vrijdag 1 augustus 2014

Reviews reviewed: the "aura of neutrality" and Colin Grant's biography 'Negro with a hat' on Marcus Garvey

Reviewing work by others is a multifaceted, complex issue. In this day and age, with mass media, broadly developed publishing and journalism, extensively developed cultural sectors and industries - especially in wealthy societies -, it is perhaps unavoidable that new works - be it biographical books, fictional and nonfictional books, music albums, films, or concerts - are scanned and discussed (opinionatedly). This is typically done by experts (or self-declared experts) on certain matters and fields, through mass media.

I guess this has – like so much in this world – pros and cons. Pros: there is much being published and offered, with new releases regularly, that even aficionado’s with relatively narrow interests cannot keep up. A review might just stimulate a choice to check out a book, writer, or artist. It can make curious and trigger interest. The simple fact is that you don’t have the time in one lifetime to check everything yourself that somehow interests you. The plethora of reviews might give you a hint what to choose/select from the bunch of cultural offers.

A main con of reviews, on the other hand, is that they are exactly that: “reviews”. That is: by definition opinionated; else it would be a summary or “abstract”. No, a review is an opinion by a person who for some reason got “authority” in a specific field, recognized by others around him/her, including his/her employers. This is especially the case when these reviewers work for big, well-known newspapers like the New York Times, or other big newspapers, journals, or journals with smaller, but demanding readerships, such as academic journals. Even this seems reasonable in some sense: if – by way of example – someone has studied and researched for over 20 years the Irish-British author Oscar Wilde, in a scholarly, profound manner, even including field work, and has read all previous biographies on Wilde, it is perhaps not a bad choice to let this person give an opinion on a new biography that appeared on Oscar Wilde. His opinions would then be well-informed.

However, at a deeper level even this can be problematic as well, because reviews are, again, opinionated. Academic researchers – and reviewers among them – might have the aura of neutrality. They have a purely rational, balanced, yet opinionated focus. The problem with this is that this is humanly impossible. In the whole wide world there is not one – not one! – human being who is fully able to detach oneself from oneself, so to speak. To have a rational, neutral analysis separate from one’s own personality, history, and biases. The selection of facts, and way to interpret these facts can only partly (if at all) be separated from deeply entrenched personal biases. One can – admirably – strive for balance or neutrality, that can be reached only to a degree.

I myself read reviews of music, albums, books (fictional and nonfictional), concerts, theatre plays, films, or television programmes. Besides this, I actually write reviews myself: for my blog (music, films, and books) and for other sites (of reggae albums mostly). So, I have to face these pros and cons of reviewing as well. I like to write, and in writing I also try to cultivate humbleness. This can be solved in writing by adding words indicating that it is “my” opinion, and with what I (with my knowledge and history) am able and willing to compare works. Terms like “In my opinion..” or “I find..” and “I think..” are very useful in this regard.

Not all reviews seem to have this overt humility, and I admit that I also have enjoyed reviews that are very humorous, though not seemingly modest or humble. I then find them “over the top” in a funny way. A reggae reviewer once said about a song on an album he found overall mediocre (and which he found less in quality than others by that artist): “the less said about this song, the better..”. This appears to be a harsh, arrogant, personal opinion about other people’s artistic effort, but is at the same time a funny way to put it. That compensates somehow.

NEGRO WITH A HAT

I delve into this theme of “reviewing”, because I got curious about the critiques or “reception” of a book I personally appreciated very much. A pleasant and informative read, I found it to be. I am talking about ‘Negro with a hat : the rise and fall of Marcus Garvey’, a biography of Marcus Garvey – the Jamaican-born Black Power thinker and activist -, written by Colin Grant – a Briton of Jamaican parentage -, and published in 2008.

I understood quite some research for this biographical book has been carried out (secondary and primary research), resulting in a quite voluminous book of about 530 pages. I also liked its quite humorous writing style. Besides this I felt I learned a lot more about the nuances of Marcus Garvey and his movement. The author Grant had proper attention to social, political, and historical contexts, while I felt I got to know the person Marcus Garvey better as well, through his life story.

