mosaic mosaic

LITERARY MAGAZINE

H A K I A D B M R A . K A I R T R

M A D H U B U T I I O I D K B D I T A R B A O K Y N A D A

Old School War Essay

Verbal Fisticuffs with Bill O’Reilly

Ta k i n g I t t o t h e H e a d

W A

Race and Hip Hop

Y U S E F R A Q U E

K O M U N Y A K A A L R I V E R A

Poetic War Stories

W h e r e d o P u e r t o R i c a n s f i t i n t o Hi p Ho p

C A M I L L E O F L O V E ,

Y A R B R O U G H WA R & H I P H O P
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In the Midst of an Artistic Journey

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issue fourteen, finally Contents

Generation Flex | 8
Former Source editor and author of The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture, Bakari Kitwana brings an intellectual voice to the dialogue of hip hop and politics. by Thabiti Lewis

Rican Havoc | 12
In five Q&As, hip-hop head and scholar Raquel Rivera, New York Ricans From the Hip Hop Zone, breaks down the culture in Black and Brown. by Ron Kavanaugh

Love and War | 14
Three literary stallwarts revisit America’s battle-fatiqued history > essay Truth’s Consequences by Haki Madhubuti > essay Yusef Komunyakaa’s Vietnam War Poetry by Angela Salas, Ph. D. > dialogue ...with liberty and justice for all Amiri Baraka chats with Bill O’Reilly

Black Heads | 28
Dr. Todd Boyd, The New H.N.I.C: The Death of Civil Rights and the Reign of Hip Hop, approaches the new cultural movement with an unsettling urgency. by Lee Hubbard

All Praises Due |34
Writer, dancer, educator, and actress Camille Yarbrough talks about her life and prolific career. by DuEwa Frazier

SUMMER 2004 | mosaic

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SUMMER 2004 No. 14
LYNNE d. JOHNSON DEATRA HAIME RON KAVANAUGH Editor at Large Reviews Editor Editor/Publisher

Mosaic Literary Magazine (ISSN 1531-0388) is published four times per year by the Literary Freedom Project. Content copyright © 2004. No portion of this magazine can be reprinted or reproduced in any form without prior permission from the publisher. Advertising Representative WritersandPoets.com, LLC sales@writersandpoets.com 908.233.2399 Subscriptions One year: $12.00 | Two years: $22.00 Subscribe online: Mosaicbooks.com Institutional Subscriptions EBSCO 1.205.991.6600 Faxon 1.800.766.0039 Distribution Ingram Periodicals 1.800.627.MAGS Curtis Circulation 1.201.634.7400 Contact the editor We welcome letters and comments. Send us an email, magazine@mosaicbooks.com or a letter: Mosaic Literary Magazine 314 W 231St. # 470 Bronx, NY 10463. Please visit Mosaicbooks.com for guidelines on submitting poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and essays. Colophon Layout Software: Adobe Pagemaker 7 Graphic Software: Paint Shop Pro 8 Cover Paper Stock: 80 lb. matte stock Editorial Page Stock: 50 lb. newsprint Cover Graphic: Gettyone.com Editorial Typeface: Zapf Humanist Heading Typeface: Quicktype

POSTMASTER Please send address corrections to Mosaic 314 W. 231 St #470 Bronx, NY 10463

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SUMMER Available in fine bookstores and www.carmelsvictor.com

by Carmel S. Victor

Facing Our Skeletons

Carmel S. Victor has written a heartwrenching novel of choice, redemption, and finally unconditional healing. A Must Read!

Change is necessary for growth.

But to get there you must face your skeletons.

Relations among Three men and One woman lead to compromise, heartache, and potentially peace within.

2004 | mosaic

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brighter days
After a brief hiatus we’ve returned to the grind. Happy to be back, elated to put an end to the when’s-thenext-issue-coming-out mantra. The one good thing about absence is it gives you time to think about the challenges faced––printing costs, time dedication, personnel––and you know what, this sh*t‘s tough. In our absence Book and Readerville magazines have ceased publication. But please don’t ask why we continue. Sadists, I suppose, all with rentpaying commitments, who have to carve out time weeks in advance to find a few hours to read. Hats off to anyone–fool–hardy enough to start a new commercial literary venture. To that end, there is good news. After some unplanned hiccups, we’re in the home stretch of completing our I.R.S. paperwork. Mosaic Literary Magazine will begin publishing under the auspices of the Literary Freedom Project, a not-for-profit arts organization dedicated to creating opportunities for social change through literature and creative thinking. Besides publishing Mosaic, we will also host readings; continue to present the Re:Verse Festival, our annual celebration of independent publishing and media; and hold literature workshops for teens in communities of color, instructing them on the importance of critical and social thinking through literature and media. (Social change through the arts) I have to confess, the Literary Freedom Project did not spring from an altruistic epiphany. It came out of a desire to survive and the realization that for lovers of books independence is the only way we can. After many a day spent begging for ads while witnessing the self-publishing explosion–writers bearing the weight of not only writing but also publishing their own work– I realized that I should lead instead of follow. By forming coalitions publishing can be conquered on a small but important level. The independence from pursuing advertisers will, in the end, give us the ability to examine freely the torrent of poetry and literature that often beset and occasionally brighten our office. In order to start a successful organization we must sureup our strong point, Mosaic. We’ve invited a cadre of cognoscenti to help steer Mosaic and strengthen its foundation. It’s our hope that our new editorial board will guide Mosaic as it ascends to preeminent independent literary publication. ★ The nonprofit status, new editorial board, and our continued commitment to literature will, if not ensure success, at least guarantee survival. Ron Kavanaugh Editor/Publisher

RE:VERSE F E ST I VA L OCTOBER 2&3, 2004
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BAKARI KITWANA, EDUCATOR AND FORMER SOURCE EDITOR, BREAKS DOWN HIP HOP AND RACE

gener ation flex

BY THABITI LEWIS

THE MAY 2002 ISSUE OF BLACK ENTERPRISE MAGAZINE PUBLISHED THE FIRST OF A FOUR-PART SERIES THAT EXAMINED THE GLOBAL ECONOMY OF HIP HOP IN THE AREAS OF MUSIC, FASHION, SPORTS, AND FILM.
The goal of the series was to reveal the power of hip hop in shaping advertising campaigns and directing consumer purchases. The very existence of a four-part study of hip hop’s influence on popular culture speaks volumes regarding its prevalence in the lives of America’s and the world’s youth culture. What is most interesting is that amid all the hoopla about hip hop’s economic success one author has settled on analyzing the hip-hop generation and the sociopolitical forces shaping it. Bakari Kitwana’s The Hip Hop Generation: the Crisis in African American Youth in

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Sanoizm, Village Voice

Crisis, unlike other books on rap music from James Spadey, Tricia Rose, Greg Tate, and Nelson George, Kitwana’s book does more than record the history and trends of the music. It offers an analysis of the obstacles facing this post-civil rights generation, namely their racial, social, political, and economic struggles. The text is divided into eight chapters ranging from an introduction and definition of the new Black youth culture to race wars, activism in the hip-hop generation and the challenge of rap. Perhaps the strongest chapters are “Young, Don’t Give a Fuc* and Black,” “The New Black Youth Culture,” and “The Politics of the Hip-Hop Generation.” The latter was especially engaging because it illuminates the internal horrors of Black-on-Black crime and underground economies as well as the age-old conundrum that has plagued the Black community of “old guard” leadership eschewing the youth and the legitimacy of their concerns. However, the lengthy discussion on “gangsta” films entitled, “Young, Don’t Give a Fuc* and Black” is a must read, for here Kitwana takes the films to task for promoting negative behavior and cultivating skewed social views. His discussion of contemporary cinema seems to capture the essence of the hip-hop generation he suggests is in crisis. Kitwana’s arrival at this point stems from his experiences as a teenager in New York,

his undergraduate years as a student/activist at the University of Rochester, and from a tenure as editorial director of Third World Press, where he enjoyed a close relationship with his friend and mentor Haki Madhubuti. While at Third World Press he published The Rap on Gangsta Rap, which along with stints as executive editor and political editor at the Source magazine led to the publication of The Hip Hop Generation. It seems his varied experiences from grassroots to corporate have balanced his perspectives quite well, as is evidenced by the quality of his latest work. In the introduction to The Hip Hop Generation, Kitwana states that his examination of the hip-hop generation (those born between 1965-1984) “is an attempt to jumpstart the dialogue necessary to change our current course.” Among the most important topics of dialogue are: How high incarceration rates affect Black lives, why the unemployment rate of young Blacks is double that of Whites, what it means to come of age in first generation of post-civil rights America, and what issues are focal to this generation’s activism and political agenda. He is equally critical of the older civil rights generation, which is ironic because they were equally critical of their elders for also failing to allow the youth to build on their political and social gains. Although Kitwana is to be commended for his attempt to critically examine sexism and misogyny, at times he seems to have mistaken some genuine male bonding for anti-female behavior. “America has so vilified young Black men that we’ve circled the wag-

