Friday, February 19, 2016

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

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I didn't know much about Malcolm X before I decided to read his book. The book by Ta-Nahisi Coates Between the World and Me convinced me to finally pick up the Pulitzer-winning biography. I knew he was a controversial figure. I knew Spike Lee made a movie based on his autobiography starring Denzel Washington. That's it.

Let's just say I learned not only what an interesting and complex person he was but I learned so much more about history during that time.

Manning Marable does not sugar coat anything about Malcolm X. He let's us decide how to interpret it all together in the end. But he does not paint to be a hero not a villain. He calls him out on his prejudices and sexism when he sees it. It's a beautiful portrayal and one I want to have permanently in my collection.

Malcolm X did not want to write his own history; he was approached by Alex Haley and reluctantly agreed to do so after he got the OK from his leader Muhammad Elijah. But it was an opportunity to rewrite and advance some of his history and tell it like he wanted it. Thus the main theme and angle of this biography is how Malcolm X continued to reinvent himself from his challenging criminal days in Harlem as a teenager to his conversion and salvation in prison to Islam and specifically that of the Nation of Islam.

And even from there he could not help his changes. He visited Africa and the Middle East twice and both times left him a different person. He truly set out to embody his wisdom and seek that for his people.

This is a large book and I can't even begin to summarize everything but I'll end with the final paragraph of the book which sums up what Malcolm X did and what he should become in our collective consciousness .

"A deep respect for, and a belief in, black humanity was at the heart of this revolutionary visionary's faith. And as his social vision expanded to include people of divergent nationalities and racial identities, his gentle humanism and antiracism could have become a platform for a new kind of radical, global ethnic politics. Instead of the fiery symbol of ethnic violence and religious hatred...Malcolm X should become a representative for hope and human dignity. At least for the African-American people, he has already come to embody those loftier aspirations."

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