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Racist Yale Laureate By: John Perazzo
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, July 24, 2003

In February of this year, the African American Cultural Center (AACC) at Yale University announced that it would be sponsoring a special tea party where students could come and listen to guest speaker Amiri Baraka, a poet and college professor whom the AACC described as “the controversial, provocative, and brilliant former Poet Laureate of New Jersey.” “This is an opportunity,” the announcement read, “to hear this brilliant man speak, and your chance to meet the man and the growing legend in person. It is sure to inspire, provoke, and motivate you.” From his appointment last July until just over three weeks ago, when the State Assembly formally approved a bill to eliminate the position of poet laureate, Baraka had been New Jersey’s most honored man of letters. His invitation to speak at Yale – to say nothing of the rousing ovation he received there for reading a poem accusing the Israeli government of having had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks – unfortunately reflects the depraved condition of academia today.

When we examine the manner in which Baraka has expressed his thoughts and observations over the past forty years – his racist diatribes, his incomprehensible rantings, his virtual noncompliance with rules of grammar and punctuation, his strings of obscenities woven together into works whose elegance scarcely equals that of the average restroom wall scrawling – it is difficult to do anything but marvel at the fact that someone so unskilled has been able to achieve both fame and acclaim as a poet and college professor.

Baraka was born Everett Leroy Jones in 1934 to a middle-class family in Newark, New Jersey.  He later changed his name to LeRoi Jones while attending Howard University in the early 1950s, then adopted the name Amiri Baraka after his conversion to Islam in 1968.

Jones launched his literary career with the 1961 publication of his Beat-influenced poetry collection, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note. He gained national prominence from the 1964 New York production of Dutchman, a play focusing on the flirtatious interactions between a black man and a white woman. The following year he wrote “American Sexual Reference: Black Male,” an essay that includes musings like this: “Most American white men are trained to be fags. For this reason it is no wonder their faces are weak and blank. . . . The average ofay [white person] thinks of the black man as potentially raping every white lady in sight. Which is true, in the sense that the black man should want to rob the white man of everything he has. But for most whites the guilt of the robbery is the guilt of rape. That is, they know in their deepest hearts that they should be robbed, and the white woman understands that only in the rape sequence is she likely to get cleanly, viciously popped.” Remarkably, in leftist circles such crude sentiments gained Jones a reputation not as a madman, but as a courageously candid genius.

The 1965 death of Malcolm X played a pivotal role in shaping Jones’s worldview, leading him to become a hard-core black nationalist. “When Malcolm was murdered,” Jones wrote, “I began to hold all white people responsible, even though in some part of my mind I knew better. But it was this heinous act . . . that made me pack up and move to Harlem and sever all ties with most of the white people I knew, many of whom were my close friends.” Jones also left behind his Jewish wife and two young daughters, eschewing family life in favor of a quest to fill Malcolm’s vacated leadership role in the race-conscious wing of the civil rights movement. Describing his abandonment of his family, Jones callously explained, "I was caught downtown with white people, and left. As simple as that. Like one day you got pubic hairs.”

After his divorce, Jones’s writings took on an increasingly anti-Semitic tone – perhaps as a way of showing society that he had indeed cut all ties with whites and Jews. He became the clarion voice of black anti-Semitism. In his poem “For Tom Postell, Dead Black Poet,” Jones refers to his ex-wife as a “fat jew girl.” The poem also contains these sentiments: “Smile, jew. Dance, jew. Tell me you love me, jew. I got something for you now though. . . . I got the extermination blues, jewboys. I got the hitler syndrome figured.” In another poem, he writes, “Atheist Jews double crossers stole our [black people’s] secrets. . . . They give us to worship a dead Jew and not ourselves . . . . Selling fried potatoes and people, the little arty bastards talking arithmetic they sucked from the arab’s head.”

In Harlem, Jones helped found the Black Arts Repertory Theater/School, which produced plays emphasizing blackness as the central identifying characteristic of African-Americans. Outdoor performances of his plays – including one that featured a black man murdering his white employers – drew considerable public attention during the summer of 1965. Toward the end of that year, however, Jones realized that he would unable to fill Malcolm’s empty shoes and moved back to Newark.

In 1967, Jones published Black Magic, a collection of poems describing his recent exit from white society. That same year, he denounced blacks who liked European classical music as traitors to their race. Such people, he said, were too “connected up with white culture. They will be digging Mozart more than James Brown. If all of that sh-- — Mozart, Beethoven, all of it — if it has to be burned now for the liberation of our people, it should be burned up the next minute.”

One year later, Jones became a Muslim and changed his name to Amiri Baraka, meaning “Blessed Prince.” By this time, he was among the most heralded poets of black nationalists (and Communists). His work possessed neither nuance nor subtlety; it was blatantly and defiantly obscene. Consider his 1969 poem “Black Art,” which reads, in part: “Poems are bullsh-- unless they are teeth or trees or lemons piled on a step. . . .We want poems like fists beating ni--ers out of Jocks, or dagger poems in the slimy bellies of the owner-jews. Black poems to smear on girdlemamma mulatto bitches whose brains are red jelly stuck between 'lizabeth taylor's toes. Stinking Whores! We want poems that kill. Assassin poems, Poems that shoot guns. Poems that wrestle cops into alleys and take their weapons leaving them dead with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland.” This same poem later celebrates the image of “cracking steel knuckles in a jewlady’s mouth.”