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ons, excluding all others, including Black women.” Attributing this to gangs, prison, and street culture. The weakness in this argument lies is the very natural reality of male bonding that is healthy and socialized by activities outside of the prisons or gangs, which are not the only reality for Black males. Also, this discussion lacks the force of some of his other chapters due to a surprisingly unbalanced commentary that completely omits male perspective on the subject (except for the misguided antics of Tupac and Mike Tyson, whom he correctly critiques). Nonetheless, what is important about his discussion of sexism and misogyny is that it does not omit the relevance of feminist perspectives and the problems of sexism and misogyny in the hip-hop generation. I recently chatted with Bakari about his book and his view of the state of things for the hip-hop generation. Thabiti Lewis: In some of your recent interviews you have been critical of Russell Simmons and his political aspirations. Weren’t you among those in the planning room when Simmons, David Mays, and other head hip-hop honchos convened the initial press conference. Are you still in the mix, so to speak and if not, why? Bikari Kitwana: [Simmons] doesn’t want to deal with young activists who haven’t done something or don’t have money. Thus, they deal with Al Sharpton, Jessie [Jackson], Ben

Chavis. They don’t understand that this is not a time for grandstanding; this is a new movement. Ben [Chavis] knows the history of SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee), which the elders helped get off the ground, yet he failed to tell Russell and them, “I can help you but you need to start your own group.” The civil rights generation just did not do enough to help us build political organizations. They have to ask themselves what they did to contribute to the current generation. TL: What I find interesting is that impresario Russell Simmons, whom you critique in your book, is on the periphery of the age range for those included in the hip-hop generation, yet he has managed to position himself in the center of the political force of this generation. How is that possible and does it mean that he is an exception or that his political direction has validity? BK: It’s important to me that any antagonism with Russell is played down. We need to build an organization and a movement and it can’t be done with too much attention focused on petty differences. My differences with Russell aren’t personal and emphasizing them makes it seem like we have personal beef, which we don’t. It’s a difference of stategy and tactic. I’m sure we’ll have an opportunity to work together down the road, and I don’t want anything I say to be construed as “hatin’” or to be used to block that. Also, I have older brothers who are Russell’s age which makes it easy for me to see the delineations—what he thinks is important differs from the hip-hop generation. Look at his stuff and read between the lines and there is no consciousness at all. TL: Someone may ask, what makes Bakari Kitwana the person to intellectualize about hip hop, much less

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carve out who gets into or excluded from the hip-hop generation? I am from St. Louis and went to college in New York, and let me tell you, people were constantly challenging the validity of my claim to rap music and hip-hop culture because I was not from the East coast, although, now we have the Nellys, Hot Boys, Master Ps and other regional successes. Still, the younger heads might contend that you are on the cusp of the very generation you delineate, that your Long Island origins, instead of NYC proper, pushes you out of the box. BK: This book expresses how rap and its generation speak to the realities of what we grew up with, how the music touches on major social and political issues they faced. However, the truth is (in response to my being from outside New York City) that EPMD, Public Enemy, Eric B. and Rakim, Keith Murray, and A Tribe Called Quest are just a sampling of those from Long Island whose contributions to rap are indisputable. TL: I think it is fantastic that you have moved yourself out of the role of “leader” and into that of participant, seeking solutions towards moving the political, economic, and race struggles of this generation forward. Why not take this book and shout: “Here, I have the answer; read this and you will know what to do?” I only say this because [Hip Hop Generation] addresses numerous pressing issues that impact youth and elders in contemporary society.

BK: I want my book to spark a dialogue. I want to be part of the solution. I’m a writer and theorist and hope that I can contribute something to the conversation around hip hop that has for too long needed to go to another level. I want folks to start thinking about the issues differently. Stop thinking that hip hop as a musical form is all this generation is about is a big first step. We need to take another giant step forward in terms of social change and hip hop provides a unique opportunity. However if we expect it to come via rap lyrics alone, we’re fooling ourselves. Any of the existing groups could play that role. For example, old school Black Panthers instead of arguing with the New Black Panthers could help them get the organization off the ground and not make the same mistakes they did. But this can’t be done by preaching, talking down to young heads or repeatedly telling us how many miles old heads walked to school barefoot. TL: Judging from these comments it appears that a new political focus was the impetus for your book? It seems to me that your critique of these components of Black politics derives primarily from the study of the civil rights movement and for that matter, your involvement in Black power institutions. Would it be safe to make such assumptions? BK: The hip-hop generation has new things to say about politics in the 21st century. This book came about largely because the civil rights and Black power movements’ messages needed to be redefined for our generation [hip hop]. They have failed to incorporate our issues to make those institutions more relevant, like NAACP Operation PUSH, and , Urban League. ★

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RICAN HAVOC
RAQUEL RIVERA, NEW YORK RICANS FROM THE HIP HOP ZONE, REFLECTS ON THE LATINO CONNECTIONS TO THE ORIGINS OF HIP HOP
by Ron Kavanaugh You clearly recognize the link among Blacks, Puerto Ricans, and hip hop, but what occured to make the form almost completely identified with Black culture? It has been a combination of the way the entertainment industry has marketed rap and also the misunderstanding of the shared cultural territory (which extends way beyond hip hop culture) between African Americans and Puerto Ricans. Does it matter that Blacks have taken the major role in rap when you consider it’s more about a culture as opposed to race or heritage? The fact that African Americans have had the predominant role in rap is an important fact and object of study because it points towards notions of race and ethnic identity and how they impact cultural production. It also reveals some of the ways in which race and ethnic identity are used as selling points by the entertainment industry. Even though rap is currently a multi-racial and multi-ethnic phenomenon both in terms of production as well as consumption, race and heritage continue to be of crucial importance within rap music.

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Since Black culture has become the dominant culture in shaping today’s styles do you think future Puerto Ricans rappers will wear their pride the way Fat Joe does? The entertainment industry is extremely fickle. I would not venture to predict what will happen. I do hope that with the future come more Puerto Rican rappers who are knowledgeable about their history and culture. That does not mean that every Puerto Rican rapper has to say she or he is Puerto Rican every 5 seconds, but that the way they do express their Puerto Ricanness responds to the complexities of being Puerto Rican. How do you feel about Latins who rap without reference to their own heritage? I think its fine. There is room for everything under the sun, especially if its coming from the heart. The Latino experience in the United States is very diverse, and art should be a reflection of that. A few years ago there seemed to be a strange wave of Latin performers (Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Cristine Aguilera) totally entrenched in American pop music but at the same time being embraced as the new Latin beat. Is this the future of Latin rappers? Market trends are pretty unpredictable. Who would have predicted in the early 90s that there would be a renewed interest in the history of hip hop in the late 90s? Who would have predicted in the early 90s the fad within commercial rap music which started in the late 90s of including Spanish words in rhymes? Latino rappers may become media darlings tomorrow or they may be stripped of their legitimacy. Who knows? ★

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love war
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o f

America’s return to the dubious situation of conflict merits an oblique look at war. Not as a contemporary conundrum but as a persistent belief.

