Adds James Fugate, co-owner of Eso Won: "She's talking about a topic black males who read and think don't like to talk about. There are too many women walking around battered psychologically--we need more serious thinkers like her addressing these things in the black community."
Cleage believes her nurturing tone is often overshadowed by the severe truths she must impart: "People never look at the fact that I say black men in some cases are abusive . . . I have stories about Zeke (her companion) risking his life (to help women). They jump right over it. I think that men get stuck on that . . . because they are so used to feeling attacked. . . . I'm not bashing men, I'm trying to talk about addressing the life-and-death problem of abuse."
But lodged amid the world-weary words of fragmented communication, dead-end journeys, Pearl Cleage attempts to resuscitate the fragile notion of love. It's difficult, she says, for people to reach out, mostly because they fear the consequences--and reality: "This is a scary time in this country. So what we do is pretend that everything is OK. And then we're surprised: 'Oh my God, I can't believe those angry people burned everything in L.A.' "
And she wants black women to not only find their voices, but speak them and understand that the notion of "liberation" has less to do with the shade of one's skin than the hue and cry of a universal struggle toward respect and power.
"Part of the reason why black women have a hard time with feminism is because we are encouraged by men in our community to see feminism as a 'white thing,' " Cleage says. "It's hard to come back from that because the feminist movement in this country is definitely in the hands of middle-class white women. And basic questions, class issues, have often not been addressed in a way that drew women of color into the discussion."
But, above all, Cleage is most interested in deeds, not words.
"I'm less interested in what people call themselves than in what they do. How they live their lives," she says. "If they are working in neighborhoods, raising their children and struggling to build positive relationships with women and men, then I call that a feminist.
"If they call that 'a good strong black woman,' that's fine too."