Specifically, Grant addressed Garvey’s personality, including his contradictions, good character traits, as well as flaws. This made the biography in my opinion all the more “real”. Of course he was a (pro-black) thinker and ideologist, as well as activist – and pioneering and influential at that -, but separating that from his personality is so functionalistic that it becomes artificial and absurd. Thus unconvincing. I know.. many such biographies – called “intellectual biographies” – on the ideas but with only superficial sketches of the person who had them - have appeared, and some I read, but most of these failed to convince me fully. There are, however, interesting philosophies and ideas independent of persons who formulated them, but they did not arise in a vacuum. I think Colin Grant in his 2008 biography on Garvey shows he grasps this unavoidable connection between person and ideas. A matter of credibility, in essence.

It also eases sympathy, at least in my case. Eventual “blind spots”, flaws, contradictions, irresponsibility of Garvey as a person or leader Grant describes as well, alongside “positive” character traits and actions, and certainly his noble goal of uplifting an oppressed people. Realistic, because no human is perfect. In essence it shows Garvey’s humanity: at times irresponsible, spiteful, paranoid, distrustful, even unreasonable.. it is all there.. but are those flaws not latently present in all of us, depending on circumstances? The importance is that you learn from your mistakes to improve yourself, and Garvey - as the “self-made man” par excellence, wanting to help downtrodden Black people forward - did just that: learn to then improve, as he recommended as well to his followers. In that sense he – despite that he was criticized for having a too big ego - showed more self-reflection than other leaders the world has known.

The flaws in his character further did not seem of the truly “wicked” kind to me. Maybe because he was a very honest and direct person, he lost the avenues to really fool or hurt people consciously. Though Garvey himself advised leaders to present themselves well in public and keep certain things private, his talent for hypocrisy proved overall too small. His rotund opinions on some issues could sound harsh in some ears, but inspiring to others: the same is the case with all “innovative” leaders and thinkers: including people like Rousseau, Kant, or Mahatma Ghandi. Or Buddha and Jesus Christ for that matter.

I think it is useful to give my opinion on the work with some argumentation, but before this part turns in a review of Colin Grant’s book (by me, this time), I think it is time to focus on how reviewers in the press and media, the US, Britain and elsewhere responded and discussed this book.

The biography has appeared in English in 2008, and a French translation, by Hélène Lee, has appeared under the title ‘Le Nègre au chapeau’ in October, 2012. The same Lee also wrote the biography on Leonard Howell ‘The first Rasta’. Also Garvey was of course very important for the Afro-centric Rastafari movement, as main inspirer, including of Leonard Howell and all early Rastas of course. Some describe this as a John the Baptist-like function that Garvey had for the Rastafari movement, that first arose in Jamaica in the 1930s.. not long before Garvey’s death in London in 1940 (after a stroke) at the age of 52.

So a French translation has appeared, and not yet in other languages as far as I know, however..the bulk of reviews of ‘Negro with a hat’ I could find were in English, and appeared in US-based, Britain-based, or (Anglophone) Caribbean newspapers and journals. These include the big newspapers Chicago Tribune, New York Times, and the larger British newspapers.

How did these reviewers read the same biography I read? What recurs or differs throughout these reviews, what is remarkable, what is emphasized or ignored? In the remainder of this post I will try to answer such questions..

THE REVIEWS

“Las comparaciones son odiosas” – meaning “comparisons are hateful” - is an interesting Spanish expression, I did not hear yet in other languages. This is interesting, because not just reviews, but all analytical and scholarly work rely partly on comparison. Are all these analysts therefore hateful, or do they simply weigh pros and cons? Either way, I pointed out before that biases are ALWAYS there, even among known scholars who have (and cultivate) an “aura of neutrality”. This is an illusion, though recommendable as a goal.

That the person Garvey, as well as his social ideas and movement, all get attention in Colin Grant’s biography reflects in the reviews I read. Both Garvey as man, and Garvey’s ideas and movement get attention, also in these reviews. Balanced, it seems, but the aspects of his person and his movement that get emphasized at times surprise me somewhat. In some reviews they also annoy me.

