In Margaret Laurence's prose . . . we see the need for asserting identity through language. This applies to a nation's need to name its own songs, themes, and character in its own distinct language, and to a person's need to say, this is who I am (or in collective oral traditions, as are most by implication, "this is who we are"). And by discussing [Laurence] we move closer to the motives of the African American writer and many other minority and Third World writers in their usually more manifest anddeliberate use of oral traditions and folklore to achieve and asserta distinctive aesthetic and literary voice. (7)Like Jones, many African-American intellectuals explore the similarities between African-American culture and other postcolonial cultures. Indeed, Abdul R. JanMohamed and David Lloyd opine that "Afro-American culture . . . can function as a paradigm of minority cultures" (5).
Conservative parties seek to promote free markets, while at the same time defending "traditional values." It is hard to think of a more quixotic enterprise. Free markets are the most potent solvent of tradition at work in the world today. (4)Yet, if traditional socialism and conservatism cannot restrain neoliberalism, then what is left? (No pun intended.) One possible answer is spelled out in John Fraser's America and the Patterns of Chivalry (1982), where he argues for the continued salience of codes of honour in political action: "The various chivalric-martial syntheses . . . make effective, high-energy combat easier, whether on behalf of so-called traditional or so-called radical principles" (231). I feel that X and Davis illustrate, despite their flaws, the possibility for the revitalization of non-sexist and life-enhancing chivalric-martial concepts such as virtue, gallantry, and honour, all of which can be used to "fight the powers that be." But my other major reason for wishing to reactivate these concepts is that they continue to motivate many black males, including intellectuals. See, here, African-American writer Gerald Early's recent reflections on Muhammad Ali and his importance to Early's youth:
. . . I saved my paper route money and simply bought a bat, the best bat I could find, a genuine Louisville Slugger, the first one I ever owned. . . . I carefully carved, scratched, really, into the bat the word "Ali". . . . I just slung it on my shoulder like the great weapon it was, my knight's sword. And I felt like some magnificent knight, some great protector of honor and virtue, whenever I walked on the field with it. I called the bat "the Great Ali." (14)
Laura never again came to the drugstore as long as I continued to work there. The next time I saw her, she was a wreck of a woman, notorious around black Roxbury, in and out of jail. . . . Defying her grandmother, she had started going out late and drinking liquor. This led to dope, and that to selling herself to men. Learning to hate the men who bought her, she also became a Lesbian. One of the shames I have carried for years is that I blame myself for all of this. (Autobiography 68)If Laura signifies the decline of a black woman, especially in the absence of the 'correct,' heterosexual bonding, other black women appear bestialized. X tells of dancing with Mamie Bevels, "a big, rough, strong gal, [who] lindied like a bucking horse" (Autobiography 64). Recalling his Detroit Red, pimp-hustler lifestyle, X sketches a New York City dominatrix as "a big, coal-black girl, strong as an ox, with muscles like a dockworker's" who would grease "her big Amazon body all over to look shinier and blacker" (Autobiography 119), using terms that foresee those of writer Eldridge Cleaver, a chief, late-1960s proponent of black patriarchal chic.  X also treated Sophia parasitically, confessing that "even when I had hundreds of dollars in my pocket, when [Sophia] came to Harlem I would take everything she had short of her train fare back to Boston" (Autobiography 135). He justifies this behaviour by blaming the victim: "It seems that some women love to be exploited" (Autobiography 135). X would also "slap [Sophia] around," for "every once in a while a woman seems to need, in fact wants this" (Autobiography 135, his italics).  Joining the Nation of Islam did not alter X's gendered vision. As Harlem-based Minister Malcolm X, he was notorious for his anti-woman oratory, the catalyst for which he cited as "personal reasons": "I'd had too much experience that women were only tricky, deceitful, untrustworthy flesh" (Autobiography 226). For most of the Autobiography, X is a figure whose inchoate, revolutionary, political consciousness is bounded and circumscribed by retrograde notions regarding half of the African-American community.
