Black liberals need to respond to insult of Rice by Baraka

March 19, 2003|By Gregory Kane

REMEMBER when Mayor Martin O'Malley used all those colorful cuss words a few years back in speaking about Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy?

Remember the uproar? Remember how all those black folks gathered out in front of City Hall with signs and accused O'Malley of insulting all black women? How dare the mayor use such language about a black female government official, they fumed.

On Saturday, at one of the state's public colleges, another man said something even worse about another black female government official.

In front of an overwhelmingly black audience of about 100 at Coppin State College, Amiri Baraka, New Jersey's Lunatic Laureate, called national security adviser Condoleezza Rice a "skeeza."

For those of you not in the know, a "skeeza" is a derogatory street term used in reference to a woman and as offensive as calling her a prostitute. It's a noxious, bilious, disgustingly sexist term and one of the worst things you could call a woman.

It is something Rice certainly is not. Baraka knows she's not. Those blacks who laughed, giggled, tittered and applauded when Baraka said it know she's not. But what was the reaction of these black folks when Baraka finished his invective masquerading as poetry that he called "Somebody Blew Up America"?

They gave him thunderous applause and a standing ovation. At no time was there the indignation that was present when O'Malley said much less about Jessamy. I guess Baraka can get away with it because he hates all the right people.

"Somebody Blew Up America" has caused a dispute for the lines, "Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed(?) Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers to stay home that day(?) Why did Sharon stay away(?)" Some say Baraka clearly crossed the thin line that separates criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism.

"Anybody who spews out hatred and malicious lies has a right to do so," said Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. "But the fact that he's doing it on state property in a time of budget cuts is unfortunate. I also find it tragic and sad that a racemonger of his type would receive a positive reception."

Robert Cataliotti, an associate professor in Coppin's department of humanities and media, said Baraka was paid for his appearance, and he defended his being invited to speak.

"[Baraka's] a major figure in the development of African-American literature," Cataliotti said. "I'm not here to judge the content of his poem. He has the right as an American to express his opinion."

Regarding anti-Semitism, as well as the reference to Rice, Cataliotti said, "Most of the poem is in the form of questions. [Baraka] is probing these issues and putting them out for examination."

Baraka claimed Saturday that he was referring to Israelis, not Jews, and that there is a difference between the two. That's true, of course, but Baraka should have continued with the truth.

Some Israelis are Arabs, who have voting rights and citizenship. Some sit in the Knesset. In short, Israeli Arabs are much better off than Jews similarly situated in Iraq and other Arab countries.

Baraka further tried to cover himself by proclaiming that he got the information about the 4,000 Israelis from a "left-wing" Israeli paper. Abramson disputed the claim.

"That claim came out of Iranian intelligence, shortly after Sept. 11," Abramson said. "That's been documented, and I'll put my credibility up against Baraka's any day."

Abramson won't have to. Baraka damaged his own credibility with his mephitic attack on Rice. During his speech, he repeated the lie that because the armed forces are "disproportionately" black and Hispanic, most of the casualties from the Iraq war will be minorities.

USA Today ran a story in January that noted that blacks make up about 10.6 percent of combat units. Most blacks in the military serve in noncombat units. When Baraka told his audience that "they want our children to go and get all shot up," he knew he was lying.

When he called Rice a "skeeza," liberal black leaders who couldn't wait to get their faces in front of a camera after the Trent Lott gaffe knew Baraka was lying. We haven't heard word one from these leaders regarding Baraka and Rice, but if O'Malley's remarks about Jessamy were insulting to all black women, then so are Baraka's.

It would be nice if one of those black state legislators who voted to fund the money that was paid to Baraka would say so.

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