The Gulf War is only the latest in a long line of choices America has made as an aggressor. Political stances taken today were held during the Vietnam War, Korean War, Spanish American War, et al. And just as many have spoken out in the past, including Baldwin, Hughes, DuBois, here, views on America’s battles have resulted in three disparate yet unifying voices; reflection on the benefits of the first amendment, the empathy developed for an enemy, and a cautious ode to America.

These poets, all pillars, continue to exercise their most basic right. Speaking with a disquieting urgency, using free speech to confront contemporary ills while bringing to the fore the lasting results of past conflicts.

e

Truth’s Consequences
Poet Haki R. Madhubuti gives his views on war and its reprocussions

Yusef Komunyakaa’s Vietnam War Poetry
An essay on Dien Cai Dau by Angela Salas Ph. D.

...with liberty and justice for all.
Amiri Baraka and Bill O’Reilly obliquely discuss the first amendment.

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Haki R. Madhubuti

TRUTH’S
CONSEQUENCES

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I DO NOT WEAR AN AMERICAN FLAG ON MY COLLAR, NOR IS THERE A FLAG ON MY CAR OR ON A WINDOW IN MY HOME. FOR THOSE WHO PROUDLY DISPLAY THE FLAG I FEEL THAT IT IS THEIR RIGHT TO DO SO, JUST AS IT IS MY RIGHT NOT TO JOIN THEM. I am a veteran, volunteering and serving in the United States Army between October 1960 and August 1963, discharged honorably and early to attend college on the G.I. Bill of Rights. The military was my way out of debilitating poverty and I will never speak ill of it. However, I am wise enough to not send my sons when the options of a first-class university is there for them (two of them attended Northwestern University). On the road to becoming a poet, I have learned to love America. Coming to this feeling was not easy or expected. On my many journeys, if I’ve picked up anything, it is to question authority.

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As a poet, educator, publisher, and cultural activist I have had the privilege to travel and interact with people in nearly every state in the United States. I have served on the faculty of major universities in Illinois, New York, Washington D.C., Ohio, Maryland, and Iowa. Between 1970 and 1978, I commuted by air each week between Chicago and Washington D.C. to teach at Howard University. In the early eighties, I drove each week between Chicago and Iowa City for two and a half years to teach and earn a graduate degree at the University of Iowa. These commutes and other travels, nationally and internationally, over the last three decades have enlarged me in unexpected ways. The United States is a very large and beautiful country. Its population is reasonably well-educated and is highly diverse––racially, ethnically, religiously, economically, and culturally. This reality gives me cause for hope. This hope has helped me to escape the trap of accepting simple generalizations about racial and ethnic groups and narrow assumptions about their political positions. Serving in the United States Army as a very young man, taught me that close quarter living, serious open-minded study, daily conversation, and interaction with people of other cultures can do wonders in eradicating stereotypes and racial and ethnic pigeonholing. My work over the last thirty-nine years has been confined almost exclusively to the African-American community, the same community where I live, work, and build institutions. As a result, I have few White, Asian, Latino American, or Native American friends or associates. I am quite aware that there are literally tens of millions “good and well” meaning people of all cultures doing progressive political and cultural work every day. I say this because it is very easy to take the negative

acts of some people and assign them to all people of a particular ethnic group, race, or culture. But the plain truth is that we are all individuals. It is best to accept or reject people based upon their individual talents, gifts, intellect, character, and politics. America’s many cultural and ethnic groups share the English language, public education, popular culture, mass media, and the powerful and effective acculturation into Western civilization and culture. In essence, if we are honest, we are more alike than many would admit. I wrote in my book Enemies: The Clash of Races (1978), that I love America, but loathe what America had done to me, my people, and other non-white citizens of this country. I still stand on these words. We must never forget that America’s “democracy” was built on the destruction of the hearts, minds, souls, spirits, bodies, and holocausts of the Native peoples and Africans. This fact is not taught in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools, or universities––although it remains the secret behind the enormous economic success of the United States. The nation’s inability to honestly come to terms with its own bloodied past with public debate, acknowledgement and restitution remains at the heart of the centuries-old racial divide. The sophistication of today’s oppression of Native peoples, Black, Latino, and poor people is much more insidious, institutionalized and thereby excused by media, politicians, and corporate America as something of the past. At the same, time, we must acknowledge the vast changes in voting rights, employment, housing patterns, political representation, legal and health care structures, access to secondary and higher education, and the creation of a large, yet fragile Black middle class. None of this would have come about, if not for the many Black struggles over the last one

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hundred years that forced the powers that be to accept their own laws, and not discriminate against people purely on racial or ethnic differences. Our struggles here for full citizenship, equality, and fair access to all the opportunities afforded White citizens remains at the core of progressive Black struggle. Our right to be politically active is fundamentally what democracy is about. This is no small right. My work of writing, teaching, editing, publishing, traveling to speak, organizing conferences, and workshops and other cultural and political activities that I and other like-minded people of all cultures are involved in could not be done in Afghanistan, China, Nigeria, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Libya, Colombia, Kuwait, and most of the member nations of the United Nations. In the early seventies, I often thought of migrating to Africa. However, after visits to many African nations, discussions with African Americans who have migrated and returned, and my non-romantic assessment of the African continent economically, politically, and culturally, I decided against it. I realized after a great deal of soul searching and private and public debate that I could help Africa and its people (us) more by working hard to be a success here and like the Irish, the Jewish, and other ethnic groups reach out to my people abroad. This decision remains critical in my thinking and actions today. My focus is to let young, and not so young brothers know that we do have realistic options in America. It is my responsibility to communicate to you that our ancestors’ centuries old bloodied fight for human, economic, and political rights in the United States has not been in vain. Our people, against unrealistic odds, have taken the dirt, crumbs, scorn, and ideas of America and secured

a tangible future for generations of Blacks to compete and make their own statements about success and attainment. Yes, there is still much more to do. I have tried to give some insight into the politics of that work in this book. However, many (not all) African Americans have more freedoms, prosperity, liberties, and possibilities in the United States than Black people any place in the world today. Of course, those of our people in this category are still a fragile minority. As contradictory, inconsistent, racist and unfair as America continues to be, it still is a nation that does afford a chance, an opportunity to those who are intelligent, organized and strong, focused and bold, serious, hard working, and lucky enough to make their statements heard. I can state unequivocally that my publishing company, Third World Press, publishes only the books that I, and its editorial staff agree upon. Yes, there has been political and economic pressure on us to not publish certain books. However, these pressures did not directly come from the United States government. The two African-centered schools I co-founded, New Concept preschool and the Betty Shabazz International Charter School likewise continue to exist without open opposition from the government. For 21 years, myself along with other conscious and committed young brothers and sisters operated multiple bookstores in Chicago and only closed them in 1995 because of serious competition from the super chain bookstores. But that, in the United States, I and millions of others have been able to fight for our space even in often difficult political and economic structures is a comment on the possibilities of this country. (continued on page 40)

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yusef komunyakaa’s

VIETNAM WAR POETRY

Angela M. Salas, Ph.D.

