Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice. (New York: Dell Publishing (1968)192 pages.
A book Review by Ozodi Osuji
I read Eldridge Cleaver’s book, Soul on Ice during my undergraduate years in the 1970s. In those days I consumed most literature on African-American affairs and did not particularly pay much attention to what Eldridge was saying, for other folks did make the same points he made. Oh, I learned from him that James Baldwin who had been my idol was a homosexual. To cap Baldwin’s absurd life style, I learned that he was living with a white man. The man I had adored bent over and allowed a white man to stick his penis into his anus. The picture was so disgusting that I threw away all the books of James Baldwin that I had (why do I have such strong reaction to homosexuality; I suppose that I am just going to have to go lay on a psychoanalyst’s couch and spill my guts and let him figure it out for me). That piece of information was what stuck in my mind from reading Soul on Ice.
Two days ago, I was bored and did what I do when I am bored, go to bookstores, especially used bookstores and browse at books. Just looking at books excites me and makes me temporarily forget my troubles. I saw a used copy of Eldridge’s Soul on ice and bought it for a few cents. Upon getting home I lay on my couch and began reading the book. I read all night long. Upon coming home from work I continued reading until I read all 192 pages of it.
Look, man, if you have not read this book I strongly recommend that you read it. Eldridge was a genius; there is no doubt about that fact. God, he wrote the book when he was only thirty years old and showed amazing insights into what Gunner Myrdal called the American Dilemma. I don’t think that even in my fifties I have such insight into black- white issues that Eldridge had at thirty!
The book is a series of essays that were mostly written in 1965 while Eldridge was at California’s Folsom prison. At age twenty two, the brother was arrested with a bag of marijuana and sentenced to prison (before that he had served time in juvies, juvenile detention centers, kid jails). He practically lived at Folsom, San Quentin and Soledad prisons, the homes that white America built for young black Americans.
Of all the countries in the world, America has the largest percent of its people in prisons; as we speak there are over five million Americans, mostly black folks in prisons. I am sure that you already know that one out of four black American boys between ages 14-24 is either in prison or is supervised by parole and probation officers.
Americans idea of being helpful to those they enslaved for over 400 years is to send them to prisons for the most trivial offenses. The Christian Protestant Empire actually spends more money, over $35, 000 a year housing each black kid in prison than the miserly $6000 it spends a year providing education to each kid in public school.
Where should I begin reviewing this book? Look, I am not a writer and certainly not an artist and therefore in no way or shape able to write as beautifully as brother Eldridge did. In my judgment he is as good a writer as the best African American writers, including Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and the present crop of black writers. This brother’s writings are music to my ears; the poetic cadence of his sentences is so melodic that I felt like dancing to them. Just read him and find out what I mean. I cannot possibly do justice to this master of the English language, Eldridge.
Obviously, some of the essays appeal to my way of thinking and others do not. What I will do is focus on some of the essays. I will not review each essay but conflate what he said in some of them and respond to the theme that he was addressing.
Eldridge was obsessed with the dynamics of sex between white women and black men. His book could be considered a treatise on why black men want to have sex with white women. He posited what we might call sociological reasons for this phenomenon (he presupposes that it is bad). As he sees it, the white man presents his women as the epitome of female beauty and presents black women as ugly (along with black men, of course). Having told Americans that white women are gorgeous and dangled them before all American males, black males included, white America turns around and tells black men: you can look at those beautiful pictures of womanhood but if you dared touch them you would be lynched.
White America used to lynch black men for merely looking at white women in a sexual way, Emmitt Till is an example.
That which is forbidden is usually more attractive. Thus, white women have strong attraction to black men. Like white America, black America places white women on a pedestal and exalt them. Black men want to ravish “them white bitches” (Eldridge employed street, down and dirty language so to do him justice I will employ similar language, language that I do not normally employ).
Alas, when, in fact, black men have sex with white women they realize that they are just women; even their vagina smell like black women’s vagina. Now what? The spell of attraction, however, is so strong that black men still obsess for white women’s you know what and ignore black women’s you know what.
Eldridge was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1935. His parents moved to Los Angeles so he grew up in the ghettos of Los Angeles (South Central, Watts and Compton). Like other young men growing up in the dark ghettos of America, what folks outside the ghetto consider deviant behavior is normal. Black boys rape black girls. Eldridge had his share of raping black girls; in the ghetto that is no big deal. For our present purpose, Eldridge was not a spring chicken when it came to sex.
But guess what the brother did while in prison? In America’s prisons men either engage in homosexual sex or find other ways to relieve their sexual tension. The usual practice is for men to post on their cell walls nude female pictures and masturbate while looking at them. Eldridge naturally did what youths with raging hormones do: post a female picture on his cell wall.