Baraka’s poem “Black People” asserts that blacks are justified in robbing or even killing whites, because the latter “already stole” everything from the former. “[The white man] owes you anything you want,” writes Baraka, “even his life. All the stores will open if you say the magic words. The magic words are: Up against the wall mother f---er this is a stick up! . . . Let’s get together and kill him my man.” In another poem, Baraka writes, “Rape the white girls. Rape their fathers. Cut the mothers’ throats.”

Claiming that blacks and whites cannot possibly coexist in peace, Baraka once asserted, “We [blacks] must eliminate the white man before we can draw a free breath on this planet” When white civil rights workers Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in June 1964 in Mississippi, Jones remarked that “those white boys were only seeking to assuage their own leaking consciences.” When a white woman asked Baraka what whites could do to help the black cause, he replied, “You can help by dying. You are a cancer. You can help the world’s people with your death.”

In the mid-1970s Baraka, who saw the black community as the greatest potential breeding ground for political revolution in America, became what he called a Third World Marxist-Leninist. Yet neither his extreme political views nor his profanity-laced writings prevented him from enjoying many years of steady employment as a college professor. He taught poetry at the New School for Social Research in New York, literature at the University of Buffalo, and drama at Columbia University. He has also taught at San Francisco State University, Yale University, George Washington University, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Moreover, Baraka has received a host of literary prizes and honors, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Langston Hughes Award from The City College of New York, the Rockefeller Foundation Award for Drama, the PEN/Faulkner Award, a lifetime achievement award from the Before Columbus Foundation, and induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Of course he has also encountered some disappointments along the way. For instance, when he was denied a tenured position by the Rutgers University English department in 1990, he blamed, with his characteristic absence of humility, “Europhilic elitists and white supremacists” for blocking his appointment. “The power of these Ivy League Goebbels [on the tenure committee] can flaunt, dismiss, intimidate and defraud the popular will,” said Baraka. “We must unmask these powerful Klansmen. These enemies of academic freedom, people’s democracy, and Pan American culture must not be allowed to prevail. Their intellectual presence makes a stink across the campus like the corpses of rotting Nazis.”

A firestorm of controversy erupted in 2002, in reaction to Baraka’s “Somebody Blew Up America” — a poem he had published in October 2001, in which he accuses the Israeli government of having had prior knowledge that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were being planned. “Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed?” reads the poem. “Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers to stay home that day? Why did Sharon stay away?”

In the same poem, Baraka also criticizes the U.S. government for reflexively blaming “some barbaric A Rab” [Arab] for 9/11, rather than “our American terrorists” like “the Klan or the Skin heads or the them that blows up ni--er churches, or reincarnates us [blacks] on Death Row.” He refers to whites and Jews as “the gonorrhea in costume, the white sheet diseases that have murdered black people, terrorized reason and sanity, most of humanity, as they pleases.” He further characterizes whites and Jews as those “who cut your nuts off, who rape your ma, who lynched your pa . . . who own the oil, who do no toil, who own the soil . . . who killed the most ni--ers . . . who believe the confederate flag need to be flying. . . . who [are] the biggest terrorist[s] . . . [who] only do evil . . . [and who] invented AIDS.” Presumably we are to believe that this is not only poetry, but poetry of the highest order – wrought by the pen of a man who has won multiple prestigious honors for literary excellence.

Not surprisingly, Baraka’s contempt for blacks who do not share his bigotry and hatred of America also drips from the pages of his poetry. In “Somebody Blew Up America,” for instance, he makes disparaging references to “Tom Ass Clarence” (Clarence Thomas), “Skeeza” (Condoleezza Rice), the “wooden Negro” Ward Connerly, and the “doo doo [that] come out the Colon’s mouth” [a reference to Colin Powell]. Anti-gay ramblings are also part of Baraka’s semi-literate repertoire. Consider this curiously worded excerpt from his “Civil Rights Poem”: “Roywilkins is an eternal faggot. His spirit is a faggot . . . if i ever see roywilkins on the sidewalks imonna stick half my sandal up his ass.”

Notwithstanding his authorship of such garbage, in July 2002 Baraka was named Poet Laureate of New Jersey, thereby becoming only the second person to hold that position , which paid a $10,000 stipend funded by taxpayer dollars. Had a white candidate written comparable inanities during the months, years, and even decades preceding the mid-2002 selection process, he or she would have stood absolutely no chance of being named poet laureate. And rightfully so. But for Baraka, the nominating committee — which included, among others, Baraka’s predecessor Gerald Stern — looked the other way. 

When New Jersey officials were eventually shamed into publicly acknowledging that the author of the works cited in this article was in fact their poet laureate, they launched a movement to eliminate the position altogether – after Baraka rejected their request that he resign. With his characteristic belligerence, Baraka retaliated by vowing to sue the state for slander and the violation of his First Amendment rights.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “poet laureate” as “one regarded by a country or region as its most eminent or representative poet.” The fact that Baraka was even considered for the post may be evidence of the condescending paternalism of liberal whites who apparently don’t believe that blacks are capable of anything better than this, and who are therefore content to simply nominate anyone with black skin – so as to dutifully demonstrate their own commitment to “diversity.”

John Perazzo is the Managing Editor of DiscoverTheNetworks and is the author of The Myths That Divide Us: How Lies Have Poisoned American Race Relations. For more information on his book, click here. E-mail him at WorldStudiesBooks@gmail.com

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