The “authoritative” New York Times review (2008) states that the Garvey movement had Fascist characteristics. Inappropriate, I think, not just because I do not want to hear that, but because I read Marcus Garvey’s own writings as well. The recurring humanity in them, his espousal of equality among man kind (beyond racial conflicts), the nuances, despite radical aspects and indeed “collectivistic” aspects of his movement, sets it apart from the basic tenets of Fascism, first developed by Benito Mussolini in 1920s Italy. The context was also different: Italy was then an independent, if relatively young, nation and state. It wanted to make its mark, and perhaps was jealous of the imperial power and pasts of other European countries. Blacks in the time of Garvey, on the other hand, were – simply put – not even free in their own lands of origin in Africa: apart from Ethiopia, and a few other regions, most of Africa was subdivided among and controlled by European colonial powers. Blacks/Africans outside Africa were generally in a dependent and oppressed position. The Garvey movement was therefore an emancipation movement, aimed at acquiring basic human rights. It lacked the cynical (some would say; “male”) power and conquest rationale of Fascism.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/books/review/Devlin-t.html?_r=0

This and other parts of the New York Times review – that was overall quite positive on the biography as book, by the way – made me doubt whether the reviewer Paul Devlin has read also ‘The philosophy and opinions of Marcus Garvey’, wherein Garvey relates his own views, and adds some biographical aspects. He might have, I don’t know. Some parts of his review describes the biography well, though his focussing on Garvey’s dealings with the Ku Klux Klan borders on the sensationalistic. It was perhaps an odd move by Garvey, but explainable in some way. Even some African-Americans today prefer the direct, overt racism of white supremacists or less organized “rednecks” over the hidden, hypocritical racism – or “white dominance” equally present among many white Americans, and covertly/hidden present in social and organizational structures. “Better the devil you know and see coming”, so to speak. Instead of this KKK episode, Devlin could have emphasized more Garvey’s pioneering role in giving Black people pride. He somewhat neglects Garvey’s historical significance and legacy.

Another authoritative newspaper, Britain’s The Guardian reviewed the biography a few months before, in February 2008. Maybe because Colin Grant is British himself, reviews appeared earlier in Britain than in the US. The reviewer for the Guardian, Margaret Busby, justly emphasizes Garvey’s pioneering role in black pride, more than Devlin. She summarizes also in a well-balanced way, on the whole. Busby, on the other hand, also mentions some aspects that seem a bit sensationalistic. That he had two wives, and married another one after separating from the first, is not that extraordinary nor immoral. The contributions of these women are more relevant, yet discussed little. Busby – as do other reviews – also mentions the odd circumstance that, after one stroke, some thought mistakenly Garvey had died, while Garvey still could read the premature obituary on himself. Not long after that the fatal stroke came.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/feb/09/featuresreviews.guardianreview6

Some say that irony/humour and death do exclude one another, yet some of these reviewers – perhaps unwillingly – seek to combine irony/humour and death. It is an anecdote worth telling, perhaps an interesting one, but not a very amusing, or even relevant one. The cause of death was a stroke: why this, and what could have caused this (hereditary, stress, health problems, poverty)? This seems more relevant to me. In the biography his mother died of a stroke as well (or “apoplexy” as it was called), also relatively young. The fun fact of someone reading his own obituary outweighed this crucial biographical detail, apparently.

I must point out, in all fairness, that Busby does not emphasize sensationalism or irrelevant anecdotes too much, and overall I found her review well-written and quite accurate and balanced.

I am also positive about Kevin Le Gendre’s review in The Independent, also published in February 2008. He gives a well-balanced description of the biography, and points – more than other reviewers – to Garvey’s lasting legacy, albeit in abstract terms. Not much I disagree with here, further, and Le Gendre points at the paradoxes in a good way, the opposition against him – note especially the second paragraph of this review.

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/negro-with-a-hat-the-rise-and-fall-of-marcus-garvey-by-colin-grant-779373.html

I think Le Gendre has read Garvey’s own writings, including ‘The philosophy and opinions of Marcus Garvey’. A minor flaw is what became a cliché in reviews on Garvey’s biography: his dealings with the Ku Klux Klan, but I mentioned that already. At least the “obituary-anecdote” is refreshingly absent.

