Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Thursday in the Park with Baraka

One can’t know everything, that’s what google is for. So why don’t more organizations google Amiri Baraka before getting involved with him. On Thursday, August 2nd, Baraka will be reading at Central Park’s Summer Stage, courtesy of the City Parks Foundation, organizers of Summer Stage events. What can you expect to hear if you decide to enjoy an evening in the Park?

Baraka is famous for causing the abolition of his position as the New Jersey State Poet Laureate when he wrote in “Somebody Blew Up America,” (which can be found at: amiribaraka dot com/blew dot html):

“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 ?”

“Blew Up” also included Baraka’s infamous characterization of Condoleezza Rice as a “Skeeza.” The ADL rightly took exception to Baraka’s conspiracy theory poetry and compiled some troubling quotes from his past, like this from the 1960’s: "Another bad poem cracking steel knuckles in a jewlady's mouth." Baraka, the author of a 1980 Village Voice article titled “Confessions of a former Anti-Semite,” claims he has no issues with Jews now, just those evil Zionists. Read the ADL brief and make your own conclusions. The NY Times coverage of Baraka’s criticism of Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s administration suggests his rhetoric has not become more temperate in recent years.

Baraka definitely claims a substantial place in the history of jazz criticism. However, his hateful conspiracy theories place him well outside the mainstream. Make no mistake, inviting Baraka to give a reading is not that far from to hiring David Duke to perform an interpretative dance based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He absolutely has a right to express his opinions, but the City Parks Foundation had no obligation to provide him a platform, especially when there are so many talented artists who would benefit from the exposure they provide.

Despite his past important jazz poetry and critical writing, Baraka, like Duke, has crossed the Rubicon into a dark place where the specter of Zionism lurks under every bed. Sponsoring him lends a tacit endorsement to whatever he might espouse, like suggestions of Israeli complicity in 9-11, thereby implying such extremist theories must be within the realm of reasonable discourse. This was the City Parks Foundation’s error, so do not flood the City Parks Department with angry e-mail. It does promise a highly bloggable evening though.