Apr 21, 2014

Amiri Baraka: From Gay to Homophobe in 20 Poems

I was depressed when I heard about the death of former New Jersey poet laureate Amiri Imamu Baraka (1934-2014).  More depressed when I found out what he'd been up to lately.

I first heard about him in my American literature classes in college, through two poems: 

 "Memories of Radio"
I had no idea who Lamont Cranston was, but I liked the phrases "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" and "love is an evil word."

"An Agony. As Now":
I am inside someone who hates me. I look out from his eyes.  Slits in the metal, for sun. Where my eyes sit turning...the hard flesh rubbed against me, a woman, a man, without shadow, or voice, or meaning.

Obviously a metaphor for a gay person trying to maintain a heterosexual facade.

He must be gay.  I figured he looked like this.

Then in West Hollywood, in a copy of The Male Muse: A Gay Anthology, by Ian Young, a poem by Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsburg, "Genocide."

Allen (right, with lover Peter Orlovsky) and Baraka (then Leroi Jones): "lay together, our legs wrapped & twined round, each other's bodies, soft cheeks together."

Allen asks, "What will happen to me Leroi?  I may perish for all this War in America."  They hold each other close, "his body firm and warm as we pressed our breasts together."

If the poem was based on a true experience, it didn't last.  In the 1960s, Baraka rejected his gay identity, and proclaimed that there were no gay black men, though sometimes white men tried to seduce them to drain their power.  Like Allen Ginsberg.

In 1964 he wrote and produced a play, The Toilet, about a white high school boy who writes a love letter to a black man, and is rewarded by a brutal beating.

That's what you deserve.

It got worse.  Much worse:

Roywilkins is an eternal faggot
His spirit is a faggot
his projection and image, this is
to say, that if i ever see roywilkins on the sidewalks, imonna
stick half my sandal up his ass

Baraka was overwhelmed by hatred of white people.  Kill them all.  Rape them first, then kill them.
And Jews.  They are responsible for 9/11.  They control the world market.  We need a new Holocaust.
And especially gays.  They are the most evil at all, dedicated to perverting and destroying the black man.  The word "faggot" appears over and over in his poems.


He died seething with hatred against whites, Jews, and especially gays.

Yet he remained friends with Allen Ginsberg, white, Jewish, and gay.  Didn't he realize that Ginsberg was one of those evil perverts dedicated to destroying the black man?

Or was he willing to make an exception?