In the short review by Kirkus Reviews (anonymous?) both these clichés recur, but at least Garvey’s “genuine commitment to bettering the lives of blacks” was recognized. It argues, though, or worse: “states”, that this was compromised by Garvey’s outsized ego. As I mentioned elsewhere on this blog (e.g. regarding the biography of James Brown) sometimes things like “bluffing” or “an outsized ego” are nothing more or less than the only way of “survival” in an hostile world.

http://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/colin-grant/negro-with-a-hat/

The extensive review by Eric Arnesen in the Chicago Tribune is actually quite critical, and partly negative. Both regarding Grant’s book as on its subject: Marcus Garvey. I think Arnesen exaggerates Garvey’s character flaws. I do admit Arnesen has some good points of weaknesses in the book, as well as of Garvey and his movement. With some of his conclusions I do not agree, however. I do not think Garvey treated his wives as servants: they were for their times quite independent already, and Garvey respected that. If anything, compared to other intellectuals and leaders from his time (white and black) – or even later times – Garvey seemed relatively more to favour female equality. The later Nation of Islam (partly influenced by the Garvey movement) in the US, had at times a barely disguised “(Black) women should be servants and get out of men’s way” focus – though differing per Nation of Islam-member. Even Malcolm X – whom I overall consider to be intelligent and open-minded – in his own writings showed here and there this expectation of female obedience (to Allah/God, and then to men), probably derived from conservative Islam and conservative Christianity. Garvey had this much less.

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2008-03-22/entertainment/0803200314_1_marcus-garvey-colin-grant-admired

At most, Garvey tried too much to be rational and practical, neglecting complex and strictly speaking “weakening” and “paralyzing” personal things like affection, emotions, relationships, love, and friendship. That is unfortunate, but understandable with a certain life history : Garvey soon – in his early teens - had to become independent, and in time he developed broader goals for his people, the world, and not just himself. A rational focus seems required for that.

ACADEMIC REVIEWS

Then there are reviews more aimed at a scholarly and academic public, in more scientific and academic journals. These tend to be more extensive and detailed – as can be expected. The scientific and scholarly world cultivates its “aura of neutrality”, which as I pointed out is in fact an illusion. Yet, many journalists do the same. At least some scholars strive for objective analysis, and that in itself can lead to new, valuable insights.

Huon Wardle of the University of St Andrews wrote a thorough and in itself fine review of Grant’s ‘Negro with a hat’. I find it only unfortunate that Garvey’s lasting legacy is sidelined in it a bit, and that Wardle focuses on his mass support at the time itself. He does not say this, but like that mass support depended more on circumstance or “magic” than on content. I think maybe the message itself was necessary, explaining the mass support, and not just Garvey’s good oratory skills or organizational and promotion capacities. Also, Wardle cannot avoid to go down almost sensationalistic side-paths too: his negotiation with the Ku Klux Klan, or the extraordinary uniforms he wore. Wardle pays much attention to the fact that Garvey was a Jamaican migrant in the US, and that his support included at first many other West Indians. This is only partly relevant, I would say. He soon got much support among African-Americans/US Blacks as well, making his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), by the early 1920s, the biggest mass organization of Blacks the world had yet seen. The attention he pays to the extravagant uniforms UNIA members and Garvey himself does not seem that relevant to me, but I do find interesting how Wardle (unlike other reviewers) draws the connection with the Caribbean carnival tradition of “inverting the order”, not to mimic but to rebel in a playful way.

http://openanthcoop.ning.com/group/oacbookreviews/forum/topics/book-review-negro-with-a-hat-the-rise-and-fall-of-marcus-garvey

I do not agree with Wardle at the end of his review, seemingly a conclusion. He wrote: “The sudden explosive growth of the UNIA is an instance where a submerged nexus of utopian ideas and values briefly pierce the membrane of what actually exists and acquire a reality of their own”. This is even derogatory in some sense, and ignores the deeper message and significance of the Garvey movement: black self-determination, a self-determination other races and nations already had. From that line of reasoning “nation” ideas like Netherlands, Italy, Spain, France, United Kingdom, China, USA, India and so on, are likewise “utopian”, as well as political parties or interest groups. Some ideas seemed once temporarily utopian because they were too progressive, different from the status-quo. They remain utopian because they are repressed by the powers that be.

