The Amazon Warrior strikes back

Monday Book Review

August 30, 1993|By Gregory P. Kane

DEALS WITH THE DEVIL AND OTHER REASONS TO RIOT. By Pearl Cleage. Ballantine Books. 207 pages. $22.

IN THE war between the sexes, writer Pearl Cleage "takes no prisoners," says author Marita Golden.

Indeed she does not. In "Deals With The Devil And Other Reasons To Riot," Ms. Cleage continues the black feminist tradition of challenging sexist attitudes among black men. We should have quit when Ntozake Shange, Michelle Wallace, Alice Walker and Gloria Naylor were taking us to task for conduct unbecoming officers and gentlemen, or something like that. If we'd taken our lumps then and corrected our macho, loutish behavior, we wouldn't have Sister Cleage to deal with now, which would be a relief because girlfriend don't aim to please.

Where other black feminists deliver verbal jabs, Ms. Cleage delivers thunderous, George Foremanesque hooks and bolo punches. Men are all sexist, she declares, every last testosterone-infested one of us, and we can never be cured of the affliction. We can only "consciously and consistently alter" our sexist ways, Ms. Cleage asserts, "sort of like recovering alcoholics."

And she will have none of that nonsense about the problems afflicting black men -- violence and misogyny, to mention only two -- being a result of white racism. "It's the brothers. Period." Ms. Cleage fumes. "Although all African-American insanity, male and female, can ultimately be explained by the long ago presence of the slave ships pulling up on the coast of Africa, that blood soaked presence cannot continue to be an acceptable reason for our current sorry state . . . Black men must begin to take personal responsibility for the way they treat us and the way they treat our children."

Such barbs should not be unexpected from Ms. Cleage, who describes herself as a "third generation black nationalist feminist." (When she's really feeling her oats, she refers to herself and other black feminists as "African-American Amazon Warriors.") Her father is the Rev. Albert Cleage, a black nationalist Detroit minister who was a friend and confidante of Malcolm X. Ms. Cleage, through her incendiary prose, may well become the Malcolm X of the women's movement. The specific targets of her feminist ire include:

* Rap group Two Live Crew, a "nasty-mouthed group of crotch-grabbing woman-haters who not only couldn't leave a tender moment alone if they found one, but would probably feel compelled to club it to death with their [male members]."

* Rap group NWA (now defunct), specifically group member Dr. Dre, for assaulting television show host Dee Barnes.

* Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, who "headed up the military arm of one of the most reactionary, repressive, racist governments on the face of the earth."

* Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, whom Ms. Cleage wrote about before he was confirmed. Mr. Thomas "isn't even close" to being the lawyer or judge the late Thurgood Marshall was, Ms. Cleage complains, and then unleashes a verbal barrage:

"He is wrong on affirmative action, reproductive rights (including a woman's right to a safe and legal abortion), and care of senior citizens . . . He is an enemy of our race in particular, and of people of any race in general . . . We should oppose him because he is as wrong as wrong can be and his appointment would not only be devastating to us, but a travesty to the legacy of Thurgood Marshall."

* The late jazz trumpeter Miles Davis makes the Cleage Hall of Infamy a second time, for his physical abuse of actress Cicely Tyson and then having the effrontery to write about it in his autobiography.

Ms. Cleage's base for her verbal guerrilla warfare is Atlanta, where she does a column for the Atlanta Tribune and is a playwright-in-residence at Spelman College. "Deals With The Devil" is the sequel to her first book, "Mad At Miles: A Blackwoman's Guide To Truth." It was in "Mad At Miles" that Ms. Cleage first took Davis to task for spousal abuse, and if "Deals With The Devil" has any flaw, it is the repetition of essays from her previous book. The rehash of the Davis piece is especially puzzling, since he is in the grave and women are safe from his abuse forever.

A more appropriate target for Ms. Cleage's high dudgeon would be Mike Tyson, the convicted rapist and fondler who, according to one source, enjoys inflicting pain on women during sex. But all Ms. Cleage writes about Tyson is some incredible drivel lamenting the fact that his love affair with Robin Givens fizzled out.

Ms. Cleage either believes Tyson is guilty of raping Desiree Washington or she believes the nonsense that he is the victim of a Great White Conspiracy. It would be enlightening to hear her views about Tyson, but on this subject the great African-American Amazon Warrior becomes the great African-American Amazon Wimp.

That should not detract, however, from the overall excellence of "Deals With The Devil." Ms. Cleage is a writer who makes you enjoy reading, whether you agree with what she has to say or not.

Gregory P. Kane is a reporter for The Evening Sun.

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