So, for awhile I have wanted to set the record straight that I actually do know that the boy in question in the book and movie About A Boy is named Marcus, not Malcolm. (This is important face saving stuff.) Contrary to my constant use of the name Malcolm in a post more than 3 years ago (perfectionist? why do you ask?)
Here is the thing – I am pretty good at remembering detail, but not great. I am much better at storing abstraction. Name starting with M of a Black Nationalist leader? Why Malcolm, of course.
Malcolm X has been one of my obsessions since about 1991, when I picked up a book of his later writings for 25cents (notice how they don’t have a “cents” symbol on the computer keyboard? I miss it. Yes, I started off on typewriters.) at the local thrift store – Malcolm X Speaks. Malcolm X had not made it into my school history books, so this was my introduction to him – as a complex figure, a thoughtful and principled person who was always learning, always changing.
Marcus Garvey on the other hand, was a cardboard cutout image in my mind, constructed out of a single paragraph in a middle school textbook, paired with the only photo I had seen of him (also in that textbook) – wearing an admiral’s hat, fluffy with feathers. He was, to me, a pompous individual, unwittingly playing into white racists’ hands – or perhaps even in willing collusion with them. It was hard for me to see why anyone (much less a white woman in England) would name her son after Garvey. (Yes, I recognize that there are many other Marcuses and Malcolms to name one’s child after – I am just here recounting the strange workings of my own mind, which did not store “Marcus” but instead stored “black nationalist leader whose name starts with M” – and so, after the retrieval, the immediate reconstruction used those data points, irrelevant though they may have been to an imaginary character in naming her son – or to a very real author, for that matter.)
So, while I am looking forward to reading Manning Marable’s recent book, which is reported to deepen our understanding of the complexity of Malcolm X yet further, it seems appropriate for me to revisit Garvey as well. I have judged him on the basis of so little information, really. Any cursory thought to the times reveals what a complex situation he was in, and the quickest glance at a one page internet biography reveals how much about him I had neither known nor accounted for. Is it possible for a white woman – a white woman so southern as to have identified herself (more recently than she cares to acknowledge) more as a Virginian than as a Christian – is it possible for me to embrace Garvey for all the right reasons? With God, anything is possible. And in Christ, I am repeatedly commanded to try – from “judge not…” through “love your neighbor.”
I have found, for myself, that I can come closer to this reconciliation (the reconciliation that Jesus urges me towards and into) by listening – by learning more about the one with whom I am not yet reconciled. After all, we cannot love an individual in the abstract – love is concrete – the one who loves us most dearly numbers even the hairs on our heads (no detail is too small for God to notice it and care about it)! So I am hoping that some of you out there will pray for me, and that at least one of you will have a helpful biography of Garvey to recommend.