Masterplots II: African American Literature Soul on Ice Analysis

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The book is divided into four parts, with several subparts. The essay format allows Cleaver to focus on specific topics. One essay, “On Watts,” has Cleaver describing the August, 1965, riot there as an abortive uprising. Within the walls of Folsom Prison, blacks mill around congratulating each other for the intrepid fighters in Watts. Rioting was therapy, a catharsis, a rebuttal to the myth of the submissive Negro.

In “Soul Food,” Cleaver criticizes middle-class blacks for their failure to uplift their brothers. Soul food, pork, is “counter-revolutionary.” The piece is too short to call an essay, a few paragraphs; it argues that if blacks became beef eaters, they might become revolutionaries, too. At least, they would realize the foibles of capitalism.

A more illuminating and longer essay is Cleaver’s “Initial Reactions on the Assassination of Malcolm X.” Cleaver tells of his transformation before Malcolm X’s assassination from racism to nonracism; he no longer considered whites to be blue-eyed devils but rather fellow human beings with a multiplicity of possibilities for good and for evil. After his momentous pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm had written of his conversion to true Islam: He had supped with men whose eyes were the bluest of blue and whose skin was the whitest of white and believed that they, too, were his brothers. Malcolm X’s conversion to “true” Islam shocked Black Muslims and deepened the rift between the followers of Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. Elijah Muhammad’s racial supremacy doctrine was a heavy burden for blacks to carry. Cleaver found that rejecting it was liberating; so did, in time, the majority of Black Muslims at Folsom Prison.

The bigot in Cleaver died some when he embraced Malcolm X. Malcolm X...

(The entire section is 731 words.)