Monday, May 21, 2007

So who was Alex Haley really?

I remember when Roots was originally shown on TV when I was a child. I wasn't allowed to see it because, being Jamaican, my mother didn't see the point in dredging up all that "stuff" that was "all over with so long ago." She also tired of hearing the word "nigger" every two seconds. I still haven't seen the mini-series all the way through. That was 30 years ago. I wish I had because I think it would have led me to ask some very important questions or seek out some answers at a much earlier age. The film changed how a generation of American's looked at race and slavery. (The whole mini-series will be re-released on TV One June 24, 2007, Noon to midnight.)

Last Friday (May 19th) was Malcolm X's birthday where he would have been 81 years old if he had lived. So this weekend we here in NYC have gotten at lot of Alex Haley exposure. Over the years questions of Alex Haley's integrity have been floated such as the accusation of plagiarism for Roots. Most of them I have dismissed as the establishment's attempt to discredit a black writer who dared to tell a different kind of history. This latest shot is not so easy to ignore because it came from Manning Marable.

From a statement from Manning Marable on Democracy Now! this morning:

Haley had an entirely different agenda. He was a Republican. He despised Malcolm X's black nationalist creed. But he was a journalist, and he understood the power of charisma.
In late 1961, Alex Haley and white journalist Alfred Balk were approached by the Chicago office of the FBI to funnel misinformation that was critical of the Nation of Islam into a magazine article that would be read nationwide. They did so. It was called “The Black Merchants of Hate,” published in the Saturday Evening Post in late February 1962. In effect, Haley played the role of a misinformation agent of the FBI. Ironically, since the article said the Nation of Islam hates white people, they think they're devils, and they don't want anything to do with integration, Elijah Muhammad loved the article. He thought it was great. And so, that helped to create that bridge that led several months later to Malcolm and Haley negotiating an agreement where they would write an autobiography together.

So who was Alex Haley really? Is he the hailed author or a mouth piece of the FBI? In the case of both books I'm not sure that it matters. Both express an important truth about American history and both are worthy of reading, albeit with a careful eye. The allegations on Haley's character is just another reminder that when we read any author, we should always be conscious of who the author is and what their agenda may be. Without that healthy, constant sense of scepticism it is very easy to be lead into believing misinformation, or even down-right lies.


Post a Comment