the bustling, revolutionary days of the sixties an angry young black
man published Soul on Ice. His name was Eldridge Cleaver. Within the
pieces among this collection of letters and essay Cleaver tells us that
after returning to prison he took a long look at himself and wrote to
save himself. But what was Cleaver saving himself from? Well perhaps
the brutal ramifications of segregation and a state of false
consciousness. Over 45 years later, does Soul on Ice have any
relevance, especially to young black men? I would argue that it does
but for the young it is a book that must be read with guidance and a
critical mind that would prevent the reader from taking the book fully,
without questioning its weaknesses.
The book is made up of letters and essays. The pieces are sometimes tender and loving, as in the letters to his solicitor with whom he falls in love, or brutally honest and outrageous. To put across his message about the conditions of black people in the sixties USA, Cleaver covers a range of topics such as: black consciousness, the Watts riots, soul food, the assassination of Malcolm X, Elizah Muhammed and the strife among black Muslins. However, the two most important and seminal essays for both black and white people are On Becoming and the Allegory of Black Eunuchs. The first deals with Cleaver's struggles to overcome his ambivalent feelings towards white people especially white women and the second dwells on the hopeless situation of the black male - effectively Cleaver sees black males as black eunuchs. In this essay relations between black and white males are driven by sexual politics.
One of the predominant themes that keep recurring in the book is the mind body distinction. It occurs in various guises: through issues to do with sexuality, psychology, sociologically, class structures and of course race. In other words, Cleaver appeared obsessed with the intellectual position of African Americans and appeared keen to dispel the myth that black people only succeed through the physical aspects of their being. He was highlighting a situation where whites believed they had a monopoly over the use of the intellect whilst black people could only show and use physical prowess. The message here that is relevant for today is that black people have to and must continue to dispel the stereotype that would say we can only deliver through our physical being.
An example of where a young black person reading Cleaver today must take an objective stance and see things for what they are, is where he links the fate of African Americans to the liberation of third world countries. Instead of liberation, some 45 years on where third world countries, especially in Africa, have made some economic progress they have largely done so by exploiting their people as cheap labour and oppressing their desires for democracy and freedom.
Being Black : Selections from "Soledad Brother" and "Soul on Ice" - George Jackson & Eldridge Cleaver
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