If not for the Black Arts Movement, Black culture would be extinct.--Ishmael Reed
We appreciate Ishmael Reed for his belated blackness. He was a keynote speaker, along with myself, at the Black Arts Movement Conference, University of California, Merced earlier this year, and he has been a supporter of my work for many years. He described me as "Plato teaching on the streets of Oakland."--Marvin X
Yes, there was also a nutty side to The Black Arts movement in New York. You had some of the smartest of black intellectuals subscribing to the notion that white people were an evil race that was created by a black scientist. They got that from Elijah Muhammad, who apparently didn’t believe it because he had some of these evil beasts at his dinner table.He said that he was referring to white men who lived in the south. When found partying with some English girls, and asked why by Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali said that Elijah Muhammad had made an exception for the English.But the Black Arts in New York wouldn’t be the first movement in the arts to have a whack job side.Moreover, instead of engaging in physical combat with these beasts, some of whom gave money to the Black Arts movement,they assaulted each other. Indeed, the Black Arts Repertory theater became a black on black crime scene. Not only did they commit or threaten each other with violence but those whose lifestyles they didn’t approve of. They didn't approve of my lifestyle, but in this regard they were hypocrites.
Amiri Baraka wrote articles in The New York Times that were meant to intimidate black theater people who were involved in interracial relationships. Of course some of the key personnel at the Times date out and marry out ,but their behavior hasn’t been treated with this kind of ridicule. Nor has any other ethnic group had women writers as a class pitted against male writers as class as Henry Louis Gates,Jr. on the orders of Rebecca Penny Sinkler, the kind of feminist critic who uses black men as a substitute for whatever abuses men of her ethnic background commit against women; community mores require that such abuses be kept a secret. She’s not the only one. Irish American feminist Catlin Flannagan writes about how cruel black men are toward black women. Maybe Irish American men ought to write guidelines for the fellas to follow. Maybe members of The Westies gang can do an anthology.Ms. Sinkler got into trouble when she tried a feminist experiment on Norman Mailer, who, for The New York Intelligentsia, was more important than all of the black male writers combined, of course they’ve only read a few. ( Former go-between, Irving Howe believed that the black tradition began with Richard Wright.)
Gates was forced to throw the brothers overboard because he was under pressure from feminists like Michele Wallace,who, writing in the black male hating Village Voice, recently in trouble for running prostitution soliciting ads on its “back page,” said that he was hogging all of the black women studies loot.Yes, Gates has made a career of pointing out the flaws in the Black Arts movement, but is his judgement to be trusted after the African American Studies Dept. endorsed the Neo Nazi series,”The Wire,” or his own backing of Tarantino’s wretched “ Django Unchained” on NPR,without informing NPR that the post-racial zine that he fronts for The Washington Post, called TheRoot, received ad revenue from the producers of “Django Unchained?”It remains to see whether Gates will give the Black Arts movement the same kind of consideration that he gives to “Django Unchained,” a project that accepts the discredited “Sambo Thesis” of black history ,or that his department accords “The Wire.” He has an opportunty to revise his notion that Black Arts was “short-lived” and that Baraka, Bullins, Sanchez , and Marvin X have done some of their best work post sixties.We’ll see whether he changes his mind in the
forthcoming Norton Anthology of African American Literature 3.
Black Arts did more to reach black audiences than any of its critics, sheltered academics who know very little about the day to day lives of black citizens.
The good black arts brought Jazz, literature to the masses of people. Ed Bullins, Aishah Rahman and Amiri Baraka introduced theater to people who had never seen a play.
Though the Black Arts Repertory theater received government funds, its existence made
the New York cultural establishment , an establishment that had been directing trends
in African American culture at least since the 1920s, when writers fought each other over uptown patronage; for once, an independent movement had arisen.
Though i’ve been associated with the Black Arts, with the exception of two fund raising events, I didn’t participate. I was living in Chelsea at the time at work on my first novel, “The Free Lance Pallbearers.” I’d also shared an apartment with three of the Black Arts founders before they moved up town. My associating me with Black Arts, they are giving me credit with work I had no part in creating.
Moreover,how they treated each other or outsiders didn’t matter to those “entrenched interests” as Irving Howe put it, one of those explainers-of-blacks to mainstream readers.( He was put out of business by black critics like Larry Neal.) Amiri has a record of being harder on black writers than his beat friends. Because Steve Cannon and I suggested that there might be a more critical examination of Malcolm X,’s legacy than laying prostrate hero worship, he suggested that Steve and I could be "iced," causing us to be targets of all of the loose nuts associated with black nationalism.The editor of this black magazine, The African American Review, which received more grants than any black magazine in history didn't know what "iced "meant.In that essay, a number of gifted black writers were condemned for their lack of revolutionary fervor.
