I feel compelled to write this letter to a distressing incident that happened in a class.
I am Jewish, and unfortunately the incident is related to that. This week in one of my classes we were discussing an poet called Amiri Baraka.
The Teacher decided to share an anecdote to the class. Amiri Baraka was made Poet Laureate of New Jersey in the late 90s. After 9/11 happened, he wrote a poem about it. Saying it caused tempers to flare would be an understatement. The offending lines claimed that Jews and the Israeli government knew about the attack beforehand, that Jews were warned away from the towers beforehand, and included the lines,
\\Who know why Five Israelis was filming the explosion
\\And cracking they sides at the notion
The New Jersey governor attempted to kick him out of the Poet Laureate post, only to find there was no legal way to do so. It was eventually settled in court.
I’m sure that the professor found the tale amusing. I failed to find it funny.
But that’s not the distressing part. What happened next was. When I called out the horrendous Antisemitism of this man, other people actually started to defend him, including the professor.
Their position was that Baraka was an artist, and controversial, a controversial artist. And that excused his what he said because…reasons.
In the entire discussion not one person acknowledged that what he said was wrong. Not even the professor. None of them were able to see just what was the matter with claiming that no Jews died that day because of a conspiracy.
Is that really so hard to perceive? Can a poet write anything without criticism because they are a poet? Or is criticism only allowed if its the sort that doesn’t make a class or professor uncomfortable?
All I know is that I will continue to call bigotry out when I see it, and hope that this sensitive, multicultural liberal arts college lives up to its claimed ethos in the future.