In a review of Yusef Komunyakaa’s Magic City, Jennifer Richter notes the volume “illustrates that attempting to know the world and make sense of it is, in fact, a lifelong process.” In “Sunday Afternoons,” from the same volume, the young narrator asks, “Where did we learn to be unkind?” While Magic City takes as its subject a childhood spent in Klan country, the question of where “we learn to be unkind” is central to Komunyakaa’s work. One crucible in which Komunyakaa’s vision was forged was that of the Vietnam War, where he served as a correspondent from 1969-70. His 1988 volume Dien Cai Dau (meaning crazy in the head) is explicitly about the Vietnam War experience; however, Komunyakaa’s every volume is an assertion about what it is to be an African-American male, what it was to be a military correspondent (hence both witness and participant) during the Vietnam War, what it means to have been raised in the Jim Crow South, and what it has meant to see and know things he ought not. The issues with which Komunyakaa grapples in Dien Cai Dau include: the uneasiness of the soldier of color sent to battle other people of color; empathy for the enemy, whom he nonetheless brutalizes; awareness of women as victims of war and of male aggression; and the certain knowledge that serving alongside whites will not afford him equal regard in the world. Komunyakaa won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for the 1993 volume Neon Vernacular; his work strives mightily toward canonization and, I predict, the Nobel Prize. Influenced by French and Russian literature, powerfully surrealistic, steeped in the work of the Language poets and masterful at intertextual riffs, Komunyakaa’s poetry “approaches the intensity of no less a figure than prototypical canon quester Ralph Ellison in his bid for mainstream American literary status” according to Alvin Aubert. And Vince Gotera, Komunyakaa’s friend, former student, and one of the first to write sustained critical examinations of Komunyakaa’s work, asserts that the poet wishes that his work, including the poems

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comprising Dien Cai Dau, be “tested with the full rigor applied to all serious literature.” This dedication to craft does not, however, remove Komunyakaa’s poetry from the political sphere. On the contrary, Komunyakaa himself, in a 1986 interview with Gotera, articulated his discomfort with what he called a “neoFugitive” school of poetry, divorced from the political concerns of the world, saying “I believe poetry has always been political, long before poets had to deal with the page and white space. . . .There seems always some human landscape that creates a Paul Celan. Too many contemporary poets would like to dismiss this fact.” We know that war can create poets. Dien Cai Dau speaks boldly about the Vietnam War as the landscape that helped produce Yusef Komunyakaa’s particular, yet universalizing, poetic vision. Komunyakaa deploys symbolism, surrealism, journalistic language, Vietnamese and African-American idiom, imagism, allusion, and even revivified cliche to give life and voice to those individuals, white, black, Vietnamese, American, women, men, rape victims and rapists, whose human dramas occurred in the midst of the war. In so doing, Komunyakaa refuses to allow the claim that, because his experience and witness are outside the reader’s (as white, as young, as female or draft resister) that they need not grapple with the issues that burn in his poems. Instead, Komunyakaa writes on terms that require a reader’s interaction with his work and with the witness it bears. What he does to stunning effect is, through exquisite craftsmanship, universalize his experience so that even young, white, Northern readers can say “yes, I get it. I can see that Vietnamese woman being consumed by Napalm in ‘You and I Are Disappearing.’ I can see and feel the horror.”

Komunyakaa extends his poetic hand (and his metaphors) too overtly to justify criticism that his vision is too particular for wide consumption. When Komunyakaa spoke at Adrian College on October 3, 1996, an African-American man asked him if he found his work overlooked or resisted by white readers. “No,” Komunyakaa replied, “I write in images. Images are pretty universal. Images invite the reader as a participant in the making of meaning.” Earlier in the discussion, Komunyakaa had declined to answer questions of what individual poems are “about,” saying, “I desire the reader to get to the end and go back to the beginning. I don’t want the reader to just say, ‘OK, it means this’ and throw it away.” A 1992 interview with Muna Asali, New England Review, puts a fine point on issues of race in Komunyakaa’s poetry: after Asali asked him about how he avoided the “ghettoization” of his work, Komunyakaa replied that “ghettoization is imposed upon certain people, and . . . is a pigeonhole that the artist attempts to traverse by all means. But we cannot crawl out of our skin, even when we try to lie to ourselves or say that race doesn’t matter . . ..” Race matters, particularly when it is race that permits others to question your humanity and to pathologize you. However, writing and being read exclusively on racial grounds (however valid they are) risks being relegated to the ranks of specialinterest writer. On the other hand, requiring, through imagery and the deferral of resolution, that readers enter the poem and participate in creating its meaning, is to cross the color line and drag the reader back with you. What could be more political than to confront a young white reader with what the black soldier heard in the field: that while the soldier was fighting for democracy in Vietnam, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated for fighting for the democratic rights of blacks in America. And what could be more activist and political than making a reader, years after the fact, feel that she too, stands impotent and complicit as

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another woman burns “like a sack of dry ice,” “like a cattail torch/dipped in gasoline,” “like a shot glass of vodka,” “like a burning bush/driven by a godawful wind”? The reader’s guide in the trip through Dien Cai Dau is a haunted young African-American soldier. In the interview with Asali, Komunyakaa speaks of his very particular African-American narrative persona in Dien Cai Dau, saying: This black soldier in Vietnam . . . seems rather uncomfortable with his role. Maybe the agent of free will lurks like a specter in his psyche. Or perhaps he feels guilty, because he has a sense of history and he knows that he’s merely a cog in the whole contradictory machinery some might call democracy or even manifest destiny. Maybe he has singled himself out because he feels responsible. After all, we are condemned to carry the weight of our own hearts. Indeed, this soldier seems limboed in a kind of existential loneliness. This soldier is alone with his questions. He is tormented by Hanoi Hannah, who asks why a black man would fight the white man’s war; who taunts him with Tina Turner music; who blurts out news of racial unrest in America. He finds, further, that the race rules in effect in Bogalusa have been transplanted to this place so far from home. In “Tu Do Street,” the black soldier still has his “place” when it comes to R&R: Music divides the evening I close my eyes & can see Men drawing lines in the dust. America pushes through the membrane of mist & smoke, & I’m a small boy again in Bogalusa. Whites Only signs and Hank Snow.

The lines are still drawn in the dust of this combat zone: whites and blacks are to remain separate and unequal. “America pushes through the membrane” when, banned from the club, as from bars back home, the soldier wanders to a place where “black GIs hold to their turf also,” looking for female company to prove that he is not “a small boy/again in Bogalusa”: An off-limits sign pulls me deeper into alleys, as I look for a softness behind these voices wounded by their beauty and war. Back in the bush at Dak To & Khe Sanh, we fought the brothers of these women we now hold in our arms. There’s more than a nation inside us, as black & white soldiers touch the same lovers minutes apart, tasting each other’s breath, without knowing these rooms run into each other like tunnels leading to the underworld. Vietnam, like America, is divided in ways meant to humiliate and emasculate the black soldier; yet the soldier, struggling to retain his humanity, empathizes with the prostitutes he uses and whose brothers he may have killed. He has enough humor to realize that, despite the illusion created for the white GIs, the prostitutes traffic in both black and white soldiers, aided by rooms that “run into each other like tunnels.” Jim Crow meets Vietnam and brings along all its ugliness and inherent absurdity. “Facing It,” the final selection in Dien Cai Dau implies, but refuses to give, resolution to the existential crises of the war. “Facing It” takes place at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. and is, as Gotera writes, “Literally a reflection about reflections; it is a ‘facing’ of the dualities that govern

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this everyday life: there and here, America and Vietnam, living and dead. . . . Komunyakaa . . . presents, practically unmediated, a series of images.” “Facing It” reads this way:

My black face fades, hiding inside the black granite. I said I wouldn’t, dammit: No tears. I’m stone. I’m flesh. My clouded reflection eyes me like a bird of prey, the profile of night slanted against morning. I turn this way — the stone lets me go. I turn that way — I’m inside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial again, depending on the light to make a difference. I go down the 58,022 names, half-expecting to find my own in letters like smoke. I touch the name Andrew Johnson; I see the booby trap’s white flash. names shimmer on a woman’s blouse but when she walks away the names stay on the wall. Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s wings cutting across my stare. The sky. A plane in the sky. A white vet’s image floats closer to me, then his pale eyes look through mine. I’m a window. He’s lost his right arm inside the stone. In the black mirror a woman’s trying to erase names: No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

