Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America
by Bruce Perry
Publisher: Station Hill Press; 1st Edition edition (26 Sept. 1991)
This huge book has 380 pages of text, 25 of introduction contents, and pictures of Malcolm X at the beginning and the end of his ministry as a Muslim minister, 128 pages of notes, eleven pages of bibliography, nine of people interviewed, two of acknowledgements, another 11 of index, a page of photographic acknowledgements, another pic of Malcolm reading, and lastly, eight glossy plates with 13 photographs.
An exhaustive biography you might think, but while we get the chronology of his life, Malcolm X, (born ‘Little’) is still an indistinct figure at the end. This is possibly because he became a great speaker, but Perry reproduces rather little of his speeches, sermons, or debates. Malcolm seems to have been the man who made the NOI (Nation of Islam), which was just another wacky American sect before he converted. It was confined to the Chicago area until he took the East Coast in hand.
The East Coast meant New York, with its enormous Black population centred on Harlem, but he opened mosques (called ‘temples’ by NOI) from New England down to Atlanta, Georgia. He was also in charge of the temple in Los Angeles, on the West Coast. Malcolm’s work made the leadership of NOI fabulously rich, especially ‘the Messenger, Elijah Muhammed’, and his family. Malcolm helped set up the journal Muhammed Speaks, another money-spinner.
When he could no longer ignore the financial (and sexual) chicanery, Malcolm denounced it (he was straining against NOI’s political absence from the Civil Rights struggle). The journal was used to traduce him, and openly called for his assassination. This came on Sunday, February 21st, 1966 – the killers being acknowledged members of the Nation of Islam.
This book is of interest to the general reader, but, in Bruce Perry’s bibliography is found “Socarides, Charles W Homosexuality, J Aronson Inc, 1978 – yes Malcom ws ‘family’. From his very early teens until his thirties, he engaged in homosex: at two different schools he got a name as a “sissy”, and also had, in effect, a ‘camp name’, Madame Harpy”.
In his teens and twenties he swung wildly from sissified unatheicism to extremes of violent physical endeavour: football, basketball, boxing. In prison, even after his conversion, he liked to hang out with the athletes and bodybuilders.
Perry, quoting Socarides, gives us the old absent father and dominant mother business. He does not mention hi slove of guns and big cars, in his criminal day, the Freudian, phallic implications are ignored. So is his appalling attitude to women. As a crook, he lived off them, and enjoyed screwing white women, and having them seen on his arm. HIs wife, Betty Shabazz (a professional, before converting to the Nation of Islam) was treated distantly, even cruelly. Admittedly, Malcolm’s attitudes began to change after he broke with Elijah Muhammed, and the NOI, and wasn’t much different from other men’s in the 1940s to ’60s period.
If Ravel can be recruited into the ‘family’ on the strength of one song, Malcolm surely can be on the strength of many years of dedicated homosexuality.