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Clearly the abuse of the Black female body acts as a means to an end, a type of cultural production in

which Cleaver's manhood, his sense of self-worth, is established and articulated. I would be wrong, however,

to suggest that Cleaver's ultimate goal is to possess and abuse white female bodies. 




Books by Eldridge Cleaver


Soul on Ice Post-Prison Writings and Speeches  / Target Zero; A Life in Writing  / Conversation with Eldridge Cleaver


Being Black / Education and Revolution / Eldridge Cleaver  / Eldridge Cleaver Is Free


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Tearing the Goat's Flesh 

By  Robert F. Reid-Pharr 


On Cleaver's Soul on Ice

Cleaver documents what has become one of the most recognizable, one might even say trite, markers of Black masculinity, incarceration.

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Cleaver's misogyny and homophobia have been chalked up to his male privilege and antiquated notions of what constitutes properly Black gender and sexual relations. 

To date no one has examined seriously Cleaver's tragicomic struggle to construct a Black heterosexuality, to finally rid the Black consciousness of the dual specters of effeminacy and interracial homoeroticism. One might argue, in fact, that Cleaver's woman hating and fag bashing were, for all his bravado, failed attempts to assert himself and the Black community as "straight."  

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[In Soul on Ice] Cleaver  confesses to having been a racially motivated rapist, perfecting his craft on the bodies of Black women before he "crossed the tracks" to seek out his "white prey." 

Clearly the abuse of the Black female body acts as a means to an end, a type of cultural production in which Cleaver's manhood, his sense of self-worth, is established and articulated. I would be wrong, however, to suggest that Cleaver's ultimate goal is to possess and abuse white female bodies. 

Again women act only as conduits by which social relations, relations that take place exclusively between men, are represented. Cleaver may indeed be raping Black and white women, but it is white men whom he intends to hurt.

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The peculiarity of Cleaver's twisted logic rests not so much in the fact that he saw sexual violence as an insurrectionary tool. On the contrary, the rape of women, is used regularly to terrorize and subdue one's "enemies." The difficulty in Cleaver's logic rests in the fact that he raped both white and Black women. Was he, I must wonder, seeking revenge on the white man when he violated poor, Black female residents of his quintessentially Black ghettos?

This question is not simply rhetorical. Cleaver himself argues that there is a tendency within some segments of the Black community to understand the Black woman as having collaborated, particularly through the vehicle of sex, with the white master. 

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Indeed Angela Davis attempts to contextualize this sentiment in her seminal essay, "Reflections on The Black Woman's Role in the Community of Slaves," Raping the Black woman could be interpreted, then, as an attack on the white man's stooge. The Black woman becomes the means of telegraphing a message of rage and resistance to the white male oppressor, a figure Cleaver recodifies as the Omnipotent Administrator.

It becomes clear that the ultimate target of Cleaver's sexual attacks is always the white man. Both white and Black women act as pawns in an erotic conversation between Cleaver and his white male counterparts. 

This fact is emblematically represented in an exchange between Cleaver and a white prison guard who enters Cleaver's cell, rips a picture of a voluptuous white woman from the wall, tears it to bits, and then leaves the pieces floating in the toilet for Cleaver to find upon his return. The guard later tells Cleaver that he will allow him to keep pictures of Black women, but not whites.  

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Cleaver's pin-up girl acts as not only a sign of interracial desire, but also a marker of his heterosexuality. This fact, which seems easy enough to understand, actually represents a deep contradiction within Cleaver's demonstration of the Black male heterosexual self. It points directly to the disjunction between the reality of the interracial homoerotic, homosexual environment, the prison, in which Cleaver actually lived and wrote and the fantasy of Black heterosexuality that he constructs in his narrative.

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He [Cleaver] spends some time in Soul on Ice describing the exchange of "love" letters between his lawyer, Beverly Axelrod, and himself. Strangely enough, there is little of Cleaver, the rapist, in these works. His love seemingly transcends the corporeal. By turns he describes Axelrod as a rebel and a revolutionary, a person of great intelligence, compassion, and humanity, a valiant defender of "civil rights demonstrators, sitiners, and the Free Speech students." And just at the moment when he has produced her as bodiless, transcendent saint he interjects,

I suppose that I should be honest, and before going any further, admit that my lawyer is a woman . . . a very excellent, unusual, and beautiful woman. I know that she believes that I do not really love her and that I am confusing a combination of lust and gratitude for love. Lust and gratitude I feel abundantly, but I also love this woman.[12]

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Yet Cleaver's description of his non-corporeal, non-funky love for Beverly Axelrod can only redouble upon itself. It directly challenges the claim that Cleaver's work is a product of the stark reality he has experienced. Cleaver has, much like the white man, the Omnipotent Administrator he so despises, excised his own penis, his lust, his physical self from the conversation.

The Omnipotent Administrator, having repudiated and abdicated his body, his masculine component which he has projected onto the men beneath him, cannot present his woman, the Ultrafeminine, with an image of masculinity capable of penetrating into the psychic depths where the treasure of her orgasm is buried.

