Assistant Imam of Masjid Wali Muhammad
The late Manning Marable’s magnum opus, titled “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” is an extensive new work about the life of Black American Muslim human rights icon Malcolm X. It is a mixture of new information, repetition of the familiar and hypotheses stated as facts.
Marable’s most prominent life work begins by laying a historical foundation into the socio-political environment in which Malcolm X was born, as well as providing a fairly thorough overview of the immediate family backgrounds of his parents. As the book flows from the narrative of Malcolm’s Garveyite parents giving birth to him to the death of his father and subsequent mental breakdown of his mother, Marable slides into the realm of irrelevant postulates in the name of humanizing him.
He states Malcolm embellished his criminal background as “Detroit Red,” yet simultaneously provides the breadth of his criminal deviance. He also writes Malcolm most likely had a homosexual relationship with a white male friend, then states such as fact. This brings into question other conclusions Marable makes in the book that may merely be assumptions.
The strength of this work resides in the narrative provided of Malcolm X’s evolutionary journey, from embracing the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s program within the Nation of Islam to his expanded worldview, which was the cultivation of the seed planted by his Garveyite parents and brought into fruition by his embrace of universal Islam.
Marable weaves a sequence that paints Malcolm’s travels in Africa and the Middle East with meeting heads of state, competing Islamic groups and Black American expatriates, which now provides contemporary perspective of current controversial issues facing Muslims and Black folks in America. That Malcolm X had close relations with competing Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi movement (so-called Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia) in an effort to establish himself as the voice of American Muslims within the Muslim world highlights his political adeptness in ways other books written about him haven’t.
Marable’s book also provide great detail about the depth to which not only the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) and the CIA spied on him, but also the profound degree to which the New York City Police Department infiltrated the Nation of Islam, and Malcolm’s Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU).
But as Marable adeptly gives the exhilarating, breakneck pace metamorphoses of Malcolm’s religious and political ideology and degree of government dirty tricks in his affairs, Marable disappointingly creeps back into the world of innuendo by stating that Malcolm’s wife, Dr. Betty Shabazz, was engaged in an affair with a bodyguard and that Malcolm himself had an affair. None of these innuendos were concretely confirmed.
Though Marable repeats previously noted conjecture about Malcolm X, his book is a must read simply because it adds to the knowledge-base of Malcolm. “A Life of Reinvention,” however, is just one piece of literature within a large and growing body of Malcolm X literature. In no way should it be read as the authoritative view on Malcolm and what he represented to Black Americans and Muslims during his lifetime.