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5 minutes reading time (1033 words)

Were Bob Marley and Malcolm X Traitors?

I wrote about Bob Marley’s status as a prophet in the eyes of some people in my book Malcolm X, Bob Marley and Other Essays. There I pointed out that Bob Marley was not a prophet or a revolutionary as he is sometimes depicted. He was in fact a musician and that was his significance. He was inspired by figures like Paul Bogle and Marcus Garvey. Bogle led an uprising against the colonial government and Garvey was the leader of a mass movement. Marley led neither an uprising nor any type of mass movement or organization. He was a musician, and he had all the benefits and limits that come with that.


Of course the benefits are that he made positive and inspiring music, and he got many people to listen to him. It has to be acknowledged, however, that there are limitations to being a socially conscious musician. In the first place, music is a supply and demand type industry. What this essentially means is that no matter how great of a musician you are, you still need a fan base or audience to sell albums. Marley was very popular among blacks in the Caribbean, but his international audience was mainly a white one. One of the challenges that Marley faced was the fact that initially his music was not very popular among black Americans, but it appealed to white people.

This blog here discusses in detail Marley’s struggles to appeal to black American audiences and argues that it wasn’t until the 1990s that black people in the States really embraced reggae:

The other issue raised in this video was Marley’s relationship with white women. While I don’t condone this, the reality is that Marley was a world famous musician and women of all races would throw themselves at him. Like many other musicians of his status, Marley indulged in those temptations.
I also agree that being a good singer is not a measure for “heroship,” but Marley’s significance in the African world is the message of his music. It was something empowering and uplifting for African people. Marley sang “Zimbabwe” to demonstrate his support for the freedom fighters in Zimbabwe, but he went beyond this and actually donated funds to rebel groups in Africa to assist them in their struggle for freedom. Marley himself recognized that merely singing positive and uplifting songs alone wasn’t enough. Marley’s appeal to white people and his womanizing are examples of some of the challenges socially conscious musicians face, but it by no means diminishes Marley’s achievements. It certainly does not make Marley a traitor.
The author’s criticisms of Malcolm X are even more misguided. He criticizes Malcolm for publically attacking Elijah Muhammad. Again, this is a topic I’ve written about this in “The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Nation of Islam.” Everything that Malcolm was saying were things that needed to be said because all of the issues that Malcolm raised in the 1960s were issues that would hinder the NOI in the 1970s. Elijah Muhammad’s private conduct, specifically his amassing large sums of wealth for himself and his family, led to many conflicts in the NOI, including an attempt on the life of one of Elijah Muhammad’s own relatives.  

The author also criticizes Malcolm for going to the white press to denounce the NOI, ignoring that it was to the white press that the NOI had announced they were suspending Malcolm in the first place. Moreover, the NOI suspended Malcolm for statements that Malcolm made after John F. Kennedy’s assassination—in other words, Malcolm was suspending for making critical comments about a white man.

It is very easy to criticize Malcolm for his public statements on the NOI when you neglect that the NOI was also constantly attacking him—going so far as to publish a cartoon of Malcolm’s decapitated head.


The NOI was also brutalizing some of their own members who had left the movement, such as Aubrey Barnette. Malcolm refused to silently watch as the NOI devolved into a corrupt and criminal organization. The NOI achieved many positive things, but the organization was far from flawless. All of those flaws are noticeably neglected in this video. The author states that Malcolm should have handled his issues with Elijah Muhammad internally, but this is what Malcolm wanted all along, which Malcolm explained here:
Instead, he was publically suspended from the NOI and publically attacked through the NOI’s newspaper. Moreover, Leone Ameer, a member of Malcolm’s organization, was violently attacked by members of the NOI. This video twists the situation to make it appear as though the NOI was blameless throughout the whole ordeal.
My biggest issue with this video is who is Kojo Mambolo other than someone posting a video on YouTube criticizing Malcolm and Marley for racial disloyalty. Where is his organization? Which African liberation movements is he funding? What is he doing that surpasses the work of Marley and Malcolm? He claims that what Malcolm and Marley did were more beneficial for the white race than it was for black people, but both men left a legacy for black people that speaks for itself.
I want to make it clear that I don’t believe leaders or influential public figures (whether they living or dead) should be above critique, but that critique has to be done honestly. Most importantly, the critique has to put things in proper perspective. I myself have been critical of Marley in this very blog, but Marley’s faults won’t cause me to overlook the positive things he did for African people and write him off as being a race traitor because Marley has done things for the benefit African people that I haven’t done. I will close this with the wise words of Marcus Garvey who said pay no attention to the man who criticizes unless he is doing something better than what he criticizes.”
Original author: D Omowale
Quotes on Malcolm X