Archives for posts with tag: soul on ice

After reading a couple of James Baldwin’s books, I began experiencing that continuous delight one feels upon discovering a fascinating, brilliant talent on the scene, a talent capable of penetrating so profoundly into one’s own little world that one knows oneself to have been unalterably changed and liberated, liberated from the frustrating grasp of whatever devils happen to possess one. Being a Negro, I have found this to be a rare and infrequent experience, for few of my black brothers and sisters here in America have achieved the power, which James Baldwin calls his revenge, which outlasts kingdoms: the power of doing whatever cats like Baldwin do when combining the alphabet with the volatile elements of his soul.

(And, like it or not, a black man, unless he has become irretrievably “white-minded,” responds with an additional dimension of his being to the articulated experience of another black–in spite of the universality of human experience.)


The murder of Malcolm X, the exile of Robert F. Williams, who was forced to flee to Cuba with the combined terrors of the F BI and the minions of Southern justice-snapping at his heels, and the exile of the late W.E.B. DuBois, who, in the sunset of a valiant life, made three symbolic gestures as a final legacy to his people (renouncing his American citizenship, “returning” to Africa to become a citizen of Ghana, and cursing capitalism while extolling communism as the hope of the future)–these events on the one hand, and on the other hand the award of a Nobel Prize to Martin Luther King and the inflation of his image to that of an international hero, bear witness to the historical fact that the only Negro Americans allowed to attain national or international fame have been the puppets and lackeys of the white power structure–and entertainers and athletes.

One tactic by which the rulers of America have kept the bemused millions of Negroes in optimum subjugation has been a conscious, systematic emasculation of Negro leadership. Through an elaborate system of sanctions, rewards, penalties, and persecutions–with, more often than not, members of the black bourgeoisie acting as hatchet men–any Negro who sought leadership over the black masses and refused to become a tool of the white power structure was either cast into prison, killed, hounded out of the country, or blasted into obscurity and isolation in his own land and among his own people. His isolation was assured by publicity boycotts alternated with character assassination in the mass media, and by the fratricidal power plays of Uncle Toms who control the Negro community on behalf of the white power structure. The classic illustrations of this quash-the-black-militant policy are the careers of Marcus GHarvey, W.E.B. DuBois, and Paul Robeson.

– Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice

In America, we give maximum expression to our blood lust in the mass spectator sport of boxing. Some of us are Roman enough to admit our love and need of the sport. Others pretend to look the other way. But when a heavyweight championship fight rolls around, the nation takes a moral holiday and we are all tuned in–some of us peeping out of the corner of our eye at the square jungle and the animal test of brute power unfolding there.

Every institution in America is tainted by the mystique of race, and the question of masculinity is confused by the presence of both a “white” man and a “black” man here. One was the master and the other was the slave until a moment ago when they both were declared to be equal “men”; which leaves American men literally without a unitary, nationally viable self-image. Whatever dim vision of masculinity they have is a rough-and-ready, savage mishmash of violence and sexuality, a dichotomized exercise and worship of the physical force/submission to and fear of physical force–which is only one aspect of the broken-down relationship between men and women in America.

This is an era when the models of manhood and womanhood have been blasted to dust by social upheaval, as the most alienated males and females at the bottom of society move out of ‘their places” and bid for their right to be “man” and “woman” on an equal basis with the former masters and mistresses. These, in turn, are no longer seen by themselves and others as supermen and superwomen, but only as men and women like all other. And in this period of social change and sexual confusion, boxing, and the heavyweight championship in particular, serves as the ultimate test of masculinity, based on the perfection of the body and its use.

– Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice

In a culture that secretly subscribes to the piratical ethic of “every man for himself”–the social Darwinism of “survival of the fittest” being far from dead, manifesting itself in our rat race political system of profit and loss, and in our dog-eat-dog economic system of profit and loss, and in our adversary system of justice wherein truth is secondary to the skill and connections of the advocate–the logical culmination of this ethic, on a person-to-person level, is that the weak are seen as the natural and just prey of the strong.

But since this dark principle violates our democratic ideals and professions, we force it underground, out of a perverse national modesty that reveals us as a nation of peep freaks who prefer the bikini to the naked body, the white lie to the black truth, Hollywood smiles and canned laughter to a soulful Bronx cheer.

The heretical mailed fist of American reality rises to the surface in the velvet glove of our every institutionalized endeavor, so that each year we, as a nation, grind through various cycles of attrition, symbolically quenching the insatiable appetite of the de facto jungle law underlying our culture, loudly and unabashedly proclaiming to the world that “competition” is the law of life, getting confused, embarrassed, and angry if someone retorts: “Competition is the Law of the Jungle and Cooperation is the Law of Civilization.”

Our mass spectator sports are geared to disguise, while affording expression to, the acting out in elaborate pageantry of the myth of the fittest in the process of surviving. From the Little League to the major leagues, through the orgiastic climax of the World Series; from high school football teams, through the college teams, to the grand finale of the annual bowl washouts; interspersed with the subcycles of basketball, track, and field meets–all of our mass spectator sports give play to the basic cultural ethic, harnessed and sublimated into national-communal pagan rituals.

But there is an aspect of the crystal of our nature that eschews the harness, scorns sublimation, and demands to be seen in its raw nakedness, crying out to us for the sight and smell of blood. The vehemence with which we deny this obvious fact of our nature is matched only by our Victorian hysteria on the subject of sex. Yet we deny it in vain.

Whether we quench our thirst from the sight of a bleeding Jesus on the Cross, from the ritualized sacrifice in the elevation of the Host and the consecration of the Blood of the Son, or from bullfighting, cockfighting, dogfighting, wrestling, or boxing, spiced with our Occidental memory and heritage of the gladiators of Rome and the mass spectator sport of the time of feeding Christians and other enemies of society to the lions in the Coliseum–whatever the mask assumed by the impu8lse, the persistent beat of the drum over the years intones the chant: Though Dracula and Vampira must flee the scene with the rising of the sun and the coming of the light, night has its fixed hour and darkness must fall. And all the lightbulbs ever fashioned, and all the power plants generating electricity, have absolutely no effect on the primeval spinning of the earth in its orbit.

– Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice

A young white today cannot help but recoil from the base deeds of his people. On every side, on every continent, he sees racial arrogance, savage brutality toward the conquered and subjugated people, genocide; he sees the human cargo of the slave trade; he sees the systematic extermination of American Indians; he sees the civilized nations of Europe fighting in imperial depravity over the land sof other people–and over possession of the very people themselves. There seems to be no end to the ghastly deeds of which his people are guilty. GUILTY. The slaughter of the Jews by the Germans, the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese people–these deeds weigh heavily upon the prostrate souls and tumultuous consciences of the white youth. The white heroes, their hands dripping with blood, are dead.

The young whites know that the colored people of the world, Afro-Americans included, do not seek revenge for their suffering. They seek the same things the white rebel wants: an end to war and exploitation. Black and white, the young rebels are free people, free in a way that Americans have never been before in the history of their country. And they are outraged.

Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice

I realized that no one could save me but myself. The prison authorities were both uninterested and unable. I had to seek out the truth and unravel the snarled web of my  motivations. I had to find out who I am and what I want to be, what type of man I should be, and what I could do to become the best of which I was capable. I understood that what had happened to me had also happened to countless other blacks and it would happen to many, many more.

I learned that I had been taking the easy way out, running away from problems. I also learned that it is easier to do evil than it is to do good.

 – Eldridge Cleaver