Yesterday 1000 question, comments, and rants ran across Facebook. Some ran towards but most ran away from my picture below. Homophobic rants, racist rants, nationalist rants, religious rants, lifestyle rants, confusion, and misunderstandings of others is still carrying on the conversation(s) today.....
In Harlem this week and reviewing the latest biography on Minister X from 2011 by Columbia University professor Manning Marable titled "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention" and its opposition Jared A Bell's "A Lie of Reinvention".
Manning Marable identifies a homosexual relationship had by Malcolm X with a white business man, and also identifies him as a street hustler looking to survive by what many deemed necessary means. Regardless of the context of the homosexual activity, it was identified thought US corrections documentation that profiles then Malcolm Little's criminal activity. I only posted this picture labeling X as a bisexual after a picture of Mississippi's NAACP President and politician Aaron Henry who was arrested 4x for "public indecency" and "sodomy" which was documented by MS corrections. I was lifting thhem up and admiring them. I tagged them as my #MCM (man crush monday). The response to Marable was that FBI documents were collected on Mr. X after the dates of his alleged homo activity. What they fail to identify was classification of homo activity by municipal corrections in the 20th century.
It should be stated that the American Psychiatric Association identified homosexuality a "mental illness" until 1974, and so did the United Nations as a result. Malcolm was murdered in 1965, but had a profile by corrections facilities and officers since the late 1930's.
Facebook erupted with disgust and skepticism of my label for the more famous and reigning symbol of Black American masculinity, Mr. X, and it disregarded Mr. Henry. Labels are important for their cultural context. Even though branding campaigns like "Labels are for clothes" have pervaded our culture, a more formal labeling of everything is in fact what is connecting our many communities across the globe. Labels are not merely for clothes.
The context of this picture is a loaded one, mainly because a community’s external identification of an individual can differ based the many identities of individuals from the community. For instance, men and women can regularly view rape differently based on their identity and informal understand of that identity. Wealthy and poor individuals regularly understand the activist and anarchist in different ways, as identities often lay within the eyes of the beholder. Malcolm X is such a controversial figure because of the many lives with which his identity lays. We will never completely know how he identified or felt about his lifestyle(s) or work(s). The picture of Malcolm himself was a part of a series on my instagram that put identity labels on images worth 1000s words, for Black History Month.
While the truth can be debated regarding Malcolm’s sexuality, the 1000 words used in a growing group of viral comments can be boiled down to the various community's understanding of identity. In an analog era, Malcom’s identity was divided into “Little” & “X”, a luxury that the latest digital spawn of the civil rights movement cannot enjoy. The most thoughtful interpretation of the picture’s 1000 words was from editor Carlton Mackey, the creator of “Beauty In Every Shade” and LGBTQ ally. He asked what if people associate LGBT identities with the worst of Malcolm Little and his early actions. Mr. X himself identifies his early years as “regretful” and “embarrassing” in multiple biographies. My intention with the image was to tie in all of X’s identities while thinking about myself and so many other people who have transformed throughout the journey of life. Erykah Badu's analog girl does not exist in the digital world., and every leader ends up humanizing themselves through digital transparency. Neither Malcolm nor his community of onlookers can wholly own the identity of his person, alone. As individuals we have free will over some of our choices, but those choices are reflections of interactions with others. Having played many different roles in 39 years, it’s important to understand that we as individuals do not have totally autonomy in this world of increasing interconnectivity. We are not alone.
I was only waiting on one question from Facebook. It came very early. “Why is this important?” ...my response:
Civil Rights are about humanizing individuals and integrating them into the social fabric of our community through legal means. Having stated that, labels are important. They come in two forms. The labels that we choose for ourselves and the labels that other people give us. Aside from the label bisexual that was give to Malcolm by a biographer through research leveraging the Freedom of Information Act and government files, his timeline showed that Malcolm was extraordinary in reinventing himself to leave an impactful impression on the people he met directly or indirectly. Through all of the identities that he lived in (street hustle, homosexual, convict, student, minister, traveler, thought leader, badass, proud man) the bisexual one wasn’t one that stuck. Black History Month is here to cover all of the history. This is important because I know it wasn’t something that he could be proud of before 1965. It is also important because in 2015 it is something that he could be proud of, if he were alive, as a result of the work he did 50 years ago. It’s important because “Civil Rights” was not a time period, but it is a continuous period of identifying and including more individuals into the social fabric of our community through legal means. People too often avoid or ignore or reduce the significance of a given reality in order to avoid controversy. I’ve posted this pic of Malcolm with these words to be obviously provocative and integrate the latest spawn of civil rights with Black History as it has always been a piece of the movement. Regarding the comments that state we don’t need to know about someone’s sexuality, you should know that is a ridiculous statement. When we truly look at the most intimate friendships and relationships we share, the intimate details about how who why where when and what we like are relevant. It is a very civil activity that we humans use to identify similarities and build camaraderie with each other. Now we can do more of that around Malcolm X as an ice breaker ;-) #FullSpeedAhead #TheMoreYouKnow