Last night, between frozen yogurt and a 10:00PM movie showing, me, my husband, mom and stepfather got into a heated discussion about the new book on Malcolm X from renown historian Manning Marable, “A Life of Reinvention.” Allegedly, the book reveals facts of Malcolm X’s life that were kept quiet from the public, including emotional and physical problems between him and Betty Shabazz, and challenges Alex Haley’s earlier interpretation; Marable even claims that X had a white male lover. My husband, born within a few days of Malcolm X, always felt some kind of zodiac connection and was disheartened by the news. This was not the same hero he, or most of us, were familiar with.
My mother tried to give some perspective. Coming from the Civil Rights generation with a circle of friends, which include educators and philosophers, the news was no news to her. She argued most heroes have a regime in place to protect an image (which hides human flaws from the greater public). However, I got the sense that like many others, my husband preferred not to know. The regime made it safe and comfortable, but I couldn’t help but wonder where we would be as a culture if we knew sooner. Would married couples with similar issues find comfort? Would the Gay Rights movement be further along? My mom had to remind my husband that the facts of someone’s life that might make us uncomfortable, doesn’t take away from their contributions. People are complex; rarely do we see examples that reflect our complexities. Many people live quietly, tormented in their duality, or even tri-ality, with no outlet. Maybe Malcolm X was just an Urban Chameleon…most of us are, regardless of who and what we are; different sides of us are revealed when exposed to different audiences. My corporate friends certainly see a different side of me than my around-the-way friends.
I thought back to the skit, “The Real Housewives of the Civil Rights?” and how upset some people were that our heroes were contextualized in a satirical manner by a group of comedians. Now, just a few weeks later, a credible historian causes a similar affect with alleged facts. Would we be less emotional if we allowed ourselves to be more human?
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