Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Black Women Writers & The Marable/Malcolm Coverage

A quick glance at the coverage related to Manning Marable's Malcolm X book reveals, not surprisingly, that the vast majority of articles have been written by men. It's not surprising because thanks to quite a bit of useful quantitative data provided by groups such as VIDA and The OpED Project, we have a clearer sense of the large gender disparity in major newspapers and magazines.

Nonetheless, even though far more men have published articles on the Marable book, the number of black women who have contributed to the conversation are worth noting. By the standards of typical commentary concerning political figures in media outlets, the presence of black women writers addressing Marable/Malcolm is certainly above average--whatever that might mean. 

[Related: The Coverage of Manning Marable and Malcolm X]

Journalist Sheryl Huggins Salomon provided one of the early news article about Marable's passing. Her article was published April 1, on The Root the day Marable passed.

So far, scholars such as Nell Irvin Painter, Julianne Malveaux, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Imani Perry have written articles on Marable and his work on Malcolm.

Harris-Perry's and Griffin's remembrances of Marable appeared on April 3 and 4, respectively, and were among the earliest reflections on Marable's life and career.  Perry's article was published by The San Francisco Chronicle, and the article by historian Nell Irving Painter, published by the Boston Globe, is one of the more extensive reviews in all the commentary on Marable's book.

Painter, Perry, Malveaux, Griffin, and Harris-Perry all have direct ties to black studies, which I mentioned yesterday is a field with strong connections to Malcolm X.  
Malveaux is the only college president, that I am aware of at least, to publish an article on Marable and his Malcolm book. Malveaux is also one of the only contributors who is located at an HBCU. (It's disappointing that more scholars at black schools have not been asked by mainstream publications to contribute to the discourse on Malcolm, Marable, or other popular topics).   

AP writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody provided coverage on the negative response that Malcolm X's daughters, Ilyasah and Malaak Shabazz, had to some aspects of Marable's book. Washington Post reporter Krissah Thompson provided coverage concerning the alleged triggerman in  Malcolm's assassination.

St. Louis activist and columnist Jamala Rogers offered a remembrance of Marable in the African American weekly, The St. Louis American. As a resident of St. Louis, I was especially pleased to see Rogers' discussion of Marable as well as the other reflections published in The St. Louis American, as I assume that Marable might not be as well known here as he is on the East coast for instance.  

I want to pause here and say again that I am very much aware that the nine black women scholars and writers I have mentioned is relatively small. My full list on the Marable/Malcolm coverage includes more than 75 links. So the vast majority of commentary is provided by men.

But, if the data points and reports on gender discrepancy fails to discuss the actual writing by women and black women that is out there, then we are still in trouble.  That is, we must pay attention to sexism and exclusionary practices, for sure. Yet, we must also pay attention to the work that a number of women writers are doing.

During the time that we wait for The New York Times and other prominent publications to open their Op-Ed pages and news rooms to more women, what lessons we can take from the writers mentioned above?   

A few considerations:

First, black studies, as a field, no doubt had (and likely continues to have) its share of gender trouble. Full stop. The prominence or rising prominence of figures like Perry, Griffin, and Harris-Perry, however, can be a good sign. We--black studies as a field--relies on black women scholars like them in ways that should make MFA programs, Women's Studies, American Studies, and various traditional disciplines envious.

That is, at the risk of starting a lil bit of trouble with my colleagues in those fields and programs, I'd argue that they would be more successful--however you want to define that word--if they had these kinds of black women in prominent positions. I'm just saying.

Next, journalists like Nekesa Mumbi Moody and Krissah Thompson often operate below the radar for a lot of folks. The good thing about the extensive coverage on a popular topic like Malcolm X is that it allows us to become aware of a Moody and Thompson.

I get the sense that those two journalists are relatively early in their careers, so it's likely that we'll see more and more of their work over the years and decades even. Following black women journalists like them now and onward might tell us things about the presence and absence of women writers in mainstream outlets that some of the current data and articles do not.

Jamala Rogers is one of the few activists and non-academics to contribute to the discourse on Marable. As a result, more so than most of the reflections by scholars, Rogers focused more on Marable's organizing efforts as opposed to his books. Wouldn't we benefit by seeking out and encouraging more perspectives like hers especially if it allows us to read a figure like Marable beyond the papers and books?

And finally, speaking of seeking out and encouraging more voices, Julianne Malveaux's presence in the conversation reminds us that we really have to seek out black perspectives as expressed by folks at HBCUS, at community colleges, community and cultural centers, and a more diverse range of majority universities.  Black perspectives from these apparent "non-elite" spaces would definitely assist us in expanding our overall knowledge.

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