Paul M. Heideman, writing a review on the biography in 2009 for the African-American Review, has some interesting points, I think. Like me, Heideman opined that the contradictions/complexities of Garvey come well to the fore in Grant’s biography, and that it is well- documented, -written and accessible. In addition, Heideman states that Grant “lets these contradictions speak for themselves”, by simply relating Garvey’s actions and reproducing Garvey’s own writings. This lack of authorial explanation has its advantages, but can also be a flaw at times, Heideman states. I agree partly. I also found some explanation lacking in Grant’s book regarding Garvey’s choices; not just regarding Garvey’s distancing from Marxism and the Left over time, but also his enigmatic religious choices. Garvey became Roman Catholic – while raised Methodist - , called himself even Catholic, despite his own critique that religious sculptures of Jesus and others in Catholic churches looked white and European. The irony is that Roots Reggae lyrics by Rastafari-adhering artists mention Garvey a lot positively, but also often criticize Rome and Catholicism (or mainstream Christianity). Some Rastafari-adherents might deplore Garvey’s adherence to Catholicism, others may explain it historically, but Grant unfortunately does not pay much attention to Garvey’s religious choices. Maybe, no information or sources were available on it, that is also possible.

http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/african_american_review/summary/v043/43.1.heideman.html

Anyhow, I found Heideman’s review all in all okay and balanced, albeit a bit limited in scope.

In the Caribbean Reviews of Books journal, Jeremy Taylor reviewed the biography in 2008. Quite critically, and not in all aspects positively. I do appreciate how Taylor does pay sufficient attention to Garvey’s historical influence and legacy, especially in the final part of his review.

http://caribbeanreviewofbooks.com/crb-archive/17-august-2008/hail-to-the-chief/

Some aspects he found missing in Grant’s biography, I found missing as well, such as religious issues. The pop song Garvey wrote while imprisoned in Atlanta (1923-1927) could further equally receive more attention in Grant’s book.

http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.nl/2011/06/keep-cool-by-marcus-mosiah-garvey.html

It would recur partly in lyrics of some reggae songs, such as this one by the Twinkle Brothers (‘Give Rasta Praise’ from 1975): a few lines are taken from this pop song Garvey wrote (and named ‘Keep Cool’).

Jacob Dorman, at the University of Kansas, wrote a review of ‘Negro with a hat’ that was critical and even more negative. He even made me doubt if I read the biography that well, and if Dorman might indeed be right, if I look at the book in another way. I think this is only partly the case, because Dorman failed to note a main theme in the biography: the idea of the “self-made man” that Garvey represented. I think Colin Grant with his biography really aimed at showing contradictions and complexities of Garvey, and did not aim at a negative portrayal.

http://www.academia.edu/544208/Negro_with_a_Hat_The_Rise_and_Fall_of_Marcus_Garvey_review_

Certainly, Garvey could be harsh, right-wing in some issues, sided sometimes with the wrong persons, was at times insensitive, inconsistent even theoretically, or mistaken. He was human and could make mistakes. Another glorified and influential self-made man, Henry Ford, also had inhumane, harsh, right-wing, and even anti-Semitic ideas, if one checks it out. Worse than the worst statements of Garvey, who overall at least seemed to believe in equality of races and people, despite criticizing some ethnic groups generally at times during moments of frustration.

Dorman misses the deeper layer: the story of someone starting with nothing, belonging to a poor oppressed race in a poor, marginal land, working himself up to lead a Black mass movement in the US by the late 1910s. A pioneer that inspired other, later Black leaders, influenced partly by his ideas but going beyond that.

