Given the excerpt below from Soul On Ice, identify three main ideas in an essay on "the two contradictory images of America"? What is the context and principal themes in this excerpt? Examine the...

Given the excerpt below from Soul On Ice, identify three main ideas in an essay on "the two contradictory images of America"? What is the context and principal themes in this excerpt? Examine the rationale for including Douglass in Cleaver's analysis. 

"From the beginning, America has been a schizophrenic nation. Its two conflicting images of itself were never reconciled...  separate-but-equal marked the last state of the white man s flight into cultural neurosis,and the beginning of the black man s frantic striving to assert his humanity and equalize his position with the white."

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Cleaver's analysis of American History is rooted in what he sees as a schizophrenic reality. Cleaver views the schizophrenia in the promises of America as an unrealized theory in terms of its treatment of African- Americans. It is for this reason that the excerpt speaks to a specific condition of racism in America.  This schizophrenia can be seen in Cleaver's own reflection about his patterns of rape and sexual assault:

I became a rapist. To refine my technique and modus operandi, I started out by practicing on black girls in the ghetto -- in the black ghetto where dark and vicious deeds appear not as aberrations or deviations from the norm, but as part of the sufficiency of the Evil of the day -- and when I considered myself smooth enough, I crossed the tracks and sought out white prey. I did this consciously, deliberately, willfully, methodically -- though looking back I see that I was in a frantic, wild and completely abandoned frame of mind.

The schizophrenia to which Cleaver speaks is one in which the violation of women of color is not a violation of individual rights as much as fulfilling the "sufficiency of the Evil of the day."  Such activity is only criminal when Cleaver attacks White women.  Cleaver's reflection about his own criminal activity speaks to the schizophrenia he perceives as a part of American society.

The "cultural neurosis" that Cleaver perceives is one where the theory and reality of America are incapable of being reconciled.  It is rooted in a "disassociation" from people of color.  Cleaver perceives this as having gone as far back as slavery, in which white administration was fundamentally distinct from slave labor. It is for this reason that Cleaver includes the work of Frederick Douglass in his analysis.  Cleaver does this to show that he is merely articulating something that people of color have perceived for some time. Douglass's sentiments are echoed in Cleaver's work.  The ability to enforce segregation and separation based on race is one of the last vestiges of this schizophrenia that Cleaver sees, a reflection of the potential for change that is evident in American society in the 1960s.  

Cleaver sees a schizophrenic condition to American society in terms of racial identity.  Additionally, these contradictory realities help to explain why Cleaver believes there is a sustained sense of discrimination and lack of power for specific groups in American society.  Finally, Cleaver sees this as extending to the origins of American History, extending as far back as to the development of the nation.  This becomes the context in which Cleaver asserts his idea of a dual construction of American identity and reality.  Such a condition illuminates the themes of racial oppression and the silencing of voice. 

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