Malcolm X’s Complex Legacy

He's been known as a radical and as ''our shining black manhood.'' But are we ready to accept the whole truth about this icon of black empowerment?

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For many blacks, this challenge resonated and made them reconsider and redefine what it meant to be black in America; particularly, to be a black man. But just as whites do, blacks also frame Malcolm X within a tiny pane. As Ossie Davis eulogized, Malcolm X became emblematic of “our black shining manhood,” in his ability to transcend the social traps that capture too many of our boys and men.

However, recent speculation about Malcolm X’s sexual orientation tests the boundaries of what we envision “shining black manhood” to be. Whether it is true, many in the black community, plagued by its own homophobia and bigotry against brothers and sisters in the LGBT community cannot–and will not–imagine how one of our race men could also be gay. In our own writing of the black history canon, we marginalize alternative expressions of masculine and feminine, and question one’s ability to lead based on whom they love.

And so, Malcolm X remains a highly divisive figure even today. However, we do a disservice to our fallen icons to so narrowly define heroism and truth. Malcolm X advocated education, respect, freedom and equality. These things are inherent to the fabric of the lofty American Dream that at times seems intangible. He used his voice to advocate for these things so that we may be able to use our own.

Let us not speak over–or speak for–him.

Maya Francis is a regular contributor to The Root.  Follow her on Twitter.

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