It's not every day that one gets immortalized along with Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell in a poem, especially a poem penned by the New Jersey poet laureate. But I think I'll have to pass on this "honor" after reading it and learning the poet is Amiri Baraka (the poet formerly known as LeRoi Jones), one of America's premier haters and anti-Semites.
Mr. Baraka got into hot water recently after his poem, "Somebody Blew Up America" was widely circulated. The stanza that has gotten the most attention and criticism suggests that Israel knew about the September 11 attacks before they occurred and didn't warn anyone:
"Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed;
Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers
To stay home that day
Why did Sharon stay away?
Who? Who? Who?"
According to newspaper interviews with Mr. Baraka, he insists, "that Israel and its prime minister, Ariel Sharon, as well as President Bush, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and many United States allies, knew of the pending terrorist attacks… " This maniacal litany, and the anti-Semitism unpinning it, has now joined the ranks of other "ghetto-facts," such as the claim that Jewish doctors inject black babies with the AIDS virus.
None of this lunacy would even be noteworthy if it weren't for the fact that just last summer, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts formed a panel that appointed this "artist" as poet laureate. That's right. They appointed him to this prestigious paid position ($10,000 for a two-year term, no less) in spite of the fact that he had published dozens of anti-Jewish, anti-white, pro-Black Panther screeds during the last 25 years.
It's no surprise now that New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey and the members of the nominating panel are in a "cover your ass" mode after cries of outrage came from the Anti-Defamation League and dozens of thoughtful arts enthusiasts. Mr. McGreevey has called on Mr. Baraka to resign his post, but of course, he and his arts council are a day late and a dollar — make that $10,000 — short. But Mr. Baraka has no intention of resigning. Why should he? Just last August, at a bill-signing ceremony at the governor's mansion, Mr. McGreevey beamed as he proudly announced Mr. Baraka was the state's new poet laureate. Nothing's changed in Mr. Baraka's "art," so why should he leave now, he argues?
What is so surprising is how the six-member New Jersey poet laureate selection committee could have chosen this guy in the first place. Did they really think his hate-infused, Jew-bashing, hip-hop-like lyrics were truly poetic? Did they honestly believe the following stanza (in which yours truly is mentioned) is nothing more than the rantings of a teen-aged, wannabe gangsta-rapper?
"Who do Tom Ass Clarence Work for
Who doo doo come out the Colon's mouth
Who know what kind of Skeeza is a Condoleeza [sic]
Who pay Connelly [sic] to be a wooden Negro"
Or how about this one from an earlier "work" of Mr. Baraka?
"We must eliminate the white man before we can draw a free breath on this planet."
Or this one?
"Nihilismus. Rape the white girls. Rape
their fathers. Cut the mothers' throats.
Black dada nihilismus, choke my friends."
Mr. Baraka's appointment as New Jersey poet laureate is emblematic of how deeply the infection of victimology has seeped into the nation's cultural pores. The two organizations responsible for nominating him have an obligation to the taxpayers and the community at large to maintain artistic standards that reject personal invectives and religious or racial hatred. I'm not arguing for artistic litmus tests, and I recognize that art is often provocative, but artistic standards must be civilized. Mr. Baraka's are not. Now I'm starting to wonder if there aren't more Amiri Barakas out there, dishing out filth and hate under the guise of a poet laureate of another state. It wouldn't hurt any of us to check this out.
The stated mission of the New Jersey Council on the Arts is to serve "the people of New Jersey by developing, supporting, and promoting projects that explore and interpret the human experience, foster cross-cultural understanding, and engage citizens in dialogue about matters of individual choice and public responsibility." Public responsibility? Cross-cultural understanding? Who are they kidding? It is inconceivable that a white, anti-Semitic bigot who produced "poetry" like Mr. Baraka's would ever get funding from the New Jersey Arts Council, let alone be appointed as the state's poet laureate. The entire panel that nominated him should be forced to resign.
Yet, because Mr. Baraka is seen as an "authentic" black artistic voice, he gets a pass from the council on matters of decency and taste. If this is what passes for cutting-edge poetic "human experience," no wonder poetry is no longer relevant in our cultural lives.
• Ward Connerly is chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute.