An Open Letter to Tavis Smiley and Cornel West: Stop Denying Critics of Marable’s Malcolm X

The following was sent to the staff at and the Smiley & West show in response to an April 5 interview conducted with Zaheer Ali regarding Manning Marable’s A Life of Reinvention… To date there has been no response.

Good day,

I write to voice a deep concern over the interview conducted on the Smiley & West Show April 5, 2013 with Zaheer Ali regarding Marable’s A Life of Reinvention.  I’ll be intentionally brief so as not to deter as much as possible a response and hopefully future dialogue.

My profound disappointment begins with the way this interview parroted conventional mainstream omissions of substantive criticism by ignoring critics of Marable’s work and by denying adequate community debate as should occur around popular “scholarship” purportedly “about” someone as important as Malcolm X.  I continue to find it terribly disingenuous for Ali and defenders of A Life… to simultaneously praise Marable’s willingness to engage debate while happily accepting pay and career bumps even as they refuse to respond to principled critics with principled criticism.

I found this most recent interview with Ali equally disingenuous as such prominent scholars and journalists like Smiley, West and apparently Ali, again praised Marable’s willingness to welcome discussion and debate while only passingly acknowledging the Third World Press book of responses to Marable’s and completely omitting reference to our own more recently published – and far more detailed and focused criticism – A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X (Black Classic Press, 2012) co-edited by myself and Dr. Todd Steven Burroughs.

This disingenuousness is compounded by the fact that Ali has ignored my invitation to appear on my radio show offered immediately after A Life’s publication.  In fact, I had invited Ali and his entire research team to respond to critical questions I promised to provide weeks in advance thus assuring clarity, principle and time for them to deal with the specifics of those questions with depth.  Then, only after an Al Jazeera producer “tricked” him into appearing with us on a program (by not letting him know we would be there until minutes before going live – we also were not told he was unaware that we would be there) did he at all engage us.  Afterward he assured me that he would not come on my show at any time to defend the research in Marable’s book.  He did say he would be available when his next project was complete.

So never mind the endless flaws of scholarship and interpretation in Marable’s book, worse still is the refusal by those who should know better to allow for principled discussion of that work to occur.  This refusal then denies audiences even the chance to hear from principled critics or to force those whose personal careers are advanced (a point raised interestingly during the interview) to defend the work upon which they build those careers, and all in a context of discussing Malcolm X.  This is truly shameful.

Our book alone contains original criticism from the likes of Mumia Abu-Jamal (whose 2.0 review is importantly different from his more widely-disseminated first one), A. Peter Bailey (who says his interview with Marable is distorted beyond recognition in the final text) and women like Rosemari Mealy who not only worked with Malcolm X and are scholars of his history themselves but who were also inexcusably ignored by Marable as interview subjects.  We further include a wide-range of scholars and activists who offer close reading reviews that go far beyond the easily dismissed rants of those angry with what Ali and others call their “humanizing” of Malcolm.  No journalist or scholar worthy of either title could at this point not know of our book, willingly omit the arguments therein and still be said to be doing their job.

Those who claim to honor Marable, and certainly Malcolm X, should be encouraging open and public debate, should be fostering space for such exchanges to take place and should be demanding that we all move beyond simple hagiography – especially as this is one of the many odd claims made by Marable, Ali and Viking Press about those who write about and discuss Malcolm X.  His defenders say this was what Marable sought to do for Malcolm, certainly Malcolm’s defenders should assure the same be done for him.

Dr. Jared A. Ball
Co-Editor of A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X (Black Classic Press, 2012)


  1. Keep up the good work on behalf of our ‘Shining Prince’, it is appreciated . Power to the people, those willing to fight for it.

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