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October 04, 2002

Amiri Baraka redux


The NY Times today addresses the controversy that has erupted over a poem read at a festival by the New Jersey state poet laureate Amiri Baraka (the former LeRoi Jones) entitled “Somebody Blew Up America.” In it Mr. Baraka asserted that 4000 Israeli (read Jewish) workers at the World Trade Center were told to stay home that day and laments that Israel’s Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, stayed away. New Jersey Governor James McGreevey attempted to fire Baraka and, finding out that he can’t do that, insisted he resign; Mr. Baraka refused. From the Times’ Olympian heights it comments:

The poem’s mix of disenfranchised rage and appalling falsehood, and the controversy they have generated, are the hallmark of Mr. Baraka’s career. When you name a man known for ferocious political opinions as your poet laureate, you had better be prepared for poems that offend. But any notion that Mr. Baraka’s offensiveness should be a reason to fire or silence him is itself offensive. Mr. Baraka is not the state’s spokesman. He is a poet and he was chosen, at least partly, because of the way he seeks to give voice to the minority community. Like Mr. Baraka, that community can often be angry. Allowing him the freedom to express that anger seems part of the point of the exercise.

Apparently the Times’ logic here is that Mr. Baraka, as a member of an ‘often angry’ minority group, has been elevated above (or sunk below) such concepts as telling the truth and as such no attempt should be made by the State of New Jersey to insist on responsible behavior. Well, I’m waiting for the Times to be similarly gracious when Idaho appoints a White Supremacist poet laureate. Heck, the Aryan Nation is pretty damn angry, demonstrably a minority (even in Coeur d'Alene Idaho) and I bet those guys could string together a rhyme or two—oops, I forgot, we can’t call them that anymore. As I recall, a jury in February 2001 awarded $6.3 million (and rights to the Aryan Nation name) to a woman and her son who were attacked by Aryan Nation guards outside the white supremacist group's north Idaho headquarters. I believe the theory was that the Aryan Nation’s leader Richard Butler and the group were negligent in the selection, training and supervision of the security guards. Somehow, though, an award of $6.3 million seems kind of high for negligence; it almost looks like the Idaho jury was trying to send the group a message about their evil doctrines. Maybe somebody should consider suing the State of New Jersey for negligence in appointing Mr.Baraka.

Baraka and Butler--Brothers Under the Skin?



posted by Friedrich at October 4, 2002


To even compare Baraka to white supremacists is comedy... I read this poem and didn't get an anti-semite notion from it. Yes, he does have a very strong opinion...but it's not a racist one...Baraka is simply stating that more people knew about the attacks than are willing to admit. If you read the whole poem you would also know that he refers to the terrorism that America has done unto itself by the misdeeds it has forced upon blacks, natives, etc... It's a very deep poem and I think it may have been interpreted the wrong way...

Posted by: rukiya_faizah on October 15, 2002 4:38 PM

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