- The Cambridge Companion to Malcolm X ed. by Robert E. Terrill
With the recent publication of Manning Marable’s important and controversial biography of Malcolm X, the politics of representation in work about Malcolm X is a crucial part of the national nonconversation about cross-racial [End Page 476] communication and the retreat from racial equity. The opening page of this book describes itself as presenting “new perspectives on Malcolm X’s life and legacy in a series of specially commissioned essays by prominent scholars from a range of disciplines.” The book’s intention is to be “a source of information on his life, career and influence and as an innovative substantive scholarly contribution in its own right, the book also includes an introduction, a chronology of the life of Malcolm X, and a guide to further reading.” Contributor and editor Robert Terrill, in his Introduction to the volume’s fourteen individually authored chapters, after summarizing each, ends by insisting on several crucial points: in spite of many transformations, Malcolm “never abandoned his commitment to Islam, a religion that has been denigrated repeatedly since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon”; Malcolm “never endorsed simple assimilation”; he “never described the political system in the United States as anything other than thoroughly and institutionally corrupt”; finally, “as long as there remains a racial hierarchy, the model of personal and political development that Malcolm X presents will remain relevant” (9).
In Claude Clegg’s dynamic first chapter of the book, “Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad,” he explains the deep fictive kinship of the two men and the crucial ways in which each required the other’s influence to do his work. What finally broke the relationship was not simply the jealousy toward Malcolm of the Nation of Islam’s inner circle in Chicago, however deep, or the surveillance and misinformation campaign of the FBI, however effective, and Elijah’s “creeping conservatism” (20), as Malcolm’s militant transnational commitments strengthened. What finally and fully broke the relationship was Malcolm’s embracing of Sunni Islam, since Elijah Muhammad feared that his groomed successor—seventh son Wallace—was moving in the same direction, a path that would discredit the Nation of Islam as a “Muslim” group, and make Elijah’s claim to being the “Messenger of Allah” false, in the eyes of the thereby expanding international and orthodox Islam.
In chapter eight, “Malcolm X and youth culture,” Richard Brent Turner explores the “progressive political and religious legacy that Malcolm X created in the last year of his life” (101). Turner pursues this analysis by exploring the antiracist rapping of the “transnational Pan-African ‘hip hop umma,’ a version of the Muslim umma—the global community of Islam that Malcolm experienced during his hajj” (103). Often, the raps focus on the international and multiracial elements of Malcolm’s experience of the hajj. The pan-African hip hop umma is transnational in its focus and commitment, and so, not surprisingly, it demonstrates the “ascendancy of Sunni Islam in black youth culture” (102), rather than the race-based theology of the Nation of Islam, or its splinter group, the Five Percenters.
In “Womanizing Malcolm X,” Sheila Radford-Hill does a fascinating job of helping us see the “impact of women’s agency on his life and work” (64) and “gender as a unit of analysis in the politics of black radicalism” (65). The Nation of Islam’s ideal of women as “nurturers practicing virtue, modesty, and humility” (67) became increasingly complicated in Malcolm’s consciousness in the last years of his life, especially through his visits to Africa where he met women “whose leadership skills gave them professional opportunities and influence in African affairs of state” (67). Radford-Hill insists that Malcolm “remade his masculine subjectivity in ways that allowed him to see women as agents of social change” (68). One powerful piece of evidence for this claim of Malcolm’s moving toward gender equality, is that two months before his murder, he introduced Fannie Lou Hamer as “one of the world...