Todd Steven Burroughs’s Officious Objectivity And That Case Of Manning Marable’s Fib

Around five years ago, I had that immense pleasure of sitting in on a lecture given by late and great Black Arts Movement parent, Amiri Baraka. Amiri spoke to a number of topics, including but not limited to St. Louis’s penchant for producing insanity. Among that “not limited to” were his thoughts regarding Manning Marable’s book,”Malcolm X: A Life Of Reinvention”.

His was a take that would be shared by a number of other active critiques of Marable’s text. Included along with Mr. Amiri’s own writing, associate professor Jared Ball and lecturer Todd Steven Burroughs compiled an assembly of critiques from renown active thinkers. As a conclusion and wrap up of this anthology titled,”A Lie Of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X,” Todd Steven Burroughs invites us to sit with him during a panel discussion as well a slightly fictional one in Malcolm’s Harlem. Before this, however, he takes us to roots as a journalist…


One day when I was lost, I discovered a Black writer by the name of Manning Marable. I was studying journalism, in a private, predominantly White Catholic university in the midst of the Reagan era, with the clear goal of one day writing for the New York Times.[…]

[…]The New Jersey Afro carried the national Afro’s opinion page, and I found there a column called “From the Grass Roots” and its weekly entry titled “Challenge to Black Journalists.” The author of the piece was Manning Marable.

“Coda: Objectivity vs. Memory”, Todd Steven Burroughs, found in “A Lie Of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X”, chapter 20


He goes on to quote a very ironic(hindsight has a sense of humor?) bit of writing from Manning Marable,“The white media generally refuses to admit that virtually all journalism is a form of ‘propaganda’ in the interests of certain political, economic and social class interests—and that Blacks’ interests never surface on that agenda…When we read Le Monde, does anyone doubt that we are encountering the interpretations of French journalists, with all the historical, cultural, and political baggage of that tradition? When we read Pravda and Izvestia, no one doubts that the perspectives of Soviet writers advance a particular view on society and politics. And when one reads the New York Times, everything from the selection of stories to the orientation of the editorials represents a type of bias towards the white corporate establishment…”


Todd Steven Burroughs’s fast forwards through time to after Manning’s death, a full stop making “Reinvention” grave marker and calendar highlight. Burroughs details a panel discussion composed of poetry luminary Sonia Sanchez, Manning’s lead researcher, Zaheer Ali, Peniel E. Joseph, and Herb Boyd. It is here that Burroughs reminds me of a sentiment expressed by Marimba Ani regarding western objectivity as it is presented in journalism and academia.


Strangely, that moment at the Harlem Book Fair felt like incidents I had read about in some of the media theory and criticism books I’ve read and tried to understand. In those books, left-of-center media scholars write about how “objectivity” limits the intellectual range of information given to the public. They argue that those who own and control the media only want an “acceptable” range of criticism aired and printed, with “acceptable” being defined by the owners and controllers themselves.[…] Were the Harlem Book Fair organizers and these panelists essential “operators” of a pre-determined, live, public, televised presentation of ideas? Were they doing to me, an openly harsh critic of Marable’s Malcolm X, what African American political and cultural activists claim Whites in power have done historically, and still do, to them?

“Coda: Objectivity vs. Memory”, Todd Steven Burroughs, found in “A Lie Of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X”, chapter 20


Here Burroughs highlights our journalistic and academic weaponizing of “objectivity.” It is that same still method of creating an epistemological hierarchy that belittles–or demonizes– methods of truth presentation outside of modern hegemony. In this instance, it codifies any critic of contemporary academia as “backwards,” “uncivilized,” “unworthy”.


Later, Burroughs borrows bits of each critique writer throughout his and Jared Ball’s assembly, forming his own response panel of sorts. All of these synopses deserve your immediate attention and diligent perusal, but I would like to visit what Burroughs writes of his Amiri.


Amiri Baraka: Some of the characterizations in the book are simply incorrect and suffer from its author only knowing about the movement on paper.

“Coda: Objectivity vs. Memory”, Todd Steven Burroughs, found in “A Lie Of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X”, chapter 20


As meta of a writer as I may become(I am writing a review/critique of a review/critique of review/critique), I must accept that there must be a standard set for who can say what. In that least part, there ought to be a set of parameters evoking immediate inquisition. Anything shy of that bar is simply pushing an agenda, resting very close to cowardice as one is talking behind a man murdered for his people as well as his beliefs in front of his family and city’s back with no care for apparent caution, and an abuse of authority. Not above critique, just also worthy of a treatment of respect that is not beneath anyone’s humanity.


Weaponizing objectivity without concern is antithetical to objective reality, which is supposedly that function western thinkers hold to as ideal.