He doesn’t understand that the current crop could not advance to mainstream acceptance without disassociating themselves from Black Arts,which was despised by those who set trends in black literature New York,where trends in black culture are managed by over fifty year old white men and women. Plus the Black Arts professed alliance with Malcolm X, who was tainted with the reputation of anti Semitism by the media of the time; this didn’t make them any friends downtown,except for those on the bohemian fringes..One remembers the gnashing at the teeth,viscous hair- tearing- out Times editorial on the occasion Malcolm’s death.
For the American media, black men don’t even have a first act and so his evolution wasn’t noticed by The New York media which celebrated his murder.
The trend setters of black literature, theater and the other arts are usually outsiders. Bell hooks says that white feminists told her that in order to get over she had to write for them, which explains the flurry of what... calls “black boogeyman”products,books film and theater that have made some white men rich and puts the issue of racism in the background.
Gates,who even used an essay about Philiss Wheatley to condemn the black arts is inconsistent in another way. He says that a discovery of a novel by Claude McKay extends the Harlem Rennassiance into the 1930s; why doesn’t the fact that some of those who have been associated with Black Arts continue writing well and publishing extend Black Arts into the present?, By 1975, with the Black Arts Movement dead, His Norton Anthology asserted that Black Arts was “short lived,” which set the pattern followed by Charles Rowell that in order to get a Norton anthology a black anthology one has to denounce black nationalism ,a standard that doesn’t apply to white editors. Most norton anthologies are Eurocentric, or white nationalist anthologies with minorities arbitrarily sprinkled here and there,which explains why white editors don’t have to denounce white nationalism.White supremacy is a given.This is nothing new. Even Amiri’s hero, Langston Hughes ,had to renounce his earlier radical poetry when the House Un American Activities Committee was breathing down his neck.Ellison’s anti Communist testimony came in the form of his novel,” Invisible Man,” which became mainstream as a result of his cutting out a radical character. He had to stab Richard Wright, his mentor, in the back, and even cut some of his “Literary Sons,” in order to maintain his status as The Only One. Baraka has witnessed enough cultural wars over the years to understand why some of those whom he criticizes in his review of Rowell’s anthology, for the sake of career moves, had to renounce the Black Arts in order to receive academic and publishing acceptance.
But he’s a little harsh in his assessment of their poetry. These are excellent writers.He should give them that. The difference between him and they is that he is an original. Baraka is also in
the tradition of Richard Wright and Langston Hughes and his contemporaries, Quincy Troupe and Eugene Redmond. That of encouraging new talent. Wright aided an ungrateful Baldwin and Hughes helped Ellison who eventually betrayed his mentor. Baraka identifies new talent in the course of his review. In the old days writers would not only discover new talent but had enough patronage to get them money so that they could take time off from crummy jobs in order to write. That role has been transferred to a black literary Czar. He has a foundation that’s suppose to support writers. So far the grants have gone to his friends.He decides who gets Fletcher awards and directs patronage to writers from a foundation based in Cleveland.
Maybe as a result of Barka’s review, originally published in Poetry magazine, The Norton company will end its feud with the Black Arts Movement.
Finally, how long can Amiri behave as an outsider raging against the Establishment as though it was 1965 outside. He is a member of the most select establishment club in the United States .The 250 member American Academy of Arts and letters. You can’t get anymore Establishment than that. Can’t he understand that members of the younger generation want their shot? I know what this curmudgeon is going to do. I’m going to help them get through.
I mentioned that publishers are insisting upon “Black Boogeyman” and “Gangsta Books.” They even gave $100,00 advance to a white girl for a gang memoir. ” Turns out, she made it up. They said that they were going withdraw the book. It’s still on sale.What happens when you don’t give cross over mall audiences the side of the black experience for which they will put out hard cold cash? Mr. or the child molester in “Precious” or Leroy in” The Help.Why was Alice Walker’s remarkable book, “ The Temple of my Familiar” hated by the same critics who praised “The Color Purple.” So what happens to a black woman who dares tackle male members of the ruling class and its subsidiaries. The kind of men who publish,stage and film "black boogeymen" products. Who are mentors for playwrights who stage a theater that show Martin Luther King,Jr. as a hapless, lecherous buffoon.Who dole out hundreds of thousands dollar to a "poet" who help to fuel the hysteria that got the Central Park Five committed to prison on the testimony of lying detectives and, innocent boys who were railroaded by a feminist district attorney and prosecutor.
Jamaica Kincaid has risked her career by taking on the men who are part of the ruling class’s subsidiary:members of the patriarchal cultural elite of New York.One of their friends, a powerful critic, said that the book should have remained unpublished. Fortunately the book was published. It is a remarkable book. It is a book that will be regarded as a classic when all of the fuss dies down....