Controversy has surrounded Manning Marable’s autobiography of Malcolm X [May 19, 1925 — February 21, 1965] not least of all Marable’s death on the eve of the books publication. Most of the criticism of Marable’s Malcolm X derives from his courage to present Malcolm as human and in doing so stripping him of at least some of his iconic status. Yes we need icons but we need icons who are also human with the frailties, contradictions and uncertainties that we ourselves possess. Here Bill Fletcher explores the key issues raised in Marable’s ’Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention’
Good afternoon. My thanks to Herb Boyd for inviting me to participate on this panel and my thanks to Herb and Haki Madhubuti for inviting me to contribute to the book of essays in response to the publication of Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.
Once we have established that Malcolm X (MX) was not the Messiah, nor was he the Mahdi in either the Sunni or Shia traditions, it should, at least theoretically, be possible to engage in a discussion about MX and his legacy.
The one obstacle to such a discussion, however, was summed up by one activist when they proclaimed — in condemning Marable’s ‘Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention’ — that the people need icons. When I read this I realized that what it meant was that some people believe that it is neither possible nor appropriate to undertake a materialist examination of our beloved brother. And further, that anything that suggests that MX was anything less than perfect somehow betrays our love and respect for our brother.
The controversy that surrounded the publication of Marable’s book was extraordinary, less due to the content of the controversy and more due to the tone. Leaving aside that Marable had just died, the anger, homophobia, and indeed hatred, was venomous. It was noteworthy in that attacks on Marable’s character and politics were undertaken not only by historic opponents but also, at least in some cases, by individuals who Marable considered to have been friends and comrades, individuals who in some cases Marable generously supported in various ways.
I decided, in speaking here today, not to go tit-for-tat in this odd debate except to make a few points, after which I want to address some of the key issues raised in Marable’s book that I believe are truly worthy of exploration. Continue reading