Perhaps the most wrenching lines in the poem are those about the white veteran. “[T]hen his pale eyes/look through mine. I’m a window.” Is this a moment of empathy, when the white vet can see “through” the black’s eyes — really see with him? Or is it, perhaps more probably, a continuation of the racial status quo in America, with the white veteran seeing through the black as if he is not there; as if they have no common ground? And has this veteran, who has “lost his right arm/inside the stone,” been mutilated in the war, or is this loss a momentary trick of the eyes? There are no answers: instead, we have images of past memory and present time. Andrew Johnson is now a name on the Memorial and a white flash the narrator remembers and forces the reader to see. The Memorial itself can absorb the narrator, the other veteran’s arm, much as the war absorbed the lives and blood of the 58,022 Americans whose names are inscribed on Maya Lin’s arresting black wall. Komunyakaa has spoken of his poetry as an act of witnessing. It is also an act of assertion. He speaks with immediacy, clarity, and force about the violence and cruelty we do to each other. In an age in which poetry is widely considered either threatening or impotent, Komunyakaa’s poems speak with a force that provokes stunned silence in my own classrooms. They do this, I think, because Komunyakaa is so gifted at speaking through the horror of seeing and experiencing the harms people inflict upon people, whether out of anger, despair, hopelessness, carelessness, or ignorance. Komunyakaa confronts Jim Crow, rape, self-hatred and all the things we would rather avoid discussing in mixed company; in so doing, he requires that his readers do so also. We come away from this confrontation emotionally bruised yet oddly relieved of the burden of silence maintained around both the Vietnam War and issues of race in America. We are all “condemned to carry the weight of our own hearts,” and Yusef Komunyakaa provides us with an inventory of the things we carry. ★

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...WITH LIBERT Y AND JUSTICE FOR ALL

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Bill O’Reilly interviews Amiri Baraka The O’Reilly Factor, Fox News, January 22, 2003 partial transcript BARAKA: What was slavery? What happened to slavery? O’REILLY: Well I was — I was — you know, that... BARAKA: That was a long time ago. O’REILLY: Slavery was older than some of your poems I read, you know. BARAKA:& Well, are you saying Diallo — that was slavery. Are you saying... O’REILLY: I’m saying the jury... BARAKA: ... Byrd in Texas — that was slavery. O’REILLY: I will tell you this. The jury that... BARAKA: Are you telling me the man who was murdered in Alabama... O’REILLY: ... had black Americans on it acquitted the policemen. That’s all I can tell you. BARAKA: I know. O’REILLY: Black Americans... BARAKA: Are you going to tell me that Bush being against affirmative action, that’s not a continuation? Are you telling me that Bush getting into office... O’REILLY: With all due respect, Mr... BARAKA: Baraka. O’REILLY: Baraka, right. You know, I’m cloudy here because you’re throwing a lot of stuff at me. You teaching schoolchildren... BARAKA: I taught school for 20 years. O’REILLY: ... is akin to me having Mussolini come in and teach children. BARAKA: Well, your being on television is akin to having Goebbels on television. O’REILLY: All right. Well, I guess we... BARAKA: Joseph Goebbels. It’s the same thing. O’REILLY: I guess we don’t have too much common ground, other than we both don’t like bigots. BARAKA: We can talk about what — we don’t understand what each other is saying. O’REILLY: All right. I’ve got to tell you I appreciate you coming on in. I think you’re a lunatic, and... BARAKA: Yes. Well, I think you’re a lunatic who’s more dangerous because you’re on television. O’REILLY: All right. Mr. Baraka, thank you very much. We appreciate it. BARAKA: Thank you very much. That was short and sweet.

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BLACK
BY LEE HUBBARD AFRICAN AMERICANS WHO GREW UP LISTENING TO MARVIN GAYE IN THE LATE 60s AND EARLY 70s HAVE A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE ON LIFE AND WHAT IT MEANS, THAN THE ONES WHO ARE NOW GROWING UP ON JAY Z, AND OUTKAST.

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K HEADS
While this is apparent to most, you would never know this listening to many African-American leaders today. And look at the voting patterns of younger Blacks compared to older Blacks. Older Blacks have been the voice of the community for so long that many younger Blacks feel that their messages or the ideas that they wanted to convey have gone unheard. But recent studies show that this lack of voice has led to a generation gap between the two demographic groups. This gap on perceptions and ideas is very apparent when one looks at hip-hop music and its impact on the Black community. While older Blacks don’t like some of the messages that are conveyed in the music and the usage of the word “nigga,” many younger Blacks don’t think about this issue, and use the word liberally. The differences in the two groups can be seen in how they look at each other and how they view politics, history, and the importance of race in today’s times. All of these issues are dealt with in the book, The New HNIC: The Death of Civil Rights and the Reign of Hip Hop by Dr. Todd Boyd, an associate professor at the University of Southern California Cinema School. Boyd, the author of three previous books, and the writer and producer of the film The Wood, believes that hip hop and the culture that it represents is the voice of the new Black generation, which he feels is something that older

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Blacks cannot accept. In his book, Boyd deals with the myriad of issues that affect the two groups and how they are at odds with each other. I was able to talk to the loquacious Boyd about his book, the hip-hop and civil rights generations, the word “nigga,” and his confrontation with Spike Lee. First, how would you define the civil rights generation? To me the civil rights generation marks the time period of people who grew up during the time when Black people were segregated by law and were trying to push their way into the mainstream of America. Then there is a generation of people who grew up in the aftermath, between civil rights and the Black power movement. They grew up in the world that the success of civil rights gave them different options. How would you define the hip-hop generation? I would define the hip-hop generation as the people who were born or came of age after the civil rights movement, who came off age during the 1980s and the age of Regeanomics and after. When there was no longer legal segregation, but the impact of racism was such that you got the rise of crack cocaine, the rise of the prison industrial complex. Black people and especially poor Black people were pushed to the margins and this culture of hip hop gave those a voice to express themselves.

People who grew up after the civil rights and Black power eras have grown up in a different era. It is hard for one generation to say this is the way it is and to try and pass it down to another generation, when another generation says we see things differently. At the end of the day, I am not saying that racism has not disappeared. But I am saying that there was a way in which people were taught to think during the civil rights era. They were taught to look at things a certain way. That mindset is no longer applicable. That mindset is out of style and it has played out. It is one thing to grow up in a world where there is segregation. But it is different when it is legal, and people can put up signs. Things are just different and the civil rights mindset is outdated. So what do you mean by the new HNIC? Back in the 1970s, people often used the phrase HNIC or Head Nigger in Charge. This was a hot 1970’s thing. It had to do with the first people integrating into mainstream society. I thought about this when thinking about the book title. There is now a new group of African Americans who have integrated the mainstream but in a very different way. They did not go to the mainstream, the mainstream came to them. These people, to me, are the people who are best defined by hip-hop culture.

When thinking about this, I looked at Fortune magazine’s list of the 40 richest Dr. Todd Boyd people under the age of 40 and people So what about this divide between the hip-hop such as Master P Michael Jordan, Will Smith, and , and civil rights generation? P Diddy were on the list. Most of these young I think that this divide is pretty deep. We have a African Americans are connected to hip hop, and generation of Black people from the civil rights this is very significant. You have a number of era who have gotten accustomed to assuming that people with that much money and power their experience is the experience that all Black connected to hip hop. This is a new Black ruling people have experienced, and that is not the case. class.

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You are a tweener, a term that I and Bakari Kitwana term for people who grew up right after the Civil Rights Movement and just before the hip-hop era. How does this make you feel when you write, talk, and analyze hip-hop culture? I look at it like this. You can call it being born between the two. But I was born in 1964 and there are a lot of people who are claiming hip hop who were not around in 1979. There are people in the hip-hop generation born in 1980 and 1981. I can remember being in school and having a contest to see who could remember the lyrics of “Rapper’s Delight.” I feel closely connected to hip hop. I was born the same year that Martin King got the Nobel Prize. I am in some ways not part of the civil rights revolution. civil rights are more of my parent’s generation. But with hip hop, I was there from day one. To me, I feel connected to hip hop although a lot of people my age don’t feel that they have that connection. I feel like I have the ability to look at both hip hop and civil rights and comment intelligently on both. When I was on the set of the film The Wood six years ago, when the young actors on the film were working we would sit up and talk about hip hop. The older people on the film did not understand how I could sit up there and talk about hip hop. To me it is the ability to walk both sides of the strength. If you are going to be significant you can’t walk one way. You cannot be one dimensional. What is the difference between the civil rights mode of thinking and the hip-hop generation’s mode of thinking? Civil rights is very old school. It is valuable as something historic to learn from, but it is not something that can be applied today. Civil rights was about access because Black people were denied so much in this society. Civil rights was

about gaining access. We now live in a society were people have access in some form. So we have to cut the garment according to the cloth. We have to recognize that things are different. Now people are looking for empowerment. They want to be able to participate in society and not as a secondary player but as a major player. In that way, civil rights will not do it. Hip hop is about keeping it real. A lot of civil rights were about accommodation. It was about putting on your best face, acting a certain way and demonstrating to the mainstream society that you were worthy of being accepted. To me hip hop is not about accommodation. It basically says that look, “we are who we are. If you like us, cool. If not, that is cool too.” The culture is not trying to fit in. That is why I love that phrase, “I am going to do me.” I am not going to do you or what everybody else wants me to do. I am going to do me and be true to myself. That is very much different than the civil rights era. This is not to say racism is gone and disappeared, but times are different. Speaking of racism, what did you think about Trent Lott’s racist comments in favor of segregation, which led him to step down from his post as Senate Majority Leader? In a way, when things like that happen I am glad. There are so many people who want to act like there are no racists in our society or racists in positions of power. When Black people mention racism, people say we are making too much out of it. Or that you have a chip on your shoulder or that was in the past. To me, when he made his statement, that was confirmation of what we already know. Trent Lott has had influence over something very significant. The statement just indicated we have a lot of people in this country who are still racist.

