Jewish World Review Feb. 26, 2002 / 14 Adar, 5762

Stanley Crouch

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The unmasking
of a phony black hero -- THE mighty thinkers of our time, it often seems to me, are treated superficially while the fools are allowed free rides.

One of the mighty thinkers was Ralph Ellison, who, as last week's PBS special demonstrated, was accused during his lifetime of being "Eurocentric," meaning that he valued Western culture over Afro-American or African culture. This is the kind of imbecilic thinking that misled so many people during the '60s when the civil rights movement was superseded by black power. Fantasies took over about Africa as a paradise lost, and there was widespread faith in the most embarrassingly naive - or lunatic - of all conceptions, which was that America would fall at the hands of purported revolutionaries such as the Black Panthers.

A central figure in the pollution of that time - and ever since - was Everett Leroy Jones who became LeRoi (French for "the king") Jones, who became Ameer Baraka, who became Amiri Baraka.

Jones was featured in the Ellison documentary and allowed to condescend to a writer far superior to himself - to a man who, once he grew up, never gave in to racism, anti-Semitism or lightweight Marxism.

Jones fell for every one of them. In the mid-'60s, full of black nationalism, he left his interracial marriage to a Jewish woman and became a large and dangerous figure, throwing aside a substantial literary talent in favor of agitprop rants of one sort or another.

He was the central founder of the so-called Black Arts Movement, which failed to produce one major work of art. As the late Leon Forrest always asked of those who praised that dive into narcissism, poor craft and bigotry, "Where are the books?" There is no serious answer.

But things are finally getting better. In "Amiri Baraka, the Politics and Art of a Black Intellectual," Jerry Gafio Watts gives Jones the shellacking he has long deserved by simply looking at his writing and posturing.

Detail by detail, stage by stage, he pulls the revolutionary suit off Jones with superb analysis and high style.

Watts writes of Jones: "... He advanced a political line that was socially retarded, even for the times. The viciousness of his sexism, the obscenity of his anti-Semitism and the ridiculousness of his pipe dream to usher black Americans into African feudalism demand a day in public court ... [on charges of] advocating an atavistic, black neofascism."

Jones left that behind and went on to become a Marxist revolutionary of the sort we are now accustomed to - the kind who fights tooth and nail for a tenured position at an American university!

This book should be read by students of black studies across this nation. Then maybe politically correct professors will begin telling the truth about some people who are now canonized as heroes while real heroes like Ralph Ellison remain misunderstood.

JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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