“Ironies of the Saint”
Malcolm X, Black Women, and the
Price of Protection
Farah Jasmine Griffin
This essay grows out of two concerns: First, the re-rise of what I want to call a “promise of protection” as a more progressive counter discourse to elements of misogyny in black popular culture; second, my feeling that the emergence of Malcolm X as an icon of younger African Americans requires a serious and sustained examination and engagement of all aspects of his legacy. Malcolm X has not been the subject of a black feminist critique in the way that Richard Wright or Miles Davis have been. When I looked to black feminist thinkers who have written on Malcolm, few of them were as critical of his views on women as I had expected. Patricia Hill Collins, Barbara Ransby, and Tracye Matthews are among the few to call attention to Malcolm's gender politics.1
Black women are reluctant of being critical of Malcolm X: theirs is a reluctance born from the desire not to have such a critique co-opted by those who already hold him in contempt and disdain and a reluctance grounded in the genuine love, respect, and reverence that many black women have for Malcolm. I must admit that even as I write this essay, I share this reluctance, for there are few black male leaders whom I hold in as much esteem as I do Malcolm. Nonetheless, while I recognize Malcolm to be a man of his times and a man with tremendous capacity for growth, I am disturbed by any tendency to uncritically adopt his political and rhetorical stance, particularly around gender.
In this essay I will articulate some of the reasons why so many black women, even black feminists, appreciate and revere Malcolm