The Rastafari movement – a “Black Power movement with a theological nucleus” (dixit Mutabaruka)- is described as “using Garvey to go beyond Garvey”. After all, Garvey was Catholic, more European/British influenced in his cultural tastes, even colonially influenced, and Garvey even became critical of Haile Selassie, the main, revered person within Rastafari. Garvey applauded the coronation of Selassie in 1930, but later criticized in harsh terms as “cowardice” the strategy of Selassie in dealing with the invasion by Fascist Italy (i.e. by allying with other European powers against Italy), instead of organizing African unity at that time (later Selassie did help shape African unity, by the way). Garvey should have been more diplomatic, I think, but he was only partly wrong: the British, in hindsight, had a dubious, double role during Italy’s invasion, eventually favouring Italy and other imperial powers over Ethiopia’s (or Africa’s) interests. However, Selassie might not have known this neither at that time, and was then naïve rather than cowardice.. Besides this, Selassie’s strategy had some wisdom from a geopolitical perspective.

Similarly, also Kwame Nkrumah, other African independence fighters, like Kwame Nkrumah, initially also Nelson Mandela, several Black Power movements and intellectuals in the Caribbean and the US, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King.. all have been influenced by Garvey, without copying him in every single thing. The positive and necessary essence of Garvey’s Black emancipation and African redemption and repatriation ideas lived and live on. A good example of how “the good you do lives after you..”. Bad or nonsensical things one did or said stay behind, since they do not inspire.

Like some other (academic) reviewers Dorman describes Grant’s biography as a good, and readable introduction, but not much more than that, lacking according to him proper use of research and scholarly methods, and lacking also attention to aspects about Garvey himself, or the motivations of his followers. With the last aspect I agree: Grant could have paid more attention to why different Black people chose to follow Garvey and his movement..

CONCLUSIONS

Dorman’s reviews differs strongly from other ones I discussed, but had similarities with others. Reviewers even say the opposite from each other: some find that Grant wrote a sympathetic portrayal, some say a a balanced one, while – like just mentioned – Dorman characterizes Grant’s portrayal of Garvey as a negative one. Some reviewers called Grant’s biography “definitive”, others (especially in academic circles) as merely introductory.

It goes to show how perspectives on the same phenomenon differ from person to person, from reviewer to reviewer in this case.

Some things recur through all these reviews, though. They all seem to agree that the social and historical contexts of the Garvey movement were related well by Grant in ‘Negro with a hat’. Most agreed that Garvey as a person was in some aspects described too little in it, though not everyone found this. Likewise, more than one review noted that Garvey’s followers got too little attention, but several did not mention this as a flaw.

I criticized before the recurrence in reviews of sensationalistic anecdotes over relevant facts. The meeting with the KKK by Garvey, and the fact that he read his own (premature) obituary is remarkable enough to mention somewhere in a biography, but not in every single review of it (as is nearly the case). These became clichés. Another recurrent anecdote or description was on the, some find, extravagant “imperial” hats and clothes Garvey and other UNIA members wore. That does not seem the most relevant thing to me. Maybe it can be related with the “inverting order” notion of Caribbean carnival traditions, and some reviewers relate it to this. An interesting analysis would I think consist also of a psychological explanation: regaining dignity in a public way. In a few reviews something like this is hinted at.

Unfortunately, this clothing is used in most reviews to illustrate how egotistic, or megalomaniac (not always formulated in such words) Garvey according to some was. This ultimately devalues his importance and his movement’s. The same “school yard” insults due to appearance as a thick-spectacled, red-haired, or otherwise “different” child hears from the vane, bullying “cool kids”. This is meant to exclude such strange or nerdy people from their circle. That this sarcasm aimed at Garvey’s clothing or trivial aspects – apart from the content and goals - is also found in academic journals by scholars is not really surprising. The same exclusion through ridicule as nerdy kids in a school yard endure.

That is what Garvey and the author of this biography on him, Colin Grant, share. They stepped on privileged toes: such biographies are often written by respected academics, not by a journalist like Grant. The condescending “nice try, but we can do this better” message is barely disguised in some of these academic reviews.

Also, as discussed in the biography, WEB Du Bois was an academically schooled Black leader with some influence in the US at the time that Marcus Garvey arrived, and developed and broadened his movement, but with a different message for the same people. Du Bois and others saw this as unwelcome competition for Black support. Privileged positions are disturbed and threatened, making ridicule and repression a final recourse for these privileged people: they have the power and connections to do this. Another, even more privileged group – the White establishment – eventually invented a “mail/post fraud” charge to be able to incarcerate and later expel Garvey to Jamaica (he did not have the US nationality, but a British one).

