Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Our Hang ups: Men and Relationships
“Another serious issue is the concept of machismo that some African American males carry into Islam...Those who, like Malcolm, had converted while in prison often continued to bear painful scars, both physical and psychological, from that experience. Trauma can last an entire lifetime, and that Nation had no self help program to assist men in overcoming such emotional problems.” - Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, pp. 146-7
Reading Marable's wonderful tome on Malcolm X is definitely an eye opener. While the mainstream media tends to focus on the more juicy stories, I find Malcolm X's relationships with his peers, Elijah Muhammed, and his wife, the late Betty Shabazz to be the most interesting part of Marable's book. While it was clear that Malcolm loved these people, his duty to the Nation of Islam (NOI) and Elijah Muhammed was tantamount. It seems that all of these relationships stem from and were defined by his loyalty to the NOI. Marable implies that Malcolm married Betty because she was the ideal candidate to make the best NOI wife.
Marable also points out that there was trouble from the beginning. Much of it came from the hang ups Malcolm had before coming into the marriage. Like most of us, Malcolm distrusted women whether it was from the stream of bad relationships or the patriarchy we were raised in. Throughout his autobiography, Malcolm doesn't speak highly of the women he knew growing up. When Malcolm joined the NOI, he embraced it's fierce religious patriarchy. Many of us seem to follow the same pattern.
We have to look further when it comes to our intimate relationships. While most of us never spent a day in jail, we aren't raised to adequately address our emotions problems. Let's be honest, many of us are babies when it comes to that part of a relationship. When we add someone else to the mix, it only compounds the problem. I encounter many brothers who can't seem to get it right when it comes to communicating those issues. I have attempted to help quite a few brothers who have destroyed their relationships over the smallest of things. Things that they could have easily dealt with by having a brief conversation. So our hang ups are not just with patriarchy or machismo, sometimes that hang up is our emotional immaturity.
While many will jump up and shout “what about the sisters...!” Well, I am not a sister and I can only speak on what I know. However, that isn't my point. My point is that we have always held up Malcolm to be this man who was perfect in all ways especially with his personal relationships. With Marable's book, we learn that Malcolm is just like us: a regular all around brother who fell victim to patriarchy and refused to let go of that privilege. Like many of us, Malcolm was emotionally immature when it came to intimate relationships with women.
Marable's book is not only an in depth look at Malcolm's personal life, but it is also a mirror to the rest of us. Many of us saw Malcolm as the pillar of Black manhood. In one way we are correct. It is a flawed sense of masculinity. It is as flawed as that which we claim. In a sense, Marable's work asks to deconstruct not only Malcolm's masculinity but ours as well. So before we start the name calling or the immature emotional outbursts, let's really discuss this and get to the heart of the matter.