Heroes Made, Not Exactly Born [on Frank Ocean & Malcolm X]

Jose Vilson Jose

First, let me say how ecstatic I was to see that, out of the thousands of friends and acquaintances I’ve gotten to know via social media and other platforms, I heard absolutely no one insult Frank Ocean (R&B singer affiliated with Odd Future, known for “No Church In The Wild”) for coming out as a bisexual. His letter describes love and humanity in the poetry you’d expect from a crooner like him. More surprising was the deluge of messages coming from fans appreciating him coming out on his own terms, something that his own detractors wouldn’t have the testicular fortitude to do on any meaningful level. Black urban music is in constant need of a reality check with homophobia and sexism within its popular ranks, and Frank Ocean’s outing provided a meaningful step because of the respect he earns among hip-hop elites.

Naturally, my thoughts turned to an earlier discussion I had on Twitter about Manning Marable’s outing of Malcolm Little (X) in Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. It seemed to me off-base to make the publicity surrounding the book focused on Malcolm’s sexual preference when, clearly, the narrative gave us so much more about the man. Many of Marable’s detractors suggested that Marable’s outing slandered a legend, and that everyone, especially Malcolm, is entitled to staying dead without having every sordid detail about their life dug up for the living.

I agree, except … I don’t.

I mean, Malcolm is still alive through his works and his voice. The power his image holds over many of our communities makes me believe that, while he’s passed on him the physical form, he still holds weight with the (often diluted and premature) issues that matter most to Black folk, and therefore, all of humanity. Thus, I think Malcolm the demi-god is certainly worth studying in depth and with a critical lens that didn’t exist 50 years ago.Manning’s thorough study of Malcolm shows how passionate and respectful he was of the subject of Malcolm’s life, not simply relying on his autobiography or the movie retelling.

More importantly, it was a service to those of us who believe Malcolm somehow surpasses human expectation. If Malcolm X can go from the life he led in his teens to one of the most powerful men of the 20th century, why can’t our students? Those thugs and gangbangers who we considered a lost cause are Malcolm. The kids we see in durags and big chains on the subway or the bus are Malcolm. The students who feel disaffected in our classrooms socially or academically are Malcolm.

Those kids desperate for change are Malcolm.

While putting Malcolm’s sexual preference (or his sexual situation, if you will) out there does little to dissuade the sort of courage it took for Malcolm to find it within himself to change for the better. A deeper read of the last few chapters gives a sense that Malcolm couldn’t care less if his past were exposed; his person is but a culmination of his experiences, not just one moment. He lived as the best example of what happens when men get in touch with their inner spirit, specifically for a culture he felt lost touch of their inner fighter through systematic oppression.

His bloodshed is the precursor for young men and women to take courage whenever they speak up about their souls. That includes Frank Ocean. And you.

Jose, who’s reading poems again …