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And what frustrated me about this was the fact that everyone wanted to act like he did not mean it. That it was a joke and off of the cuff. They wanted to imply that the statement was not bad. But ultimately, it was a good thing, because it is a reminder that we still have a long way to go in this country. That there are still racists, there is still racism and that Black people and other people of color are victimized by this. How has hip-hop culture impacted the Black community? I think that hip hop has given the Black community a voice. It has given the community a way to express themselves. It has allowed people to represent. Hip hop is about the good, bad, and ugly in Black life. Some people don’t want to deal with the bad and the ugly, they want to deal with the good. But to me that is not progressive or is it realistic. Life is good sometimes, bad sometimes, and sometimes it is ugly. Hip hop reveals that reality. Also, people do not have a sense of history. If you look at the blues, they were talking about some of the same things hip hop is talking about now. It was specific to its time, but nevertheless, they were dealing with life. Hip hop is like a documentary film; it attempts to capture a certain sense of reality. I think that hip hop has given the Black community a way to be seen and heard in a very effective and dramatic way. Why was there resistance to hip hop in the Black music and civil rights community? There was a lot of bourgeois amongst a certain segment of Black people. They felt that since they got there degrees, cars, jobs, businesses, and other things that they wanted to assimilate. Hip hop didn’t want to assimilate and it reminded many Blacks of something that they wanted to forget

about. You have to remember that when hip hop came about, that was during the time of Jerhi curls, sequence suits, and Prince. No one was coming out in music with anything hard core. Hip hop came and it was like “Yo, we are taking it back to the streets.” Hip hop educated a lot of people. A lot of people did not know about Malcolm, the Nation, or other elements of Black history. A lot of Black music executives and Black civil rights people were talking about Bill Cosby and trying to be Heathcliff Huxtable. Hip hop started speaking to people with more of an edge to it. In the book you talk about the word “nigga”. Why did you say it is the most beautiful and powerful word that is used today? I love the word “nigga.” It is my favorite word. When I wake up in the morning, I say the word ten times; Nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga. It puts a smile on my face. I hate this N-word business that was started with OJ. It is not like just because you don’t say the word that racism will disappear. If you could guarantee that if people stopped saying nigga, then there would be no more racism then I will be all for not using the word. The real issue with the word is what it symbolizes. It symbolizes a very problematic history in America, and that is what we need to talk about. The word is just window dressing. Hip hop has refined the word. It is not about nigga. It is NIGGA. Like Tupac said, “Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished”. Nigga. That is what I am about. To me, any word that causes this much controversy is something that we need to look into and we cannot look into censoring it. I say lets say it, until someone starts to look at the history that makes that word so troubling in the first place.

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To many civil rights activists and those who grew up during that time, your comments about the word Nigga, would trouble them? They grew up at a time when the word was exclusively negative. For them, it carries a different weight than it does for other people. But we need to be honest. Black people have been saying nigga from day one. Black people used the word nigga as much as they used the word, the. Clearly there was a difference when someone was using it in a negative way than a positive way. Like “My nigga.” To me that is love. Or you can use it derisively. If we are going to be honest, I don’t know how many times White people called me a nigger. You know after a while it did not make a difference. Them calling me that did not make me feel good, but after a while you deal with it. Instead of these racists being able to hide and function in a covert manner, I think that they need to be outed so that everybody can see who they are and what they are about. You cannot legislate the use of a word. It is in all of these hip-hop songs and movies and you cannot legislate the use of language. We need to focus on challenging and hopefully trying to eradicate racism. What are some of the themes that you are trying to convey in your book? I want people to think about how things have changed in society. I want people to recognize that we cannot always apply 1960s thinking to the 21st century. You cannot do that, if your head is in a past era. What is the most defining moment in hip-hop history for you? For me. I don’t know if I can reduce it to one moment. I would have to say when I first heard “The Message.” When I first heard Grandmaster Flash in 1982, I was a freshman in college. Up until that point, most of hip hop was kind of silly. It was cool, but it was not serious. But then I heard “broken glass everywhere, people pissing

on the stairs, you know they just don’t care,” and I was like “wow.“ Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” indicated to me that rap could be more than talking shit, bragging , and wilding out, which is cool. Grandmaster Flash indicated to me that this music could be used for comedy, drama, and politics. To me that is the golden era of hip hop. Then a year later I heard Run DMC’s “Its Like That” and “Hard Times”. How does this moment contrast with the most defining moment in civil rights history, the Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream“ speech? Lately, I have been thinking about this “I Have A Dream” speech. The whole refrain in the speech is that I have a dream where people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. King used this metaphor of a dream. When I think about King’s speech, I think about Biggie’s dream. “It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up magazine, Salt and Peppa and Heavy D up in the limousine.” To me, King planted a seed and that seed has now grown into something different. Much love and mad props to King, but to me what is more relevant today is the dream that Biggie was talking about. That comment is sure to incite older Blacks. How do they respond when you say this? They get hot. They get pissed. What I say to them is the purpose in life is to grow. You don’t get to a point and stop. You should not reach a point in life and stop. You should always grow. I always say that if you are doing the same things at 30, that you did at 20, then you have not made any progress. To me civil rights, Martin King, and “I Have A Dream” is what we did in 1964. But in presently, we are doing something different and we have grown. (continued on page 42)

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WITH A CAREER IN THE PERFORMING ARTS THAT HAS SPANNED A LIFETIME, THE ACCLAIMED SINGER, ACTRESS, POET, ACTIVIST, TELEVISION PRODUCER, AND AUTHOR, CAMILLE YARBROUGH IS AN INFLUENTIAL FIGURE. Recently, Yarbrough re-released on compact disc The Iron Pot Cooker for a new generation of fans anxious to hear some of her music, and get some wisdom in their souls. Along with the release came the title “foremother of hip hop” from Spin magazine. And rightfully so, for she’s inspired a generation of poets and musicians through her lyrics and passion. Looking at Ms. Yarbrough it’s hard to see on her face the span of her history or feel it in her presence. Time doesn’t show – she is smooth skin, graceful walk, deliberate speech, and feminine grace. You know that she is a legend.

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ALL PRAISES DUE
by DuEwa Frazier
At first glance her regal stature brings to mind a dean in academia–she did serve as a professor of African dance at New York’s City College for twelve years. You might also think she was one of the characters on an episode of The Cosby Show, you know, one of Claire Huxtable’s friends––she’s that well coiffed and classy. Looking at Camille Yarbrough you see your mother, your grandmother, the auntie you never had, you see a teacher and leader, all in one woman. A lover and practitioner of dance, poetry, dramatic theater, the written word as well as song and protest for progress in the African-American community, you wonder, how did this woman get to be so many things and so good at so many things? And thus, the answer, is her journey, from past to present. Camille Yarbrough was born in 1938, the seventh child of a family of four girls and four boys, on the Southside of Chicago, and has fond memories of the people and community that surrounded her. “When you walked down the street, the men selling their vegetables, fruits, and wares would be singing. They sung to you about what they were selling. It was blues music. All around us was blues music.”