Still even as Cleaver decries the bodilessness of the Omnipotent Administrator his love for Beverly Axelrod is no more physical than is the white man's for the ultrafeminine. Beverly Axelrod is unlike the victims of Cleaver's rapes in that she is all intellect and no body. The "sexual" passion between the two is even more rarefied than that of the Omnipotent Administrator and the Ultrafeminine because there is never even the promise of physical contact, raw sex, but only endless literary representations of their desire. Beverly Axelrod should be understood, then, as a fiction, or rather as the site of yet another fictional exchange. In this manner the idea of heterosexual normality becomes a sort of caricature of itself. The body gives way to the intellect, lust to love.  

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Perhaps the most telling moment . . . is Cleaver's confrontation with his white intellectual mentor, Chris Lovdjieff, a prison teacher and a man whom Cleaver describes as "The Christ." Lovdjieff introduces Cleaver to what the great novelists and playwrights had said of love. He reads poetry on the subject and plays his students tapes of Ashley Montagu then instructs them to write responsive essays. Cleaver writes that he cannot love whites, quoting Malcolm X as evidence:

How can I love the man who raped my mother, killed my father, enslaved my ancestors, dropped atomic bombs on Japan, killed off the Indians and keeps me cooped up in the slums? I'd rather be tied up in a sack and tossed into the Harlem River first.[14]

Lovdjieff responds in a fit of tears to what he takes to be a personal attack. Cleaver remarks, "Jesus wept" then leaves. Soon thereafter the San Quentin officials begin to curtail Lovdjieff's access to the prisoners, finally barring him from entry altogether.

The ideological work that the reenactment of this oedipal ritual accomplishes is both to detach Cleaver and his narrative from the deeply homoerotic relationship he maintains with Lovdjieff and to clear the way for a purely Black masculinity. It is important to remember here that the country was in the midst of rather striking changes in the manner in which the official "reality" of both race and sexuality were articulated. 

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I would suggest again that when Cleaver severs his ties with Lovdjieff he is helping to reestablish an ontological economy that would take racial difference as primary. The resolution of the crisis represented by their relationship leads to the renormalization of received racial thinking.

At the same time it is important to point out that the post-World War II period witnessed an incredible bifurcation in the means by which sexual desire was articulated and actualized. . . . the most prominent chroniclers of the Black urban male experience, including not only Cleaver, Baldwin and Thomas, but Claude Brown, Malcolm X, and Amiri Baraka all reference the increased visibility of the urban homosexual. 

What  I would argue, then, is that the homosexual, and in particular the racially marked homosexual, the Black homosexual, represented . . . .  [a] deep crisis, a crisis of identity and community that threw into confusion, if only temporarily, the boundaries of (Black) normality.

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On Baldwin's Another Country & Cleaver

The progress of Baldwin's early career might be narrated, in fact, as a series of successively more explicit and stark representations of the Black Abject, or as I will demonstrate below, the ghost of the homosexual. 

The whisper of adolescent longing for distant fathers and virile young men in Go Tell It on the Mountain gives way in Another Country to the tragically inverted "straight" man, Rufus, who, on the one hand, has passionate sex with his white girlfriend, a woman Cleaver refers to as a southern Jezebel, and, on the other, takes a white male southern lover, or again to quote Cleaver, "lets a white bisexual homosexual fuck him in the ass."

To be "fucked" by the white man is not simply to be overcome by white culture, white intellect, white notions of superiority. Nor can it be understood solely as the undeniable evidence of the desire to be white. Instead Cleaver's fear is that Baldwin opens up space for the reconstruction of the Black imaginary, such that the most sacrosanct of Black "truths" might be transgressed. 

The image of the white (male) southerner raping the (unwilling) Black woman resonates with a long history of African-American literature and lore in which the licentious white man acts as the absolute spoiler of Black desire. The image of the white (Southerner) "making love to" the Black man, however, throws all this into confusion.

On the one hand, we see a rescripting of Frederick Douglass's famous account of the whipping of his aunt Hester. The Black male subject is no longer able to remain, in the closet, as it were; instead he takes the woman's place on the joist, becoming himself the victim of the white man's scourge. On the other, it seems that the white man needs not force his "victim" at all. The reader cannot find comfort in the idea that the image of the white male "abuse" of the Black male body is but a deeper revelation of white barbarism. The Black subject willingly gives himself, becoming in the process the mirror image of the culpable female slave whom Angela Davis has described so ably. One might argue, in fact, that the spectacle of interracial homosexual desire puts such pressure on the ideological structures of the Black national literary tradition that it renders the continuation of the inside/out binarism nearly impossible.

Source: "Tearing the Goats Flesh: Homosexuality, Abjection and the Production of a Late Twentieth-Century Black Masculinity." Studies in the Novel, Fall 96, Vol. 28 Issue 3, p372, 23p   Also in Novel Gazing: Queer Readings in Fiction (1997)

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The Warmth of Other Suns

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Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man's turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners' plans to give him a "necktie party" (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by "the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn't operate in his own home town." Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively researched study of the "great migration," the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an "uncertain existence" in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.

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The White Masters of the World

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W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Home   Eldridge Cleaver Table   The Du Bois-Malcolm-King

Related files: Cleaver Bio   Retrospective on Soul on Ice By Sharif   Cleaver Speaks to Skip Gates   Tearing the Goats Flesh  Fire Last Time  James Baldwin   Notes of a Native Son   Sermons & Blues  Fire Last Time  

Ishmael Reed's Preface Maxwell Geismar's "Introduction"    Black Panther Platform & Program   Daniel Berrigan on Cleaver