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Malcolm X uproar stirs community

PAUL GRENADA | 5/25/2011, 9:23 a.m.

You don't get to slander an icon and go home happy--not even if you're dead yourself.

That was the feeling in the room at the recent forum held by the Institute of the Black World 21st Century at the Mother AME Zion Church in Harlem.

The forum was held in response to the book, "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention," written by the late Columbia University professor Manning Marable. The book looks to shed new light on the life of Malcolm X, but in the process has sparked a hurricane of criticism with its claim that Malcolm X may have had a homosexual relationship and accounts of possible tension between the civil rights leader and his wife, the late Betty Shabazz.

The forum's participants included Herb Boyd, who recently wrote an extensive review of the book for the Amsterdam News; Imam Talib Adur-Rashid; Monifa Bandele, activist and community leader; Professor James Small; and Viola Plummer, activist. More than 150 people filed into the church to hear their opinions and discuss their own thoughts on the book, which was published earlier this year by the Penguin Group.

The book was released immediately after Manning's death on April 1 which means that, while the book is garnering a great deal of attention in New York City, the Harlem community and nationally, the author isn't available to bask--or maybe cringe--in the spotlight. And when you say anything about someone as polarizing as Malcolm X, there is bound to be a reaction of potentially epic proportions.

"People do not want those who do not love him to expose him and his faults," said Bandele, who heads Leadership for a Changing World.

"No autobiography is perfect...and [they are] often fraught with fiction," said Boyd, himself a prolific writer and professor at City College as well as frequent contributor to the Amsterdam News. He went on to explain that to recall one's own life is difficult and many times requires the input of others to help fill in blanks.

Marable, apparently, didn't take the steps necessary to fill any gaps for Malcolm. In fact, those gaps have existed for some time and for some this book is less than informative. "There is nothing new or innovative that Marable wrote," asserted Plummer.

If you are going to write a book that isn't very innovative, you should at the very least make sure the facts hold some water. Not so in this book, claims Boyd.

"There were a number of egregious errors in the book that any fact checker could have found out," he said.

Adur-Rashid, on one hand, was delighted to see the book about Malcolm published because it "established the social and political context Malcolm X was born and lived in." Still, he thought that the accusations made therein gave "credence without proof to gossip and slander" and "dull[ed] the brilliance of the book."

He went on to remark that one source used for the book is a blogger well known to the Muslim community for publishing slander and misinformation.

Well-known academic Small went a step further, calling the book "irresponsible." He denoted Marable's scholastic pursuits and training and said he thought that Marable had a "responsibility to not use gossip and hearsay and supposition. Because of who he is, that rumor holds credence." Adur-Rashid remarked, "African-American writers have a sickness where they broadcast the sins and moral shortcomings [of others]...it is sensationalism of the worst type."

Plummer said, "If you are going to recount the history of one of the greatest black men--if it is to be useful--it has a responsibility to teach.

"In our culture," she added, "We need icons."

Still, there is good to be found in the book.

"It is a re-ignition of the life and thought of Malcolm X," said Bandele. While the book may raise some questions and start heated conversations, it "does not diminish the legacy," according to Boyd.

Bandele may have had the best response of the afternoon when she said, "Read the book, write your own -- that's what Malcolm would do."