[a large, formidable profile of a black woman in an Afro]
I AM THE BLACK WOMAN, MOTHER OF CIVILIZATION,
QUEEN OF THE UNIVERSE, THROUGH ME THE BLACK MAN
PRODUCES HIS NATION.
If he does not protect his woman he will not produce a good nation.
It is my duty to teach and train the young, who are the future of the nation.
I teach my children the language, history, and culture when they are very young.
I teach them to love and respect their father, who works hard so that they may have adequate food, clothing, and shelter.
I care and make our home comfortable for my husband.
I reflect his love to the children as the moon reflects the light from the sun to the earth.
I sit and talk with my husband to work out the daily problems and necessities of running a stable and peaceful household.
The best that I can give my nation is strong, healthy, intelligent children who will grow to be the leaders of tomorrow.
I’m always aware that the true worth of a nation is reflected through the respect and protection of the woman, so I carry myself in a civilized manner at all times, and teach my children to do the same.
I am the Black Woman.
But such a transformation, when it succeeds, is based on fantasy, for as long as the white man is still in power, he has the privilege to define the black community as he
chooses—they are dependent on him for their very survival—and the psychosexual consequences of this inferior definition must continue to operate. Thus the concept of the Dignified Black Family rarely penetrates beyond the circles of the Copycat Bourgeoisie or the True Believer Revolutionaries. Indeed, one would have to believe fanatically in The Revolution to fight off the mind sets resulting from the present sex/race system; one could embrace such a foreign structure only through steadfast visionary anticipation of a different world. That hard-core ghetto youth aren’t eager to put such a family structure into practice is understandable: Daily they are at the mercy of the real sexual needs of the White Family; they can’t afford not to jive with their unpleasant reality or to forget for a moment who has the power. In this respect black revolutionaries are as dangerous as a small band of Nat Turners trying to institute marriage in the slave quarters in anticipation of the coming rebellion. And, all exhortations to the contrary, even the revolutionaries have a hard time purging themselves of the sex/race psychology, finding themselves still irresistibly drawn to the “white she-devils.” For it lies too deep in their psyches, backed up by the day-to-day realities of power. Here is Cleaver battling with himself:
One day I saw in a magazine a picture of the white woman who had flirted with [and thus caused the death of] Emmett Till. While looking at the picture, I felt a little tension in the center of my chest I experience when a woman appeals to me. I looked at the picture again and again and in spite of everything and against my will and my hate for the woman and everything she represented, she appealed to me. I flew into a rage at myself, at America, at white women, at the history that had placed those tensions of lust and desire in my chest Two days later I had a “nervous breakdown.”
Cleaver’s greatest virtue as a writer is his honesty. In Soul on Ice we have the psychology of the black man, particularly the consuming love/hate for the “Ogre” (white woman). In fact Cleaver’s development contains most of
the ambivalences we have described. We are given some idea of what his previous attitude toward (black) women was before he here falls in love with a (white) woman:
I even respect you behind your back. I have a bad habit, when speaking of women while only men are present, of referring to women as bitches. This bitch this and that bitch that, you know. A while back I was speaking of you to a couple of cutthroats and I said, “this bitch. . And I felt very ashamed of myself about that. I passed judgment upon myself and suffered spiritually for days afterward. This may seem insignificant, but I attach great importance to it because of the chain of thought kicked off by it. I care about you, am concerned about you, which is all very new for, and a sharp departure from, Eldridge X.
“Prelude to Love—Three Letters”
In general, in these letters, originally written to San Francisco lawyer Beverly Axelrod, Cleaver attempts to rid himself of all the smooth talk, the clever come-on that is the trademark of the black man. He is not always successful. One senses that he has to fight with himself; he catches himself just in time (almost too cleverly) by admitting what he is doing:
NOW TURN THE RECORD OVER AND PLAY THE OTHER SIDE:
I have tried to mislead you. I am not humble at all.
But when Beverly expresses cynicism about his love, he assures her elaborately that she must "open up” to him, trust him.
Beverly was right Her female cynicism, as usual, was more than justified—she wasn’t cynical enough. (Cleaver, to set an example, married just-black-enough Kathleen, leaving Beverly stranded. Latest pictures include an infant son.) His letters to Beverly, about as personalized and honest as probably he will ever get toward any woman* are followed by a florid letter (testimonial? doctrine?) To All Black Women From All Black Men. Its balls-and- womb imagery includes such gems as:
Across the naked abyss of my negated masculinity, of four hundred years [!] minus my balls, we face each other today, my queen.
He reminds her that:
Torrents of blood flow today from my crotch…
And finally, triumphantly:
I have entered the den and seized my balls from the teeth of a roaring lion. ..
His pages-long incantations to the Black Womb of Africa are, to say the least, hardly the best way to go about flattering a woman.