One day, upon returning to his cell he noticed that someone had taken down his vicarious or surrogate wife tore it to pieces and dumped them into the commode. Upon inquiry the prison guard in charge of his cell block said that he did it. Why did he do it but did not take down other inmates pictures? He told Eldridge that he did it because the picture is that of a white female. He recommended that he should have the picture of a black female and if he did so the picture would not be taken down torn. It was at that moment that Eldridge said that he recognized that when given a choice he would prefer white women to black female. He felt embarrassed.
Is he alone in doing this sort of thing? Why not go find out. He did a little opinion survey of his fellow prison inmates and found that most of them preferred white women to black women. Good gracious, what the hell is going on here?
During the Brown versus Topeka, Kansas Board of Education hearing at the US Supreme Court, Kenneth Clark, a noted black psychologist had testified that in his experiments he found that black children preferred white dolls to black dolls and argued that this is a result of segregation and America’s teaching that white is better than black.
Eldridge became preoccupied with efforts to understand why black men prefer white women. As a political revolutionary he concluded that white society socialized him to internalize the notion that everything white is better than everything black. So, how does one liberate one’s self from this slavery, this admiration of the oppressor? He reasoned that since white women were exalted that he needed to de-exalt them. How do you accomplish this task? He resolved to do to them what he had been doing to his black sisters in the ghettos, rape them!
Upon release from prison Eldridge embarked on a spree of raping white women. He said that he did it to reduce them to nothing so as to eradicate their allure for him. In his mind he was raping his white masters and devaluing them. Naturally, he was caught and returned to prison. The brother was in and out of prisons from 1955 to 1965.
Did raping white women free Eldridge from his addiction to white pussies? Of course not. In one essay he talked how he hopelessly fell in love with his attorney, Beverly Axelrod, a white woman, of course.
Three years ago, Eldridge’s former wife wrote a biography of him and I read it and did a review of it. She is a professor of law at Yale University so I looked her up. She had said that she is black. What did I see? She is black alright but is whiter than most southern Europeans! Point: Eldridge still preferred white cunt to black cunt.
Many black middle class men do what Eldridge did. Martin Luther King married a fair complexioned black woman. In the ghetto, as Stockely Carmichael pointed out in his book “Black Power”, the black middle class men fall over each other seeking fair complexioned women, the ghetto queens. Stockely attended the black Harvard, Howard University in the heart of Washington DC ghetto. He was bemused watching those Franklyn Frazier called the Negro bourgeoisie trying to get their dungs into fair complexioned sisters pussies.
Jet black sisters are the left overs that no one wants to marry. This is the lay of the land till today. Life is unfair; black sisters have to pick from what is not picked. Tough!
As an aside, I observed that one of the shocks that African women who in Africa considered themselves beautiful upon coming to America experience is the realization that they are considered ugly. The shock is often too much for some of them to bear that they become psychotic. I have seen “Igbo jungle queens” experience psychotic decompensation and claim to be the wives of Jesus Christ (delusion disorder, Erotmania). That is to say that they are trying to tell themselves that they are beautiful in a world where they are seen as undesirable. The protruding asses of African women and their thick lips are the first things American men notice and find funny.
Nor is this problem restricted to black America. It also exists in Africa. My grandfather and grandmother were obviously mulattos. Some of their children are fair complexioned. When my senior brother, Eugene, who looked white, had a jet black girl friend, grandmother approached him and said, and I quote, “Boy (we called him boy) members of this family do not marry black girls!” Eugene fucked around with black girls but when he decided to take a girl seriously, guess what he did? He selected a girl that looked like him.
Seriously, why do black men feel attracted to white women? Eldridge proffered many possible reasons. Many of the essays in his book in one way or another dealt with this question. The brother did his best to solve this conundrum but did not succeed.
Nor do I have a definitive answer why black men seek white pussies (in Pidgin English, white toto). Since, I too, have given the matter some thinking here is my conjecture. I tend to think that a confluence of factors make certain black folks prefer white women to black women. God, there are black men who would not have penis erection even if all the black bitches of this world spread their female glories for them to see! (Among other things, I am a therapist; believe me I have heard worse things in therapy sessions!)
I think that there are black men who for whatever reasons like things Western. Let me personalize this story to bring it from the abstract to the concrete; the matter is too important to leave it in the abstract only. I am at home in the world of science, technology and classical music. Who are those in that world? White folks. I run into white folks everywhere I look in my world.
I tend to think that people marry those who represent what they like. If you like, say, classical music, since most of the women you would run into at symphony concerts are white women, you would naturally gravitate to white women. White women represents what you admire, Western culture.
