Manning Marable’s new biography about the controversial civil rights leader, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, raises new questions about the authenticity of previous biographical works that may have whitewashed Malcolm’s homosexuality or bisexuality. Marable’s assertion that Malcolm was gay is hardly the first, but it may be the first to be taken seriously.
Manning’s new work, which spans almost 600 pages, “is particularly critical of the celebrated ‘Autobiography of Malcolm X,’ now a staple of college reading lists, which was written with Alex Haley,” adding that Marable described it as “fictive.”
“Drawing on diaries, private correspondence and surveillance records to a much greater extent than previous biographies, his book also suggests that the New York City Police Department and the F.B.I. had advance knowledge of Malcolm X’s assassination but allowed it to happen and then deliberately bungled the investigation.
“This book gives us a richer, more profound, more complicated and more fully fleshed out Malcolm than we have ever had before,” Michael Eric Dyson, the author of “Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X” and a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, said on Thursday. “He’s done as thorough and exhaustive a job as has ever been done in piecing together the life and evolution of Malcolm X, rescuing him from both the hagiography of uncritical advocates and the demonization of undeterred critics.”
Tatchell laments of “the denialism surrounding the bisexuality of one of the greatest modern black liberation heroes: Malcolm X,” and says the ”lack of recognition is perhaps not surprising, given that some of his family and many black activists have made strenuous efforts to deny his same-sex relationships and suppress recognition of the full spectrum of his sexuality.”
He asks, “Why the cover-up? So what if Malcolm X was bisexual? Does this diminish his reputation and achievements? Of course not. Whether he was gay, straight or bisexual should not matter. His stature remains, regardless of his sexual orientation. Yet many of the people who revere him seem reluctant to accept that their hero, and mine, was bisexual.”
In 2006, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, one of the leading hip-hop generation intellectuals in the country, wrote, “according to very good sources, Malcolm engaged in many same sex encounters before his conversion to the Nation of Islam.” Hill describes a conversation he had with a disbelieving friend who came to possible acceptance of the truth about Malcolm X, and observed, “in constructing Malcolm X as a ‘reformed queer,’ as opposed to a gay/bisexual hero, he squandered a valuable opportunity to reimagine Black masculinity and help expand the realm of political possibilities for Black gays and lesbians. Contrary to what is often said, acknowledging who and what Malcolm really was will not tarnish his legacy.”
Read: “Martin Luther King, Jr. Shot 43 Years Ago Today Supporting Labor Rights“
Tatchell, one year earlier than Hill’s conversation, says, “There is not a single world-famous black person who is openly gay. Young black lesbians and gays need role models. Who better than Malcolm X, one of the inspirations of my activism and one of the great modern heroes of black liberation?
It’s important to accept that no hero is a super-hero, and Malcolm X, like all heroes and icons, had his flaws. He’s certainly been accused of misogyny, racism, black supremacy, antisemitism, and violence. With Marable’s new work soon to be available, we have another resource to examine the life Of Malcolm X, and more opportunity to decide for ourselves what part of him is “hero,” what part “icon,” and what part just an every-day man. Perhaps that part, for some, will be his greatest legacy.
Marable’s book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, was released yesterday and sounds like one hell of a read. Tragically, writer Manning Marable passed away earlier this week just days before his biography hit shelves.
Why do you think the gay sex lives of so many African American historical figures are hidden, buried, and denied?
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