To the Editor:
Tamar Jacoby’s article, “The Bitter Legacies of Malcolm X” [February], was disappointing. . . . Miss Jacoby dismisses Spike Lee and the power of Malcolm’s philosophy in a way that is all-too-typical of someone white looking at the black community—without any deep empathy or understanding. That there are significant flaws in some of Lee’s movies, few would argue. But to say that his real talent lies in being a publicist is insulting. Miss Jacoby criticizes Lee’s effort to send a message to young black viewers. This, at a time when there is virtual agreement on all sides that young blacks need messages, role models, and older blacks to demonstrate concern for them. She laments the fact that Lee does not make clear whose side he is on, Malcolm’s or Martin Luther King’s. Why should he choose?
Miss Jacoby then descends into an ugly and unfair analysis. She says that Lee is carrying on an “old ghetto tradition”: being “bad enough” to appeal to blacks but reasonable enough to collect prizes from whites. This is undoubtedly a painful dilemma for the black artist. But why should being true to one’s artistic vision preclude recognition? Only because most of the forums of recognition are created by and for whites. As Paul Laurence Dunbar said so eloquently, . . . “yet do I marvel at this curious thing, to make a poet black and bid him sing.”
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