The Dancer
Her initial inspiration came at fifteen when she heard the sounds of drumming coming from a local community center and knew she wanted to be a part of that music. By seventeen, she started studying primitive dance, a modified Katherine Dunham technique, taught by the legendary dance master Jimmy Payne, as well as Martha Graham technique. While a teenager, Yarbrough frequented the famed Tivoli in Chicago. It was there she got her first chance to see such renown entertainers as Moms Mabley, Butter Beans and Susie, Coles and Atkins, Billy Eckstein, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Lena Horne. When Camille saw singer, dancer

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Josephine Baker for the first time, in the 1950s during one of Baker’s U.S. performances, she was stunned. “I had never seen a performer who performed like her. Baker talked about how she witnessed a race riot in East St. Louis when she was a little girl. I was admiring of her and other artists who spoke out. Baker stood up to the racism, she was outspoken.” The blues of Chicago wouldn’t hold Yarbrough for long. After high school Yarbrough started working at a local calypso club. It was there she met members from Katherine Dunham Dance Company who gave her leads on dancing jobs in Canada and New York. At the age of twenty, Yarbrough left Chicago, first landing in New York. There she stayed with the family of a Puerto Rican dancer she knew. It was a humbling beginning. Yarbrough was looking for work, striving to pay rent and make sense of the new world she found herself a part of. After a short time in New York, she returned to Chicago where she auditioned for John Pratt, husband of Katherine Dunham. Yarbrough was accepted into Dunham’s dance company in 1955, which was then based in Los Angeles. “It was with Dunham that I had a high level of dance training. We were constantly rehearsing. When we didn’t get work in theaters, we danced in clubs. Dunham had thirty-five dancers and all the performances involved showcasing African culture from the diaspora. Katherine Dunham’s study, her research as an anthropologist in African culture in America, the Caribbean, Cuba, South American, and Central America fueled much of the dances. KDDC performed in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Yarbrough admits, “It was a cultural lesson to perform these dances.” She strived to understand the various lifestyles and personalities she would

encounter as a dancer traveling the world. Her close family upbringing from Chicago did not completely prepare her for the worldly lifestyle of the artists she worked and socialized with. In 1960, shortly before the dance company disbanded, the company traveled to Paris for a brief tour. Yarbrough reveals, “I learned so much about myself being in the company and about the frailty of human nature and also the strength.” After dancing with Dunham for five years, Yarbrough headed to New York in 1961.

The Actress
Camille Yarbrough hadn’t been in New York six months before she received her first Broadway show Kwamina, which made use of her dancing skills once again. She later performed in plays such as: God’s Trombone/Trumpets (1969); Lorraine Hansberry’s To Be Young, Gifted and Black (1970), and The Beast Story and Sambo staged at The Public Theater. The tour of To Be Young, Gifted and Black, started at the Cherry Lane Theater, which preceded a 56city tour, showcasing the critically acclaimed play on college campuses around the country. “It was an amazing tour,” says Yarbrough. In addition to her theater work, Camille was also acting on television soap operas such as Search for Tomorrow and Where the Heart Is. When asked why she didn’t pursue acting in Hollywood as a means to further her career, Yarbrough replies, “I was reading about Black people, about Paul Robeson, and slave rebellions. I listened to Black activists on the radio, my work changed. I found that in this society, you get paid for not having values, you get paid to keep this system going.” Camille, not desiring to keep the system of racism and degradation towards Black people going, on or

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off the stage and screen, set her goals on acting parts that would tell the stories of Black people without the added destructive Black images and perpetual stereotypes. Yarbrough asserts, “Black folk, Black artists used to be concerned with freedom, but now, [acting] seems to be solely about money.” As a working actress, Yarbrough looked up to writers such as Lorraine Hansberry and Alice Childress for their “thinking in terms of the truth of what Black people were going through.” Sharing what it was like to be a Black actress in the sixties and seventies, and a conscious Black actress at that, Yarbrough adds, “If you’re going to be an artist, it is a difficult life. I was running from racism, where the people were oppressed, where the police oppressed us. We were discriminated against as actors and performers. Not only did she learn the ins and outs of her craft as a performer, she also learned some ugly truths about the business in terms of the people who hired you and could fire you. “Even the shows you did, some directors would direct you gearing towards racial stereotypes. I was always in trouble for resenting those behaviors, so I would be out of work for a little while.” “I knew of plagiarism and how people were exploited. During an open-call audition this woman director took myself and three other dancers aside, we had all been with Dunham, she had intentions on stealing our Dunham moves, Dunham choreography. She told us that we would get solo dances or an understudy with Ethel Ayler, a known actress here in New York City, if we showed her some Dunham moves. I began to see that these people were stealing everything,” says Yarbrough. She did as she was told, but only to the extent that she would always have her dignity and integrity as an artist and as a Black artist who cared to preserve the culture of her people, not exploit it.

The Singer
A sudden illness reconnected Yarbrough to her ancestors through prayer and a changed diet. This also served as impedance for her first album, The Iron Pot Cooker. The album was a culmination of her performance show, Tales and Tunes of an African American Griot, which she performed for two years. When asked why she named her album, The Iron Poet Cooker, Yarbrough replies, “Doing research and thinking in terms of using the art for the people, I found there were Nigerian female doctors who would travel, they would have their iron pots, they cooked herbs, healing mixtures in their iron pot. I consider myself a healer, and thus, I too am the iron pot cooker.” The songs on The Iron Pot Cooker, “But It Comes Out Mad”, “Dream/Panic/Sonny Boy the Rip-Off Man/Little Sally the Super Sex Star” were all original spoken-word poems, before being set to music. The album dropped in 1975. Yarbrough made her singing performances a full and fantastic production. Coming from a background with Katherine Dunham and theater, Yarbrough fit her songstorytelling performances into Black history monologues. “When you start your performance, if it’s spiritual, you use a high pitch, I would ululate, a traditional healing way of using the voice, for the listeners. Ululation is also to clear the air, to set the tone for spirituality. I’m reaching back into our culture and bringing it back to us now. When I did the shows, I had a projection of a Nigerian door. The stage was black, the music started in darkness and then came my spotlight. I would come on stage with long African earrings and a huge kente cloth gown. I would sing to them in Hausa, an African language. I also had African stools on the stage,” says Yarbrough. When asked about the value of today’s music Yarbrough comments, “The music now, the vibrations are very destructive, not healing.” Camille Yarbrough is a griot within her songs.

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She tells a story of her people, she has always told a story that her audiences can relate to and take value from. Camille gives you life experiences and praise and storytelling for African ancestors, in her songs. In recent years, Camille has performed to packed houses ranging from school age children to senior citizens as well as noted activists and entertainers. Her concerts are called, “thought provoking,” “soul stirring,” “culturally uplifting,” and “African-centered.” Recently, Yarbrough hosted and sang for the annual African Voices Rhymes, Rhythms and Rituals Music and Poetry Concert in Marcus Garvey Park, in Harlem, singing songs of reverence to African spirits and ancestors, for the hundreds in attendance. Under the early evening sky and tall, sloping trees Ms. Yarbrough, dressed in one of her trademark flowing African wrap gowns sang with a holy deliverance and uplifted all in earshot. Yarbrough’s performance was a sheer uplift. She set a standard for all the other artists to hope they could follow, in their own special way.