Most of them are in competition with you, no matter what you do for them. . . . Most white women tend to treat a man better than a black woman does, because most white women don't have those [psychological] hangups that black women have. I know this is going to make a lot of black women mad but that's just the way I see it.Davis's vision of African-American women differs little from that of Cleaver's Accused. White women fare better. Recalling his affaire de coeur with French chanteuse Juliette Gréco, Davis eyes her as a fetishized object: Gréco "was just so fine ... long black hair, beautiful face, small, stylish" (126), "probably the first woman that I loved as an equal human being" (127). But when, as an addict, he met Gréco in New York City in 1954, Davis went "into my black pimp role," asks her for money, and, as he was leaving, yelled, "'Aw, bitch, shut up; I told you I would call you later!'" (185-186). Though Davis claims, "I didn't hate women; I loved them, probably too much" (336), his attitudes echo X's phallocentric reasoning.
See, a lot of black women see themselves as teachers or mothers when it comes to a man. They've got to be in control. (401) 
Many phallic elements persisted in Davis's playing, including spikes into the upper register, fast runs throughout the range of the instrument, and an often exaggerated feel for climaxes. He was also conspicuous in refusing to develop an ingratiating performance persona, often turning his back on audiences, ignoring their applause, and leaving the stage when other musicians were soloing. (110-111)In addition, his public postures comprised "carefully crafted performances" (Major and Billson 4)--the essence of cool.
Of all the men who emerged heroic from battlefields in the Civil War to capture my imagination, only one wore a Yankee uniform. All the rest were Confederates. . . . They were Jeb Stuart and Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.Michael Eric Dyson provides a more orthodox African-American conception of chivalry, observing that, during slavery, "heroes were seen as figures who resisted racial dominance through slave insurrections, plantation rebellions, work slowdowns, or running away" (147). One such figure, escaped slave Frederick Bailey, derived his new, now-famous surname, "Douglass," from the Scottish chieftain-hero of Sir Walter Scott's medievally-situated, metrical romance, The Lady of the Lake (1810).  Not surprisingly, then, given his chivalric predilections, Douglass, in his slave narrative, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, accents his fistic triumph over Covey, a slavebreaker, for it teaches him that "a man without force is without the essential dignity of humanity" (142-143). In addition, his only published short story, significantly titled "The Heroic Slave" (1853), is the fictionalized account of the historical 1841 mutiny aboard the slave ship Creole. Countenancing the use of violence to eliminate oppression, the story elaborates a theme that was sounded, according to Ronald T. Takaki, throughout Douglass's texts: "In order to protect himself and redeem his humanity and in order to bring an end to a world of might and slavery and usher in a world of softness and freedom, [one] was compelled to act masculinely, to use violence against his male oppressors" (32-33). Gilroy finds that, for Douglass, "the slave actively prefers the possibility of death to the continuing condition of inhumanity on which plantation slavery depends" (63). Yet, this salve of violence--the currency of liberty--"involved not only the possible destruction of white kinfolk and friends trapped in a masculin[ist] system . . . ," Takaki relates, "but also the abandonment of the virtues of gentleness and love Douglass admired in women . . . and needed to be human" (33, his italics). Takaki highlights a suggestive paradox in Douglass's endorsement of violence: If black masculinity must be redeemed by massacreing the white patriarchs who ordain slavery, must civilizing 'feminine'--or simply human--values of tenderness and softness perish in that sanguine catastrophe?
Forget for a moment the cause for which they fought. They were romantic figures to me. They were outmanned and outgunned and still they managed to avoid defeat during four long years of war. At times they seemed on the edge of victory. They were bold and flamboyant, they were brave and they were lucky. They were passionate about a cause, albeit an unworthy cause, and they had a valor about them that the inept Northern soldiers seemed to lack. (153)
Despite his dislike of failure, Davis constantly and consistently put himself at risk in his trumpet playing, by using a loose, flexible embouchure that helped him to produce a great variety of tone colors and articulations, by striving for dramatic gestures rather than consistent demonstration of mastery, and by experimenting with unconventional techniques. Ideally, he would always play on the edge and never miss; in practice, he played closer to the edge than anyone else and simply accepted the inevitable missteps, never retreating to a safer, more consistent performing style. (176)Just as the black jazz musician can create radically new sounds, so can black people devise new political and social theories.  There may be a productive alliance between cool/chivalric codes and a jazz aesthetic promoting adaptability, syntheses, and innovation.