This, of course, is not the entire answer. I was exposed to white folks from early childhood. I was born at Lagos and certainly did not have the typical experience of an African child. I inherited a life threatening disorder and was apparently kept in the maternity hospital (Massey) for a while. Upon discharge a white nurse took interest in me and came to our house on Lewis Street (African quarters) to check on me. The idea of a white woman visiting an African child was not usual in the 1950s Nigeria. By the time I began elementary schooling (age six) she came to pick me up and thus I spent my weekends at her and her husband’s house at Ikoyi (European quarters). Basically my childhood was divided between living with Africans and white folks.
This close proximity to white folks habituated me to things white. After secondary school I landed at an all-white dormitory at an American university and continued socializing with white kids. It seemed predictable that I would gravitate to white girls as my friends.
Nevertheless, I was not a slave; nobody made me do what I did; I could have chosen black girls (and did try to and found that we had little in common to talk about).
I did marry a white woman and if truth is told tend to feel comfortable around them; for one thing we have many things in common to talk about.
In Eldridge’s language, how many “black bitches” can do classical music appreciation, breakdown Beethoven’s ninth and fifth symphony for me, or explain the music of the guy who puts me in heaven, Johan Sebastian Bach? Upper class “white broads” are more likely to do what appeals to me.
And if one may ask: has love got anything to do with it? Can a black man love a white woman? What exactly is love? Let us move on.
Eldridge suggests that black men who hanker after “white pussy” have low self-esteem and inferiority complex. May be he is correct; but is there a human being who does not feel inferior and compensate with superiority feeling in one form or another?
Alfred Adler, the originator of the idea of inferiority and superiority said that all of us feel inferior and restitute with fictional superiority. Adler as a school boy felt total sense of inferiority and compensated by studying hard; he strove to make first in his classes and wound up studying medicine at the University of Vienna, even though Austrians tried to prevent Jews from attending that university. Genius cannot be denied.
Franz Fanon in Black skin-white mask said that black men want to screw white women as a result of inferiority feeling. Now guess what he did: he married a white woman.
Richard Wright wrote “Native Son”, probably the best African-American novel; the man, like a psychoanalyst explored the inferiority feeling underlying black men’s behaviors. But despite this much self-knowledge, the brother married a white woman!
Nor is this issue limited to black men. Eldridge told us what we already know, that as soon as a black sister is famous she ditches her black dick and marries a white prick; hello, Tina Turner.
Eldridge devoted considerable space to the song and dance between white men and black women. As we all know, black women tend to make it in white America more than black men. Eldridge tells us that this is because of the not so secret collusion of black women and white men since slave times.
The slave master usually fucked his African slave women (how else did it come to pass that over 75% of African Americans have white blood in them?). The sisters, Eldridge tell us, are in cahoots with “the man” to castrate black men!
You, therefore, had better watch out for “them Amazons” (what he called black women) for they could do you in. The Amazon bitch needs to be beaten every once in a while to get her to submit to black men otherwise she runs to her blued eyes Jesus Christ, white men.
All those black sisters who while praying face the picture of a blue eyed, blond Jesus Christ got to fancy that he could make an ideal husband for them, don’t you think so? And while we are at it, was Jesus Christ, if he existed, white; wouldn’t he have looked Middle Eastern; that is, like an Arab, brown?
Malcolm X, (whose mother was a product of white rape) in his autobiography, pretty much told us that black men need to beat their black women to get them to submit to them; indeed, brother Malcolm suggested that women want to be beaten by men (he was a pimp and ought to know; he kept his merchandise, prostitutes, black and white in line by beating the shit out of them).
Let it be noted that in the wild female animals prefer dominant male animals and have contempt for weak male animals.
Obviously no one needs to beat any one; I am just a messenger reporting what alpha males said.
A bit of paranoia, brother Eldridge tells you would help you survive the weird dance by black men and black women. There is loads of anger and self-hatred in this dance.
Apparently, black women are, consciously or unconsciously angry at black men for not protecting them, for allowing “the man” to rape them. If you are a man how come you did not protect your women; you allowed hunkies to bang your women in every imaginable way possible; you know them white boys, they are perverted and like to do things that black folks don’t even think about. They have black women suck their little dicks and have them bend over and have their assholes fucked. Penis to vagina sex, Africans understanding of sex, is often not good enough for white folks. Jesus, some of them, Eldridge tells us would pick you up and have you fuck their wives every orifice and they watch.
In turn, apparently, black men are angry at black women for allowing white men to pump them. I tell you, there is tremendous anger between black men and black women; if you cannot take that heat you had better get out of the kitchen.