Aint Nobody Scared Here, Dawg
1: “the critics couldn’t get to ( my novel) because they like those Jewish Books that James Baldwin wrote.”
Ishmael Reed, to Walt Sheppard, conversations with Ishmael Reed.
2: What person has hurt you the most recently?
Because he is a great poet, and it seemed to be beneath him. His anger and his contempt for me, which was both real, and not real. He ignored me for so long and then called me a cock sucker, you know what I mean? It’s boring. But I always did say he was a great poet, a great writer. But that does not mean I can put up with being insulted by him everytime I see him, which I won’t
James Baldwin, The Last Interview. Aug 10, 1987
3: the lily-white left thought that we were out of touch and other African-American writers railed against him, saying he was a sellout who wrote for white people. He was irritated and hurt by the anger and hatred. Eldridge Cleaver and Ishmael Reed ridiculed him as a “faggot — ” and a “cocksucker — ”
Cecil Brown, from With James Baldwin At The Welcome Table. https://commonreader.wustl.edu/c/with-james-baldwin-at-the-welcome-table/
4: Let me begin this answer with a quote from Ishmael Reed “In America” he says but I think it’s true everywhere “Art is cock”. I think this is pretty true
John Williams, conversations with John Williams
5: I’m not sentimental when I say I had a very sophisticated and comprehensive education at my Aunt Eulalah’s sewing circle or my Aunt Virginia’s DIY beauty salon. The Essence Black Book Club and review section is one of the few lasting literary institutions in America that wasn’t funded by the government or a New England legacy pension; and the people who taught me my craft as a writer had been close, comprehensive readers of African American literature for half a century. More than the education they gave me, they taught me how to deal with being black in America. They gave me the routines and rituals to cope under this system and a sense of proportion and context about who I was, what I wanted to be, and what constituted success.
I know some people see my critiques of Black nationalism as my “internet brand.” but my beliefs systems reflect what I learned from them, my mother, grandmother, and my Uncle Moe. I only say that so many of the writer’s social justice figures worship are full of shit. I know I harp on Baraka, but In rhetoric, performative gesture, and political action, he is the father of so much politically-minded poetry and poetry scene action right now. But to the black women at Mrs. Eulalah’s on 27th and I Street, and Mrs. Virginia’s on 41st and Mckinley Avenue, Baraka was the black writer who bragged about “sleeping with all the mediocre colored girls in Newark,” ran a litany of the “weaknesses of black women” in “laine poo” said in the same poem that black women only saw trees “as charming ways to make wicker baskets’, wrote a play where he advocated black women to be murdered for dating white men, and in the same play called for black women to be beaten as therapy for black men( the play experimental death kit 1).
Many politically engaged writers are moved by Baraka’s call to action in “Short Speech to white friends” when he says
“They have become our creators/the poor, the black, the thoroughly ignorant/ let the combination of humanity and inhumanity begin)”
But to those women, he was calling them ignorant, and they resented him for it, among other things. Many young scholars don’t like to hear what I’m saying, but those women lived it.
My respect for my roots is in my response to Ishmael Reed contacting me in regards to bringing up his past in my Amanda Gorman review, and my response is that he’s a scumbag progressive edge ord. Starting with 1967’s The Free Lance Pallbearers, a crass parody of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, in which every group under the sun gets lampooned ( except black men who think and act like him, but I’ll get to that later), Reed established himself as multiculturalism’s bully bon vivant, with his victims ranging from black folks to the right of Mao, gay people and pretty much anyone who doesn’t think he is the greatest thing since sliced bread. As a novelist, he wasted a genuine talent with a formidable understanding of satire parody and African American folklore by writing more befit for the violent man hipster man baby scenes that made new york in the late 60’s. Richard Pryor was well within his rights to steal the premise to Yellow Back Radio Broke down because he ruins the story by trying to be the black Bruce Jay Friedman. His greatest book, 1972’s Mumbo Jumbo, is a good novel that could have been great if he had an editor to cut the experimental prose overkill and give discipline and focus to the numerous directions that the novel tries to go.
But Reed is most famous for his rage toward feminists. From the array of castrating shrews in nearly all of his books to the assertion that feminists somehow needed to be raped in Louisiana Red, few writers have ever turned into babbling sociopaths in the presence of women quicker than he does. His main theme is that throughout history, Black women have colluded with white women and white men to oppress black men, a familiar theme used by many black male artists and intellectuals of the late 60’s and early 70’s as an excuse to justify their images of violence, rage, abuse and anger towards black women. But all of his rants were only an overture to 1986’s Reckless Eyeballing, his violent revenge fantasy against Alice Walker. Eyeballing is a dark, petty, ugly, and viciously paranoid satire of the black feminist movement that shows a frightening corner of the mind of one of the most vulgar con-men in African American arts and letters.
But he’s kewl again, y’all. He’s got a new play off-broadway! He burned burned burned Lin Manuel Miranda in numerous takes and another play. And if you champion him, you can be seen as chic. More than that, you can be seen as honoring an elder for the culture. You can get gigs. You can go to seminars. You might line yourself up for a shot for that corporate diversity lecture money. You can have a career, Robert! You can have a career.
I don’t fucking want one. Given what the people in my life mean to me, being “canceled” by Ishmael Reed isn’t that much of a big deal. This twitter centric idea that I have to kneecap the people I love to “make it big in wokelandia” is one of the most mendacious and venal things I have ever heard. Also, I don’t want to “make it big in wokelandia.” Even in a ragingly triumphant year and tour in poetry, it began to eat at me that I have vested so much in a profession that so many people I love and who love me hate. There was a bit of mischievous fun in having the Homeboy Songs hit #8 in the SPD national bestseller list after being “canceled” by New york spoken word poets over my opinions about Amiri Baraka. I had stuck it to the system, repped my neighborhood, and helped uphold liberal traditions.
But now? I’ve gone through this shit with a new internet political poet every season for a fucking decade. That my years of trying to make inroads and opening doors in the northwest was so publicly written off by the Writers Of Color Alliance as me being an “Insufficiently diverse” “token” who “had comfortable relationships with the establishment” was draining( even more so given the fact that they made “equity money” off of it.” Black poetry has tied so much into something-online twitter politics-that so many people fucking hate, none more than black people.
Woke Twitter isn’t just a penthouse sewer of online thugs who call their grandmother pam and their mother a bitch for not upping their Venmo. It’s also something that is costing the left a lot of votes. The demonic brilliance of Glenn Youngkin going after Toni Morrison in his attacks on critical race theory was that he knew that Baraka and Reed had done enough work for him. He didn’t need to attract the ignorant and fearful suburban vote that conflates social justice with Twitter because he knew Twitter had got him enough votes by turning progressive America's most beloved murder poet and chic men right’s goon into saints. (Ginning up the stone-cold bigot vote by going after Morrison was the icing on his slimy bigot cake).
So many social justice poets see me as a right-wing “token” “gatekeeper.” I see them as people doing a better job than the RNC in helping Trump get elected again. Almost no one has done more to do this than Reed himself, an obsessive, gruesome walking nightmare of the worst of progressive politics. For all his huffing about white supremacy, Reed needs the particular misery and death of black men because without it, he wouldn’t be able to skate on being one of the most sickeningly winsome figures in the history of American literature. If networking in what sustains him and so many toxic others constitutes success, then fuck success. If I offended you with this essay, then fuck you.