Black kids were listening to Sly Stone, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and all them other great black groups at Motown. After playing a lot of these white rock halls I was starting to wonder why I shouldn't be trying to get to young black kids with my music. They were into funk, music they could dance to. It took me a while to really get into the concept all the way, but with this new band I started to think about it. (320)One result of this rethinking was On the Corner (1972), an album which inaugurated the jazz-fusion movement,  and which represented Davis's bid for popularity with a younger audience. "'I don't care who buys the records,'" Davis confided to Melody Maker, "'as long as they get to the black people so I will be remembered when I die'" (qtd. in Milkowski 5). Williams also hypes Davis's "re-engagement with black street styles, either musical (funk-based) or sartorial . . ." (11). Both men invested themselves in communicating with--and learning from--their key audience, a leadership technique in dire need of resurrection.
Miles Davis and Scott Gutterman, The Art of Miles Davis (1991). Back
More tributes to Davis than to Coltrane are likely to be produced in the future as black neo-nationalists and 'Generation X' artists find in Davis the symbol that the 'Baby Boom' generation's nationalists and artists found in Coltrane. Jazz critic Richard Williams praises Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Coltrane, for their several achievements, "but," he continues on to opine hagiographically, "Miles Davis was somehow more than this" (10). "Like Ali and Picasso, he was much larger than his chosen medium" (10). Back
Adolph Reed Jr. argues that X "appealed to the urban male sensibility that associated failure to fight back with cowardliness" (230) and that he remains popular with contemporary youth "in part because he was attractive to young people when he was alive" (208). Williams locates the attractiveness of Davis in his image as "the elegant outsider," as "the symbol of jazz as the hipster's music" (10). Significantly, too, both men represent the city, "the locale of cool," the site "where black popular styles are born" (Jeffries 159). Back
The favour has been returned, for male, African-American youth have perpetuated the popularity of both men. Black youth, Theresa Perry states, are those "who canonized The Autobiography of Malcolm X as the quintessential post-colonial text and the contemporary urban slave narrative" (1). African-American youth have also canonized Davis's On the Corner. "Universally dismissed by critics and colleagues alike when it was released in 1972," says jazz critic Bill Milkowski, it has been embraced by, circa 1992, "a generation of angry, alienated musical renegades who took to those proto-punk-funk grooves like yuppies to happy jazz" (3). Back
Such a movement should respond to the critique suggested by my friend, Jacqueline Barclay, that, in the 1960s, "the Left chose justice, the Right chose morality," as their respective motivations. Any new progressive movement must reject this false division. Back
In stating this intention, I am not unaware that, as Michael Friedly judges, "political groups from all across the spectrum have been able to seize portions of Malcolm X's beliefs and claim them as their own . . . " (213). Indeed, Michael Eric Dyson has "identified at least four Malcolms who emerge in the intellectual investigations of his life and career: Malcolm as hero and saint, Malcolm as a public moralist, Malcolm as victim and vehicle of psychohistorical forces, and Malcolm as revolutionary figure judged by his career trajectory from nationalist to alleged socialist" (24). His name has become an exponent--X to the tenth power--of multiplying agendas. In reading X--and Davis--in the pragmatic terms I propose, I also demand a critical interrogation of their contradictions, lacunae, and outright nastiness. Back
My critique of X's representation of women is indebted to Collins's invaluable essay, "Learning to Think for Ourselves: Malcolm X's Black Nationalism Reconsidered" (59-85). Back
X's imagery shadows the stock "'strong self-reliant Amazon'" black woman who "'secretly hates black men'" and "'love[s] white men'" (151, 148), limned by The Accused, a character in Cleaver's "The Allegory of the Black Eunuchs," in his Soul on Ice (1968). Back
Though one should like to dismiss these observations as the pinched thought of the pre-freelance, public intellectual X, one must note that they are given in the present-tense, suggesting that X held these antediluvian views at least as late as early 1963, when his collaboration with Haley commenced. Back
According to The Accused in Cleaver's "The Allegory of the Black Eunuchs," "'there is a war going on between the black man and the black woman, which makes her the silent ally, indirectly but effectively, of the white man'" (151). Back