Several sources – and also recurring in reggae lyrics – point at betrayal of Garvey by other Black people, in the US, Jamaica, and Britain.

Some of the reviewers I mentioned are themselves Black persons. It is good that they remain critical and try to be as neutral as possible on the subject: worshipping is different from reviewing, even if Garvey is seen as a hero by many. That being said, I still find it unfortunate and exaggerated to put the emphasis that much on mistakes, organization flaws, and supposed character flaws of a man like Marcus Garvey.

Garvey has inspired many people and was historically influential. He maybe had flaws, but nothing really came across to me as calculatedly wicked or evil. The FBI at one point even asked his wives, and other people close to Garvey, private questions, hoping to find some “hidden sins”, in order to put him away. Yet they could not find anything illegal in even his private activities. If he were an abusive husband or father (he had two sons), had buried people he killed somewhere, raped women (which for instance Benito Mussolini has done, as a youth, but still became a popular dictator in Italy), or made enslaved people work for free – to name just something – it would have been known at that time. Neither was he involved in financial fraud, extortion, robbery, or violent reprisals against people. Any such things or crimes the FBI hoped to find, but was unable to.

So why this ridicule and critique as a way to downplay Garvey’s influence, among many reviewers?
Attacking the person instead of his/her message or what he/she says is a common distraction tool from what needs for some to be overshadowed or obfuscated: an unwelcome consciousness.

Are some of these reviewers really not open to hear his message and recognize its significance, even today?

That would be ignoring the fact that the world is still unequal today, in 2014. Racially and economically. In 2014 Africa still has less control over its own resources and economy than Europe. Black people in the Americas and elsewhere are overall still on the lower levels socioeconomically, and racism still exists, in daily life and in policies. Slavery as a historical crime against humanity is still only limitedly recognized until today by European nations.

Or, as the reggae group the Mighty Diamonds sing eloquently in their song on Garvey, ‘Them Never Love Poor Marcus’ (1976): “Now the human race in such a squeeze..”

Apparently, people in privileged positions - as part of this same racial and economic order - are not too keen to really ponder on the essence of Garvey’s message: they might feel, well, a bit ashamed or guilty.

That is the hidden bias I found in many – though not all- of these seemingly neutral reviews. Talking about being egotistic.. The complexity of Garvey as an individual can be seen as intriguing as well, and other biographies – on other persons – actually embrace such complexity to give depth to a person. I guess to embrace some one’s complexity you must respect or love that person, else you would not care about his or her various traits. That is basic psychology. On Facebook nowadays many “life lessons” and philosophical quotes are shared, too much and too cheap some say, but some I like: like this one I read: “We judge others by their actions, but ourselves by our intentions”. Seems relevant here.. Besides, anyone can test for themselves through this thought experiment; think about this: do you want to know how your mother – or grandmother - lived when young?, or how she felt about certain crucial choices she had to make, even long before you were born? Many would say..yes I am interested in that. Yet..are you equally intrigued about the younger life of, not your (grand)mother, but another woman who you do not even know and who is not related to you?
The same I think applies to symbolical “mothers” and “children”..

Admittedly, other reviews were more balanced, quite neutral, with good argumentation, and also had attention to positive aspects and legacies of Garvey. Both among scholarly and non-scholarly reviews positive opinions were found on Garvey and this biography by Grant.

It’s a pity though that, from the reviews combined, the overall image that remains of Garvey and his movement is of a megalomaniac failure that mainly through some magic and slick propaganda skills got mass support. The overall image of the biography/book that remains is that it is an accessible, well-written work - not without humour - giving good historical contexts and some information on the complexities of Garvey. On the other hand..also that it is not much more than introductory and should have been written by an established scholar/academic. Not all reviewers say this last thing so directly, but if these reviewers can exaggerate or simplify complexity in such much read newspapers and journals – and several do -, I can do the same regarding them..

Negro with a hat: the rise and fall of Marcus Garvey: Colin Grant . – 530 p. – Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN: 0-19-536794-4, 978-0-19-536794-2

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