Ever since South Korean immigrant Cho Seung-hui gunned down 32 people at Virginia Tech, there has been much comment that the university should have realized just from his two hate-filled and inept plays that the senior English major was a dangerous creep who needed to be taken away.
For a playwrighting class, Cho penned Mr. Brownstone and Richard McBeef (which, despite the Macbethian title, is a Hamlet-knock off about a young hero's lethal conflict with the new stepfather who murdered his real father).
Richard McBeef includes such sterling dialogue as:
"I hate him. Must kill Dick. Must kill Dick. Dick must die. Kill Dick."
Many have asked: "How could the English Department not recognize the horrific implications of these works?"
No one who wonders that, however, is familiar with the poetic oeuvre of one of Cho's own teachers, Virginia Tech's Distinguished Professor of English and Black Studies, Nikki Giovanni (for her website, click here).
Among the most celebrated figures of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and recipient of 21 honorary degrees, Giovanni has published poems strikingly similar to Cho's plays in both vileness and incompetence. For example:
The True Import of Present Dialog, Black vs. Negro, by Nikki Giovanni
Can you kill
Can you kill
Can a ni**er kill
Can a ni**er kill a honkie
Can a ni**er kill the Man
Can you kill ni**er
Huh? Ni**er can you
Do you know how to draw blood
Can you poison
Can you stab-a-Jew
Can you kill huh? Ni**er
Can you kill
Can you run a protestant down with your
‘68 El Dorado
(that’s all they’re good for anyway)
Can you kill
Can you piss on a blond head
Can you cut it off
Can you kill
A ni**er can die
We ain’t got to prove we can die
We got to prove we can kill
Ironically, the author of these lines was asked to deliver the closing remarks at Virginia Tech's convocation memorializing the 32 slaughtered by Cho. For some reason, Giovanni didn't read The True Import.
The above poem is not an isolated example. Cho's old professor has had, for example, a Molotov cocktail obsession:
Also a company called Revolution has just issued
A special kit for little boys
Called Burn Baby
I’m told it has full instructions on how to siphon gas
And fill a bottle
And, then there's this:
and it occurred to me
maybe i shouldn't write
but clean my gun
and check my kerosene supply
She switched themes from kill-the-honkies to confessional self-obsession as the market for up-against-the-wall poetry dried up at the end of the 1960s, and now laughs off questions about her Cho-like early work.
Still, in 1997 the poetess had "Thug Life" tattooed on her arm to honor slain gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur, who was gunned down in a long-running fatal feud with other rappers. Wikipedia explains, with deadpan irony:
"She has stated that she would 'rather be with the thugs than the people who are complaining about them.' She also tours nationwide and frequently speaks out against hate-motivated violence."
Giovanni also writes prose:
RACISM 101; Giovanni, Nikki; $20.00; This book indicts higher education for the inequities it perpetuates, contemplates the legacy of the 60's, provides a survival guide for black students on predominately white campuses, and denounces Spike Lee while offering her own ideas for a film about Malcolm X. [From a list of "Books On The African American LGB Experience"]
She also has composed bon mots, such as:
"A white face goes with a white mind. Occasionally a black face goes with a white mind. Very seldom a white face will have a black mind."
And then there's her insight, "The honkie's whole sex thing is tied up to land."
As an anonymous commenter rhetorically asked on my blog:
"I wonder how many times Cho heard the phrase 'white privilege' while he was in college?"
(Click here to see how often the term appears in the Virginia Tech website.)
Giovanni is one of those sub-doggerel "poets" who has such Important Things to say that she can't be bothered to take the time to say them well. As she herself admitted to Brian Lamb on C-SPAN's Booknotes, "I'm not a very good rhymer." When she tries, it comes out like Cole Porter gone gaga:
if it's gum we can chew it
I hope it's love so we can do it
Perhaps her best-known poem is Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why), a slab of Afrocentrist drivel from 1973:
I was born in the Congo.
I walked to the Fertile Crescent and built the sphinx.
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star that only glows every one hundred years falls into the center giving divine perfect light.
I am bad.
Of course, Professor Giovanni, an elderly lady of 63, is not personally a danger to other people, no matter how bloodthirsty some of her poems are.
(What impact she has had over the years on earnest, impressionable young people might be a different question, however.)
Instead, she is a minimally talented self-promoter who has exploited various ideological fads over the decades, such as black radicalism, feminism, and Afrocentrism, to secure herself a comfy sinecure at Virginia Tech and to spend her spare time traveling around to hear herself be praised. Her own website lovingly lists 124 "Awards and Honors" she has garnered.
Giovanni's fee for a personal appearance runs from $5,000 to $10,000. That's pocket lint compared to the $40,000+ demanded by Maya Angelou (who is ensconced down the road from public Virginia Tech at posh private Wake Forest), but it's a living.
Giovanni is a small town version of New York City charlatan Al Sharpton, You might think that the ringmaster of the 1987 Tawana Brawley hoax whose racist rhetoric helped incite the Crown Heights pogrom of 1991 and the Freddie's Fashion Mart mass murder of 1995 might, like Don Imus, have talked himself out of a job by now.
And, yet, Sharpton not only endures, but prospers—elbowing his way back into the spotlights as the moral arbiter at the center of the recent Imus brouhaha.
Being a race hustler apparently means never having to say you're sorry.
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