MAKING MALCOLM: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X by Michael Eric Dyson

MAKING MALCOLM: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X

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An intriguing but uneven essay on the enduring influence and image of Malcolm X, by the author of Reflecting Black (not reviewed). Dyson (Communications Studies/Univ, of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) prefaces his book with an arresting anecdote about leading a Malcolm X seminar at Brown University, where he publicly scolded black male students who imposed a ""racial litmus test"" to claim for themselves exclusive rights to Malcom's legacy (i.e., ""because I'm black, poor, male and angry, I understand him better than you""). Had Dyson drawn more frequently on classroom experiences, this book might have been energized. He first briefly sketches Malcolm's life and thought (avoiding lionization by noting his harsh attitudes toward women) and the complexity of his political evolution away from the Nation of Islam and black nationalism. Next comes a long assessment of the ""uncritical celebration and vicious criticism"" that mark so many books on Malcolm; Dyson identifies ""four Malcolms"" that emerge from these assessments: hero/saint; public moralist; victim and vehicle of psychohistorical forces; and revolutionary socialist. He then analyzes Malcolm's role in the resurgence of black nationalism, noting that his defiance has been adopted by tappers and other disaffected black youth. However, while calling for a ""new progressive black politics,"" Dyson doesn't analyze the role of the Nation of Islam or of black leaders like the Rev. Al Sharpton on the contemporary black political scene. His next chapter, on masculinity in 1990s black film, strays somewhat from his subject; more interesting is his take on Spike Lee's Malcolm X, which Dyson considers hagiographic but also ""often impressive...richly textured and subtly nuanced."" The book concludes with a heartfelt meditation on how to make the best use of Malcolm's legacy. Dyson calls for a more complex debate on the state of black males, suggesting that Malcolm's message of self-discipline and self-love might be redemptive. Not as rich as Joe Wood's collection, Malcolm X: In Our Own Image (not reviewed), but useful for serious students.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0195102851
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.