Over the years, Camille Yarbrough has worked with Jazz Mobile, a program that utilized poets in the public schools, and taught drama and poetry to young students. During a brief stint as a student at Hunter College, Yarbrough began to write stories for Black children. The experience led Yarbrough to write her acclaimed book, The Shimmershine Queens (Putnam, 1989). Others followed: Cornrows (Putnam, 1997); Tamika and the Wisdom Ring (Putnam, 1994), and The Little Tree Growing in the Shade (Putnam, 1996). The Shimmershine Queens gives a message to African-American youth to respect themselves and others, achieve success and confidence through knowing and connecting with their culture and heritage, and reversing negative self images through artistic performance. The Shimmershine Queens is a Parent’s Choice Award in Story Winner. In Cornrows, A Coretta Scott King Award Winner, Yarbrough reinforces the beauty of Black culture and African beauty for young readers and families. The Little Tree Growin’ in the Shade is a story that reveals an African family and it’s three generations in the midst of a history telling, by Yarbrough, weaving African proverbs and spirituality with song, music and relation to the Diaspora experience. Tamika and the Wisdom Ring tells the story of a young girl striving to realize her cultural heritage in the midst of such destructive community ills as drugs and violence. Yarbrough finds ways to mix her love of African heritage with her messages of hope, beauty, selfesteem, triumph, and discovery for Black youth in all of her books. For years Yarbrough has conducted workshops that entail her singing, dancing, and storytelling in conjunction with introducing her storybooks to the youth. It is with Yarbrough’s African American Traditions

The Poet and Writer
Spin magazine named Yarbrough “the foremother of rap.” Journalist Kevin Powell stated in her CD liner notes, “There is no question that Camille Yarbrough ‘raps’ on this album, be it the tender ode to Black men ‘But It Comes Out Mad’, or the panic sequence on ‘Dream.’“ Asked to reflect upon her foremother of rap title, Yarbrough answers, “When you go to the old, you see where the new comes from. Everything I did on stage, without music, was spoken word, it was rap.”

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Workshop that she has conducted such diverse performance storytelling for young audiences.

The Activist
During the 60s and 70s, there were marches, riots, and protests. Black Panthers were being jailed and killed. Black people were outraged and fighting back. Camille Yarbrough was always right there to support her brothers and s i s t e r s . Ya r b r o u g h t o o k h e r o u t s p o k e n perspective of the civil rights movement and intertwined it with her performances. “I would always lend my support. Every march there was, every protest there was I was there as a poet. Yarbrough also seved as occasional host of Bob Law ’s Night Talk, a conscious Black radio show format, airing from midnight to 5 am on WWRL-AM in New York City. The goal of the show was to give factual and inspirational information about Black people, for Black people. “I’d say ’Good Morning , Africans’ at the beginning of the show. People would call in and talk and debate with our guests and we loved it.” During the show Yarbrough talked with some of the most intriguing, motivated, and conscious Black activists and scholars of the time. Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Dr. Manning Marable, Dr. Betty Shabazz, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Abiola Sinclair, and Dr. Adelaide Sanford were all guests. Yarbrough continues to lend her voice and passion to progressive action for the Black community. Most recently working with a panel of educators and activists to form a new leadership summit. Today, she continues to write, record music, perform, and host a public access television show Ancestor House.” The show, produced by Yarbrough, showcases the art, culture, and perspective of people of the African Diaspora,

and features Black performers, musicians, poets and book authors. Although it may not have always been pretty, easy, or glamorous, Camille Yarbrough has journeyed on a particular path, a spiritual and cultural path, leading her into the positions of: griot woman, songsters, poet, author, actress, teacher, dancer, lecturer, actress, and broadcaster. She continues to take her positions seriously, with grace and humility. Camille Yarbrough, renaissance woman in her lifetime. For all these things, are the reasons why we love and appreciate her and appreciate her. ★

COMING THIS FALL
E. Ethelbert Miller
John Rodriguez

Boogie Down Poets
Archie Givens Collection

Carl Hancock Rux’s Asphalt bell hooks’s The Will to Change
Plus some other stuff

SEPTEMBER 2004 ISSUE FIFTEEN

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Haki Madhubuti
That I have never had the economic resources to really compete with the major or midstream publishing companies is also a comment on the work that still needs to be accomplished in this nation. A central part of the responsibility of an informed citizen is to question our government, specially its foreign policy which helped to create an Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, corrupt monarchs in Saudi Arabia and key nations all over Africa. As the nation grieves and buries its dead, we must not allow ourselves to just automatically buy into the answers from our government. The larger question from us must be why, after investing over thirty billion dollars of our taxes a year, with few questions asked, is it that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Council and the Defense Department didn’t have a clue to what was happening? And now there is a call from those agencies for people who speak the indigenous languages of Afghanistan and others. Could racism be the reason for a lily white, angel bread security force who can’t currently find its way out of a computer program. Most certainly these people could not get back in the field where the real dirty work of human intelligence is being done. Thirty billion dollars for what? This is the type of gross incompetence and racism that Black folk and others have to deal with daily. So, young brothers, I want you and young people of all cultures to know that the idea of America can become a reality, can become the visionary eye in the center of the storm, the organic seed growing young fertile minds, can be the clean water purifying the polluted ideas of old men fearful of change, can take democracy from the monied few to the concerned majority if we believe in its sacred potential and the potential of the twentyfirst century’s coming majority of Black, Brown and locked out White people. The best of you must rise. This eminent majority must not have the white supremacist mindset of the founding patriarch or the ”superior” souls of the current “rulership.” Those among this coming majority must be nurtured and educated in the essential tenets of democracy. Many of you have tasted the debilitating effects of being denied your birth rights. So when the time comes for you to lead, you must be able to look your children in their eyes and state with firmness and clarity that you do believe in democracy and fairness for all people and not just the monied few and numerical majority. We, too, stand and will fight for the historical ideas of the Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Finally, we must take ownership of ourselves, our families, communities and this vast and beautiful land. In doing so we will be making the most profound statement on our citizenship, and in the words of the great poet Langston Hughes, ”We too Sing America.” ★ This essay originally ran as “HARD TRUTHS: September 11, 2001 and Respecting the Idea of America” on the online magazine Chickenbones: A Journal (http://www.nathanielturner.com/ hakimadhubuti2.htm)

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Black Heads
Is some of the criticism of hip hop valid? If you go back to the 1960s there was no hip hop, but people were still getting shot and using dope. You had pimps, hoes, and all of the negative things that were talked about. A lot of hip hop is just people talking shit. To me that is part of Black culture. People talk shit and say things. To me, hip hop captures various elements of Black life that shouldn’t be taken seriously. There has been In the book you write a lot about the Black Man/ White Man buddy roles in film. How did this play in contemporary society and is this image reality? This is your typical buddy-buddy flick. The Black man, White man genre. This was played out in contemporary society though Bill Clinton, who was one who people say, was connected to Black culture. In one moment of trouble he was connected to Vernon Jordan. When you think about this image, you cannot help but think about Robert Culp and Bill Cosby, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. Now there are situations where you have this reality. Black Male, White Male reality. Back in the day, the Black man was always subordinate, but now the Black man does not have to be subordinate. Eminem needs Dre, more so than Dre needs Eminem. At the moment of Clinton’s impeachment, Clinton needed Jordan, whereas Jordan did not need Clinton. What do you think about those people who are saying that Eminem is one of the greatest rappers ever? I don’t think that Eminem is the problem. But I think it is what people put on Eminem. Eminem is down for hip hop. If he were wack, niggas would not fuck with him. He is not whack. Eminem of late, is one who is taking the game seriously. You can tell that he has been honing his lyrics. I am not mad at him. But, it is what people put on him. That is where I have problem. It is like Larry Bird. When he was playing ball, he was a great basketball player. But he was not the greatest player ever, which is what they made it out to be. If you are Black, that makes you feel uncomfortable, because the media blows these White characters out of proportion. ★

Black people and especially poor Black people were pushed to the margins and this culture of hip-hop gave those a voice to express themselves.
a lot of stupid people around from day one. People who will mimic. You have had a small beef with Spike Lee. Explain this? I wrote a piece about him in the L.A. Times about his film Get on the Bus. In the piece, I wrote that Spike was the man in the 1980s, but he had fallen off in the mid 1990s. He got upset about the piece and he had one of his boys send me a letter calling me out. He had his producer send me this fax, which I thought was kind of cowardly. I called his producer back, but they would not accept my calls. Sometime later, I ran into Spike at a L.A. Lakers game at the old Forum. He tried to loud talk me and call me out, as he was yelling and screaming. But I have no beef with anyone. We ought to be able to disagree with Black people and sit down and chop it up. You take your position and I take mine. We should at least be able to sit down and show each other respect.

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