Michael P. Jeffries reviews Les Payne and Tamara Payne’s book, “The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X,” in this week’s issue. In 1992, Michael Eric Dyson wrote for the Book Review about a select group of books that examine Malcolm X’s life.
In the face of the grim recurrence of a racism many thought was gone forever, the renewed popularity of Malcolm X has taken on new importance. The signs of his ascent all are a response to the current need for a confrontational stance toward this country’s continuing racism and the seductive mythology of the perfect Black man.
Thus it is that Malcolm X’s name no longer belongs to him, no longer refers simply to his tall body or to his short life. Like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm has come to mean more than himself. For some, he was an unreconstructed nationalist; for others, a man who wed his nationalist beliefs to socialist philosophy. Still others subject him to Marxist and Freudian analysis, while others emphasize his vocation as a public moralist. No matter how he is pigeonholed, his stature derives as much from his detractors’ exaggerated fears as from his admirers’ exalted hopes. He has become a divided metaphor: For those who love him, he is a powerful lens for self-perception, a means of sharply focusing political and racial priorities; for those who loathe him, he is a distorting mirror that reflects violence and hatred.