See her classic exposé of black male chauvinism, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (1979). Back
To verify this assertion, insert any taxonomy of rap videos and recordings here, and virtually any selection of recent, urban-oriented African-American films, including John Singleton's Boyz in the Hood (1991) and, of course, Lee's X (1992), with its gangsta Kitsch, racial epiphanies, and ludic, Othello-esque replication of sad, race-gender stereotypes. Back
X was one of the last political orators of the say-what-you-mean, mean-what-you-say school, prior to the onset of what Canadian writer B.W. Powe pronounces the "Age of Angelism," an era in which "issues dissolve; attention is on a politician's pose; orgasmic drives determine victories; media attention turns into cinema; reportage into gossip and opinion; people into stereotypes; debate and analysis into received opinion and spectacle" (108). In our Common Era, politics seem to evaporate in the glare of television lights, leaving only ephemeral slogans and fake poses. Back
Jazz critic Pete Welding underscores the revolutionary nature of the twelve tracks recorded by the Miles Davis Nonet in 1949 and partially released by Capitol that same year (a full release did not occur until 1957):
There can be little doubt that the [group], through the example of its disciplined, lucid, quietly audacious music, introduced to jazz a refreshing new musical sensibility which helped set it on a new course of development. The implications of the approach signaled in its recordings have carried jazz through several decades of sustained growth and creative discovery, influenced countless groups, musicians and arrangers, and altered the very fabric of the music itself (6). Back
X and Davis are even more valuable as heroes in an age when black males are social metaphors for crime and, in accordance with that favourite, historical stereotype, sexual deviance. X and Davis transcend such reductive limits. Back
See Douglass's My Bondage and My Freedom (343). Back
See Frank Kofsky, Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music (1970), 65-66. Kofsky also reports, intriguingly, that he attended a 1963 rally in Los Angeles at which X's appearance "was preceded by 45 minutes of jazz from the organ trio of Groove Holmes." In his opening remarks, X then made "explicit reference to the music . . , saying that he had been in the back of the auditorium patting his foot while Holmes was on stage" (256). Back
Milkowski writes that "On the Corner offended and angered more people than any other album in Miles Davis' lengthy discography" (3). In his Autobiography, Davis admits that "old-time jazz people" rejected the album, but it had not been "made for them" anyway: "The music was meant to be heard by young black people . . ." (328). Its avant-garde nature also reflects the band's "settl[ing] down into a deep African thing, a deep African-American groove, with a lot of emphasis on drums and rhythm, and not on individual solos" (329). Finally, the last track on the recording, "Mr. Freedom X," might allude to Malcolm X. Back
Such values need generate no sexism. Philosopher Mark Kingwell posits that "[male] self-control, the ability to withstand pain, and athletic prowess are things to be proud of; they have no necessary connection to oppressing women" (136-137, his italics). Back
Progressive use of these two men has begun. Sue Coe's X (1986), her collection of neo-expressionist paintings envisioning a fascistic USA, reads X, somewhat ahistorically, as anti-racist, anti-capitalist, and anti-sexist. Cornel West imagines a powerful X whose flexible, improvisational politics render him a model "jazz freedom fighter," one who stresses "the interplay of individuality and unity" (57), a description which can apply equally to Davis. Imani Perry asks, "should we not support Malcolm, the folk Malcolm, the legendary Malcolm, to ease our pain and foster our activism?" (185) Twenty years after the release of Davis's On the Corner, Milkowski sees, "a whole new generation of punk-funksters hungry for these subversive sounds" (7). Back
Incidentally, it is time to extend rap/hip hop music such a consideration. In defence of this music, Marvin J. Gladney argues that it has remained true to "many of the convictions and aesthetic criteria that evolved out of the Black Arts Movement of the '60s, including calls for social relevance, originality, and a focused dedication to produce art that challenges American mainstream artistic expression" (291). This new, youth- and urban-oriented music has brought "much needed dialogue to issues affecting America's Black community in a manner that no popular art form has . . ." (291). Rap groups which attempt to raise social consciousness as well as noise levels include De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Public Enemy. Back