For despite his address to Black Womanhood (“Queen – Mother-Daughter of Africa, Sister of My Soul, Black Bride of My Passion, My Eternal Love”) Cleaver, in this supposed love letter, is hung up on himself, and on his “masculinity.^There is no conception of the black woman as a human being in her own right; she is merely a buttress for his own (masculine) self-image. The same old trick in revolutionary guise: the male defining himself negatively as man-strong by distinguishing himself from woman-weak, through his control of her—like the pimp who rejects the female in himself, achieving a false sense of manhood (power) through domination of all females in his vicinity. The sexual nature of Cleaver’s racial agonies is revealed in his attack on Baldwin, which is no more than the vicious attack of the Black Pimp on the Black Queen. The Queen has chosen to give up the male (power) identification altogether rather than accept the degrading sexual definition handed down by the white man, thus threatening the Pimp, who is fighting a losing battle. And if this attack weren’t enough, Cleaver gives away his sexual insecurity through his superstud self-image —Norman Mailer in black. Some promotion, judging by the hysterics of his chestpounding.
The transformation of the black woman into the tradi-
tional passive female creates a useful negative backdrop against which the black male’s own definition of himself as masculine (aggressive) can emerge. And in her capacity as springboard, or practice bouting-dummy, the black woman is valuable and must be “humbly” wooed; her cooperation is important, for the black man can only be the “man” if someone becomes the “woman.”
Black women, so hip to “lines,” seem to have fallen for this one. Here is a rebuke written by another black woman in reply to the accusation of black men by Gail A. Stokes that I have quoted above. It is noted for its female antiwomanism:
Sure [black men] blunder and make mistakes, but don’t we? This is normal for someone trying something new, i. e. leadership. … So how could you, Gail Stokes, scrounge up the audacity -to prick the Black man’s balloon I How could you dare to attempt to break his winning streak? Did it ever occur to you that it is you, in fact, who is inadequate? Check yourself, sister; a woman reflects her man.
She turns to the black man:
Black men: I too have heard your cry, ringing from within your new-found pride, and African garb. And to that cry I reply: Take your rightful place ahead of me, my love. . . . Yes, my Black man, you’re a real man, a rare man. And in all your struggles I want you to know that I struggle only a few steps behind you, for that is my place in your life. . . . You are all I am here for.
She then assuages his pricked ego by assuring him of her undying loyalty to his Balls:
Having your balls tom from you and still trying to be a manl Oh, those anguished moments of puberty. . . those growing pains. . . . Tell me how many men have been castrated only to defy that emasculation and grow new ballsf. . . You need to be held and loved and told how wonderful you really are. —Edith R. Hambrick, “Black Woman to Black woman,”
Liberator, December, 1968.
(Italics hers. And notice the capitalization of the title: a warning to the sister to start toeing the line?)
But when she does toe the line, her reward will not be a personalized kind of love (as in the letters to Beverly Axelrod) but an impersonal one addressed through her to all Black Womanhood. Here is Bobby Seale from his much-published Letter To My Wife (like the budding poet’s inscription on his girlfriend’s Christmas gifts, inevitably appearing in the spring issue of the college poetry journal):
Artie Honey. ..
Now if I ain’t in love with you because I saw something on your face the other morning that said you were a revolutionary, then something is wrong. . . . What’s Malik [their tbiee – уеаг-old son] doing? Teach him how to serve the people by your examples, Artie. . . . Artie, I hope you are not being selfish and keeping this letter to yourself. Aw, I know you are reading it to the other party members. . . .
Why do black women, so shrewd about their men in general, settle for this patronizing, impersonal, and uninspired kind of love? Because of The Triangle: as we have seen, the black woman has played Whore, used and abused by white men (her “tricks”) and black men (her “pimps”) for centuries. All this time she has looked with envy at the white woman’s legitimacy and security. Now, offered that legitimacy, under whatever crude guise, she is tempted to set it up for herself, not knowing the horrors in store. The Wife is the only one who could tell her, but they are not on speaking terms. For, as we have seen, each has learned to focus her frustrations on the other. Their long antagonism makes it hard for them to trade the valuable (and painful) lessons they have learned about The Man. If they could, they might soon discover that neither Wife nor Whore grants freedom, for neither of these roles is self-determined. They might alert to Eldridge Cleaver’s warning, as he anticipates his future
male power, in one of his rare moments of honesty with women:
NOW TURN THE RECORD OVER AND PLAY THE OTHER SIDE:
I have tried to mislead you. I am not humble at all. I have no humility and I do not fear you in the least. К Ї pretend to be shy, if I appear to hesitate, it is only a sham to deceive. By playing the humble part, I sucker my fellow men and seduce them of their trust. And then if it suits my advantage, I lower the boom mercilessly. I lied when I stated that I had no sense of myself. I am very well aware of my style. My vanity is as vast as the scope of a dream, my heart is that of a tyrant, my arm is the arm of the executioner. It is only the failure of my plots I fear.