Lost in a Kiss? The Sexual Victimization of the Black Male during Jim Crow read through Eldridge Cleaver’s The Book of Lives and Soul on Ice
by Tommy J. Curry
To coincide with the Centennial, ASALH is proud to present the inaugural Alain Locke Seminar, which features work on in the field of philosophy. Participants in the seminar, along with all those who attend, will read Professor Curry’s paper in advance. At the seminar, the moderator will lead a discussion of the paper with the specialist below, and leave room for questions from those in the audience. (Paper is no longer available.)
Fri, Sep 25, 10:00 to 11:50am, Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, Level 1, Atlanta 2
Moderator: Randal Maurice Jelks
John E. Drabinski
Eldridge Cleaver is thought to be irrelevant to our contemporary conversations concerning racism and sexual violence in the 21st century. Described as the Black Macho par excellence by Michelle Wallace, Cleaver is primarily thought of as a rapist a little more. In an unpublished manuscript entitled The Book of Lives, Eldridge Cleaver reveals a more complicated view of his thinking about Black sexuality and sexual violence. How does our view of Cleaver change if he was a man who had sex with other men? How does such a discovery impact our reading of Soul on Ice, a text originally entitled white woman/Black man? Is Cleaver correct that for Black males in America their highest aspiration is to awaken on a stud farm? Do we have something to learn from the homosexual political prisoner of the 1960’s?
Contemporary conversations largely dismiss the importance of Black male reflection on their own oppression. Current intersectional, feminist, and liberal frames of thought not only deny that Black men wrote about and spoke about sexual oppression and their vulnerability to rape, but assert than any attempts by these authors are irrelevant and better captured by the revelations of Black feminism and Queer/Quare theories of performance. The post-structuralist appeal and sexiness of intersectional thought continues to relegate Black male bodies to predetermined historical positions, ignoring their rape by white men and women during slavery (Thomas Foster, “The Sexual Abuse of Black Men Under American Slavery,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 20.3 ), and the visible sexual abuses of Black men during Jim Crow era segregation. This paper, an abridged chapter for my book entitled The Man-Not, argues that Black men readily understood the sexual violence of anti-Black racism. I am arguing for a consideration of this ignored duality unique to Black male existence—the hidden vulnerability of being raped and the overrepresentation of him being the rapist—as a justification for his conceptual study beyond his physical corpse. This paper offers concrete evidence not only of Cleaver’s homosexuality, but the vulnerability that Black manhood has to sexual exploitation and rape, the homoerotic construction of the prison, as well as the sexual dynamics of American racism thought to only apply to female bodies.
Dr. Tommy J. Curry is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Africana Studies at Texas A&M University where he holds the prestigious Ray A. Rothrock Fellowship. Dr. Curry is the current President of Philosophy Born of Struggle, one of the oldest Black philosophy organizations in the country. He is the author of over 50 articles and book chapters on racism, Critical Race Theory, Hip-Hop and Black male sexuality. He is the editor of William H. Ferris’s The African Abroad and is finishing his first manuscript entitled The Man-Not analyzing the sexual and erotic drives behind Black male death and rape. His commentaries on topics ranging from Hip-Hop, Black men and boys, and regenerative stem cell treatments can be found in venues ranging from Forbes to Sirius XM.