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Betty Shabazz by Russell J. Rickford
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Betty Shabazz

by Russell J. Rickford

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Took me awhile to get through these 548 pages, but it was never once boring, and that number speaks to the depth of Rickford's detailed interpretation, analysis, and amount of sources. Although he assisted [[Manning Marable]] in Marable's work on Malcolm X, Rickford is a respected and experienced scholar in his own right and an expert in African Politics.

I so appreciate the comprehensiveness of this work. My old Theory of Personality psych prof would have seen this as a great book for applying theory and analysis to the subject of Dr. Betty Shabazz' personal development. I did not find Dr. Shabazz likeable early in the story, and the beauty of a comprehensive work is often the reader's chance to see growth and develop empathy. It would also make a good case study of the effects of trauma on both individuals and families and an excellent subject for a genogram to see how these patterns repeat through generations.

By necessity, to support his analysis, Rickford went deeply into African American as well as African politics and thought. I am so happy to have developed a better understanding for example, of the differences between Malcolm X' philosophy and that of Martin Luther King, Jr. I have thought a lot and read a lot about non-violence as a political tool compared to other methods and am trying to come to some stance on that. I think after reading this book that I have done that by combining both ideas and seeing that of course different strategies are effective with different people and in different situations. I've rather hero worshipped Malcolm X since reading his autobiography, but now have a more mature appreciation of him as a whole person I believe.

With this background, Rickford was then able to analyze Dr. Shabazz' growth and transitions with deeper understanding.

As I said previously, I did not take to Shabazz initially. She appeared pretty narcissistic as a child, which would be consistent with someone who experienced trauma before the age of three, which she likely did. She was abandoned by her birth mother, and perhaps wrested away by foster parents who were then consistently there for her as parents. She seems to have actually been active in inserting herself into their lives, which is consistent with her later survival behavior. I believe this relationship with this couple prevented her from continuing down the road to total obnoxious narcissism and helped her to develop further. However, as is often the case with abused or neglected children, Dr. Shabazz moved toward a man and movement (The Nation of Islam) that were very fundamentally based in early cognitive developmental stages of black and white thinking. (This choice would also be consistent for Malcolm who also experienced much childhood as well as adult trauma.) Trauma typically brings cognitive development to a screeching halt until there is an opportunity for healing.

Shabazz' experiences with Malcolm and others pushed her further in her political and philosophical development, tempered with her own narcissism, which I personally think paid off for her and her children. I think these things were the basis for her intellectual development as well as her determination to survive and protect her children. Because as we know, there was much more trauma to come. The Shabazz familiy experienced unbelievable amounts of betrayal, fire bombing of their home, witnessing the murder of their husband and father and more. It did not stop there as threats on their lives and unending harassment continued.

Once again, the strong bonds in their African community and family members helped to support and sustain this family as their mother was able to both protect her family and get herself into a position to be able to support her family financially. Of course we parents cannot protect our children from life, and her children would express their trauma in their own ways, as did other children of Civil Rights activists. Shabazz' daughter Qubilah ended up in court facing a charge of conspiring to kill one of the men (Farrakhan) who she believed was partly responsible for her father's murder. That has of course been topic enough for many other books, but there is enough here to further convince me personally, that this death was the result of collaboration between the FBI and the Nation of Islam. The records supporting the harassment by the FBI have been released by the FBI itself. Additionally the person whom Qubilah was supposedly hiring admitted to being paid off himself by the FBI to attempt to entrap Qubilah. Shabazz sees that the only hope for her daughter is a perceived reconciliation between Shabazz and her archenemy Farrakhan, who publicly supports the child of his enemy and she makes this happen. This also involves healing some of the differences between the philosophies of Malcolm X and MLK and their intellectual heritage.

In one last trauma, Shabazz' death is caused by a fire set by her grandson, the son of Qubilah. On her deathbed she gives us one last important message, that we must not only forgive, but look for our own part in creating the actions of our children. The parallels between the lives of her grandson and her husband are very strong.

This book was emotionally evocative for me through the horror of the murder of Malcolm X as well as the triumph spiritually of Dr. Shabazz. There is so much more to this book than I can even begin to touch on. Just READ IT! Five stars. ( )
4 vote mkboylan | Aug 15, 2013 |
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Profiles Betty Shabazz's life before, during, and after her marriage to Malcolm X, exploring her efforts to move beyond the often extraordinary personal tragedy touching her and her family.

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