Remembering and Honoring the Real Malcolm X

Posted on May 26, 2012 by


Remembering and Honoring the Real Malcolm X;

Critiquing and Destroying the “Reinvented” Version

By Brother Mxolisi

(As the month of May slips away and our quest for the fullness of liberation throughout the World African Community continues, on this African Liberation Day / Africa Day 2012 [as I work to complete this piece], let us remember and honor one warrior who always did all that he could, in every way that he could, to pursue that liberation and to make life more beautiful and beneficial for Black people everywhere – El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, our honorable ancestor, Brother Malcolm X. Bear with me, as I endeavor to do this through reflections on some parts of the conversations taking place relative to recent books written on Brother Malcolm’s life.)


There can be no doubt, “White supremacy is the system that dominates Black life from cradle to grave. Therefore, Black life is seldom formally taught in our (U.S.) institutions and even less discussed informally.”

We are reminded of this reality in Haki Madhubuti’s opening words to the “critical conversations” that he and Herb Boyd, Ron Daniels and Maulana Karenga jointly facilitated/edited and assembled in a book on the life and legacy of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz – Malcolm X. 

“By Any Means Necessary — Malcolm X: Real, Not Reinvented, Critical Conversations on Manning Marable’s Biography of Malcolm X (BAMN) is the book. It gives some forty contributors the opportunity to critique and review Professor Marable’s  book (“Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention”), and “bring clarity to the significance and importance of Malcolm X . . . and thank him for putting me (us) in a position to respond to this attack on him, his family and by extension all conscious Black people.”

Bro. Haki continues: “It is my responsibility as a cultural son of Minister Malcolm . . . to use the tools of my profession (poet, publisher, editor, educator, cultural intellect and Black man) to fight all white supremacist slander even if produced by Black people.” He goes on to exalt Bro. Malcolm as one who “told our stories over and over again,” enabling us — (those who listened with our ears turned to our souls) — “to tell our own stories without the customary editing by enemies and cowards”  —  and without the self-imposed, self-nurtured domination and debilitation of our minds that the system of White supremacy seeks.

Molefi Kete Asante is among those using their “tools” in BAMN to critique Marable’s work, which he says is “filled with unsanitary speculation.” Additionally, Asante says the work “is the style of the deconstructionist and post modernist who see cracks in every wall where power is amassed by blacks and who believe that to humanize a figure, especially a favored personality esteemed by blacks, one must kill the iconic image in a way that destroys it forever.”

Homosexual Reconstruction

Topping the list of speculations by Marable that draw intense criticism is the one in which he suggests that Malcolm was once involved in homosexual activity — on the basis of “unsubstantiated documentation” (according to Abdul Alkalimat)  and “a questionable source with perhaps less than honorable intentions” (says Herb Boyd), and other inputs that Marable himself described as “rumors.”

Perhaps this reflects some need or desire felt by Marable to produce or invent a Malcolm X whose words or deeds provided a significant sign for the gender issues which are on our contemporary social agenda, particularly Black male homosexuality. It apparently wasn’t sufficient for him to simply report that Malcolm was “cordial with civil rights activist and known homosexual, Bayard Rustin,” and “friendly” to James Baldwin whose works “made clear for some Baldwin’s own sexual orientation,” as noted by Kevin McGruder in his BAMN contribution.  Professor McGruder, who served as executive director of Gay Men of African Descent from 1997 to 2001, goes on to speculate that our intense criticism of Marable’s “suggestions” serve to illustrate “the fragile nature of our image of Black masculinity.”  He seeks to portray those criticisms as an insult toward Black homosexual men.

“Why is this (Marable’s) opinion regarding the activity of a man who has been dead for over forty-five years important to African Americans living today?” McGruder raises this supremely pertinent question, and, unwittingly perhaps, goes on to answer it, too. It is because, “with so many things pulling him in various directions over his life . . . Malcolm X was so successful at maintaining his focus on improving the status of people of African descent, and that in his thirty-nine years of life he made substantial progress at least in highlighting the important issues and strategies to be followed.”

To that I say, Ashe’! Let’s always remember and honor that Malcolm X, never allowing the vicissitudes of the white supremacist environment and agenda to lead us to his deconstruction and reinvention that make him a stranger to the powerful historical, cultural, spiritual, political record etched by him during his earthly existence.

Patriarchal Misrepresentation

In contrast to this error of commission by Marable, an error of omission on yet another gender issue is addressed in BAMN by two Sisters – Diane D. Turner and Aslaku Berhanu. They collaborate to illuminate the real Malcolm X relative to the role of women in our quest for liberation and the fullness of life.

“Marable presents a version of Malcolm who did not see women as being equal to men in comportment or mental prowess,” they assert, despite his knowing and recording that Malcolm had transformed away from that Black Muslim patriarchal concept and was insisting that in his Organization for Afro American Unity “women (should have an) equal position to the men.”

The women cite a November 1964 interview in Paris, in which Malcolm said, “one of the things I became thoroughly convinced of in my recent travel is the importance of giving freedom to the woman, giving her education, and giving her the incentive to get out there and put that same spirit and understanding in her children. . . . And I frankly am proud of the contributions that our women have made in the struggle for freedom and I’m one person who’s for giving them all the leeway possible because they’ve made a greater contribution than many of us men.”  Turner and Berhanu conclude that section of their critique of Marable’s book with the question: What might he have revealed to readers by investigating further Malcolm’s changing views on the question of male-female equality?

Teachable Moment

Despite these and other “flaws,” the contributors to BAMN seem to be of consensus that Marable’s book is, in Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid’s words, “ worthy of reading by a wide audience, and even more worthy of vigorous critique – praise what is good, and denounce its flaws.” Dr. Ron Daniels adds, “Those of us who are Malcolm devotees must utilize the increased scrutiny of Malcolm as a teachable moment.”

“. . . and the light that glowed behind his ever present glasses should always burn in us, our children and their children until the evil that killed him and continues to kill millions of our people yearly is plowed into the earth never to rise again.” These words ring out in Madhubuti’s opening words. Further, “We must never forget that Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King are not only honored ancestors, but represent Black America’s first families of the last half of the 20th century. They lived and gave their lives in a struggle that is ongoing but has advanced to a state that we their political sons and daughters can now answer lies, innuendoes and outright defamation of character quickly and without fear  . . .”

“Our work is not done,” Madhubuti continues. “With over 2.5 million incarcerated Black and Brown men and women in America’s prisons, over 50 percent of Black and Brown high school students not completing their studies, with Black unemployment rate hitting 50 percent in some areas, as Black home ownership is becoming a nightmare in the international corrupt money game, the ‘New Jim Crow’ . . . is more subtle, yet ten times more effective in the dismantling and negation of Black communities. . .  Our ultimate mission as Malcolm would have it is to build and resist, resist and build, and in the middle of such struggle never forget who we are and to love whom we are and pass it on.”

The final word in BAMN is given by Ilyasah Shabazz, one of Brother Malcolm’s daughters: “The struggle cannot die with Brother Malcolm. The struggle cannot die with Dr. King. . . . Dr. Shabazz refused to allow the legacy of her husband to fade out of American history and world history. . . . Brother Malcolm helped us understand the importance of that African proverb: ‘That it takes a village to raise a child.’ And, that each one of us must play our part in that village. I am very encouraged by people like you who are refusing to have our history diluted or reduced to speculation and personal hypothesis.”

But the truly final word rests with us — in our decision, determination and diligence to plow the evil that killed Brother Malcolm into the earth never to rise again. Or not.

“We declare our right on this earth . . . to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”  

–El Hajj Malik El Shabazz aka Malcolm X