April 20, 2007

Amiri Baraka @ the Pan-African BookFest

African-American writer Amiri Baraka"I'm still an advocate of Black Power," the old revolutionary growled into the microphone as he continued his relentless challenge to Africans in the New World to embrace Pan-Africanism as a source of unity and democracy. Amiri Baraka's lecture on Tuesday, April 17 at the African-American Research Library, peppered with references to Frederick Douglass, WE Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, traced the origins of African-American memory in the Americas, and from that history he made indictments of the "volunteer" army in Iraq, Federal Reserve, Electoral Colleges, and the bicameral Congress. Throughout his speech, he called for a creation of a national party that would represent the real interests of African-Americans, and dismissed many of the current leaders, with the exception of Barack Obama, as "Negroes who had become gatekeepers."

Baraka's plea for the creation of a national newspaper and the creation of cultural organizations that would be supported by African-Americans in the twenty-seven states where they hold a majority of votes, the sixteenth largest economic bloc in the world, was greeted with thunderous applause. The need, he explained, was to offer resistance to the "commercial imperialism" that has undermined culture and democracy. "We're the conscience of America--always have been--because we're on the bottom," he explained. He then urged the audience to wake up to its own power that if used properly could oust popular figures in American culture such as Don Imus. "We have to do this for ourselves," he concluded, "because nobody is going to do if for us."

For more photos of the event, follow this link: Amiri Baraka @ Sistrunk


Stephen A. Bess said...

It is always a pleasure to see and hear that brother do his thing. It was exactly one year ago when I last heard him speak at the Lincoln Theater here in DC. I had a chance to meet his lovely wife, Amina as well. I still laugh when I remember what he told me as I departed. He said, "I see you around man."

Rethabile said...

I was beginning to think we weren't gonna get this treat from your meeting with the wise man. How i'd like to meet him, and so many others! Thanks for this.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Rethabile, so many technical things went wrong for me that night, but pen and paper always work.

It was great to meet him, even for the brief time, and I hope he will pass through again real soon. Mybe then, I'll be ready.

Anonymous said...

Re: Baraka's Comment on Imus:

April 17, 2007

“The inner truth is hidden -…But I felt it all the same; I felt often its mysterious stillness watching me at my monkey tricks, just as it watches you fellows performing your respective tightropes - for - what is it?”
The Heart of Darkness

Don Imus’s recent racist and sexist invective directed at the Rutgers Women’s NCAA Basketball finalists should not divert our attention from three significant April victories. The Rutgers coach is an African American woman; so too are the majority of the players, whose other team mates are white. While they sat on the bench, I thought: The Muse of History lives. She was retelling the story of Paul Robeson. During the first decade of the twentieth century, Robeson became the archetype of black (African American) excellence in sport and scholarship at Rutgers. By the nineteen fifties - the heyday of Macarthyism - Robeson’s socialist beliefs emboldened the authorities at Rutgers to erase his name and memory (so they believed) from the official history of the college. On the evening of April 3, 2007, Robeson would climb Jacob’s Ladder one mo’ time. Black and white women student athletes from Rutgers made a statement for balance and integrity in life, expressed through sport. A few days later, ESPN sports gurus were urging listeners to celebrate with them the sixtieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic entry to major league baseball, as its first black player. We would soon, and with deep sadness, say a final farewell to Grambling’s Coach Eddie Robinson, who, on a shoe string budget, used football as a vehicle to usher in a life of pride and purpose for hundreds of young black men. While the Imus controversy reminds us that dregs does not float, it also renews an urgent demand for public, civil dialog about race and humanity.
The marketplace of ideas is the preferred forum to engage in a search for parameters of civility in public discourse. In that forum, we need to talk openly about three areas of immediate concern: black humor and satire, corporate support of the shock jock culture, and the political elites who drink at the Imus trough.
Imus’s first defense was that he was merely repeating the vocabulary of black hip hop artists who describe their girlfriends and by extension their mothers, as bitches, nappy haired niggers and hos. Imus did not pause to infer that the young men, looking in a mirror, are more or less the sons of bitches and hos. Bill Cosby challenged the absurd notion that nothing is right or wrong if rappers make it so. Several occasional, tepid gestures at discourse followed. A notable exception was an NPR exchange between Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and NPR Senior Correspondent, Juan Williams. Unfortunately, they were constrained by the need to confine their responses to sound bytes. Worse still, the moderator “concluded” that the truth must lie somewhere in between. It is misleading to look for an end in a middle ground that does not exist. Dyson’s intellectual inquiry is about the causes and effects of discarding black boys and young men within and outside their communities. Williams points with justifiable pride to his excellent film series, Eyes on the Prize, which chronicles the triumph of the African American spirit. Let the debate begin. It may indeed lead to further discussion about the contrasting responses from corporate and black America in the age of shock jock and hip hop.
Imus was fired last week. The show survived because it was a profitable enterprise for CBS and MSNBC networks. The strategy to withdraw advertising or sponsorship works when alternative and immediate means are available to advertisers to maintain or increase their profit margins. Predictably, the sponsors reacted to the firing in stoic silence. The Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton emerged as spokespersons because corporate America so determined. They deserve credit however for managing the situation with smarts and skill. Despite this, Imus will return before we can say Jackie Robinson.
He will survive also because of his value to the political elites. They share the same voter constituencies. With a presidential election around the corner, they will need each other. In symbolizing the least common denominator of political expediency, the Imus show was a platform of diversity. Every racial or ethnic group that he offended, at least once, was proudly represented on the Don Imus List of Who’s Who in presidential, senate and house races – past, present and future.
Finally, Imus has grown to expect forgiveness. Corporate employers forgave him during his personal struggles with alcohol and hard drug addiction. His fan base either forgave him, or did not care about the coarse invectives he hurled at Gwen Ifill and then First Lady Hillary Clinton. Last week, the Rutgers ladies forgave him. Armed with such experience, Don Imus knows how to make saints feel like the sinners. I am persuaded that public dialog has its advantages. It can expose the pyrrhic nature of an insincere apology. Meanwhile, the current issue offers yet another opportunity for vigorous public debate to demonstrate the practice of self respect and respect for others. We can again choose to slam the door shut on our humanity, this time at our own peril.

Mervyn Solomon