Saturday, January 13, 2018

Amiri Baraka - "Why Is We Americans" (spoken word/poetry)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post showcases the poem/spoken word "Why Is We Americans" by Amiri Baraka (also known as Imamu Amiri Baraka; and LeRoi Jones)

Information about Amiri Baraka is given in the Addendum to this post.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, sociological, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Amiri Baraka for his life's legacy. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publisher of this video on YouTube.

SHOWCASE VIDEO: Def Poetry - Amiri Baraka - Why is We Americans

urbanrenewalprogram, Published on Aug 26, 2010

Amiri Baraka in Season 1 Episode 4 of Def Poetry Jam


Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the legendary Amiri Baraka.

[Amiri Baraka:]
This is an excerpt from a poem called: Why is We Americans. But reality is an excerpt on Television.

Why is We Americans? Why is We Americans?

Bu-de-daaaa. Bu-de-daaaa. Bu-de-daaaa. Bu-de-daaaa. Bu-do-do. Be-De-De-De-Bu-De-Bu-Bup-Boo-Boo.

What I want is me. For real. I want me and my self. And what that is is what I be and what I see and feel and who is me in the. What it is, is who it is, and when it me its what is be….I’m gone be here, if I want, like I said, self determination, but I ain’t come from a foolish tribe, we wants the mule the land, you can make it three hundred years of blue chip stock in the entire operation. We want to be paid, in a central bank the average worker farmer wage for all those years we gave it free. Plus we want damages, for all the killings and the fraud, the lynchings, the missing justice, the lies and frame-ups, the unwarranted jailings, the tar and featherings, the character and race assassinations. historical slander, ugly caricatures, for every sambo, step and fechit flick, we want to be paid, for every hurtful thing you did or said. For all the land you took, for all the rapes, all the rosewoods and black wall streets you destroyed. All the mis-education, jobs loss, segregated shacks we lived in, the disease that ate and killed us, for all the mad police that drilled us. For all the music and dances you stole. The styles. The language. The hip clothes you copped. The careers you stopped. All these are suits, specific litigation, as represent we be like we, for reparations for damages paid to the Afro-American nation.

Bu-de-daaaa. Bu-de-daaaa. Bu-de-daaaa.

We want education for all of us and anyone else in the black belt hurt by slavery. For all the native peoples even them poor white people you show all the time as funny, all them abners and daisy maes, them Beverly Hill Billies who never got to no beverly hills. who never got to Harvard on they grandfathers wills. we want reparations for them, right on, for the Mexicans whose land you stole. For all of North Mexico you call Texas, Arizona, California, New Mexico, Colorado, all that, all that, all that, all that, Bu-de-daaaa do do bap bap bap baaa du de do.
All that you gotta give up, autonomy and reparations. To the Chicanos, and the Native Americans, who souls you ripped out with their land, give Self-Determination, Regional autonomy, that’s what my we is askin, and they gon do the same. when they demand it, like us again, in they own exploited name. Yeh the education that’s right two hundred…years. We want a central stash, a central bank, with democratically elected trustees, and a board elected by us all, to map out, from the referendum we set up, what we want to spend it on. To build that Malcolm sense Self-Determination as Self-Reliance and Self Respect and Self Defense, the will of what the good Dr. Du Bois beat on – true self consciousness. Simply the psychology of Freedom.

Bu-de-daaaa Bu-de-daaaa Pu de-daaaa Pu de-daaaa bap bap bap bap bu de bu de bu de bu bu.

Then we can talk about bein American. Then we can listen – then we can listen without the undercurrent of desire to first set your ass on fire. We will only talk of voluntary unity, of autonomy, as vective arms of self-determination. If there is democracy in you that is where it will be shown. this is the only way we is Americans. This is the only truth that can be told. OTHERWISE there is no future between us but war. And we is rather lovers and singers and dancers and poets and drummers and actors and runners and elegant heartbeats of the suns flame….but we is also to the end of our silence and sitdown. We is at the end of being under your ignorant smell your intentional hell. Either give us our lives or plan to forfeit your own.
About "Why Is We Americans" created by atrklja, 2014
"This excerpt was originally part of the first season of the HBO spoken-word series titled Def Jam Poetry, which aired from the years 2002-2007. Artists featured on the show include Dave Chappelle,The Last Poets, Jewel, Jamie Foxx as well as many others. Russel Simmons, co-creator, was quoted stating that “… artists feel their voices are powerful and they’re going to use them more, I think, in promoting social change in political climates that affect their ideas” in relation to the series and it’s impact (Ogg). The show has since been granted the Tony Award, the Peabody Award, been on Broadway as well as produced a book. “Why is We Americans” excerpt can also be found as a part of a longer feature on his life provided by the site Democracy Now.

Baraka himself was known as an influential Civil Rights Activist as well as a Poet, Critic, Writer and Scholar. Having been involved and influenced by Beat poetry, Black Nationalism and Marxism, Amiri changed his views on his art and it’s purpose throughout his life. While this poem is situated during the later years of his artistry, his varied political and social beliefs remain a feature within this work. He specifically discusses the tension created by the Civil War in American from a black perspective. Both style and prose in “Why is We Americans” are characteristic of his reputation of being a controversial artist, often receiving mixed reviews of his work."
This comment is reformatted for this pancocojams post to enhance its readability.


Amiri Baraka (1934-2014): Poet-Playwright-Activist Who Shaped Revolutionary Politics, Black Culture

Democracy Now!, Published on Jan 10, 2014 - We spend the hour looking at the life and legacy of Amiri Baraka, the poet, playwright and political organizer who died Thursday at the age of 79. Baraka was a leading force in the black arts movement of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1963 he published "Blues People: Negro Music in White America," known as the first major history of black music to be written by an African American. A year later he published a collection of poetry titled "The Dead Lecturer" and won an Obie Award for his play, "Dutchman." After the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 he moved to Harlem and founded the Black Arts Repertory Theater. In the late 1960s, Baraka moved back to his hometown of Newark and began focusing more on political organizing, prompting the FBI to identify him as "the person who will probably emerge as the leader of the pan-African movement in the United States." Baraka continued writing and performing poetry up until his hospitalization late last year, leaving behind a body of work that greatly influenced a younger generation of hip-hop artists and slam poets. We are joined by four of Baraka's longtime comrades and friends: Sonia Sanchez, a renowned writer, poet, playwright and activist; Felipe Luciano, a poet, activist, journalist and writer who was an original member of the poetry and musical group The Last Poets; Komozi Woodard, a professor of history at Sarah Lawrence College and author of "A Nation Within a Nation: Amiri Baraka and Black Power Politics"; and Larry Hamm, chairman of the People's Organization for Progress in Newark, New Jersey.

"Amiri Baraka is an African-American poet, activist and scholar. He was an influential black nationalist and later became a Marxist.

Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones) was born in Newark, New Jersey, on October 7, 1934. After three years in the U.S. Air Force, Jones joined the Beat movement in Greenwich Village. After the assassination of Malcolm X, he took the name Amiri Baraka and became involved in the Black Nationalist poetry and literature scenes. He later identified himself as a Marxist. Baraka died on January 9, 2014 at the age of 79.

Early Life
Amiri Baraka was born Everett LeRoi Jones on October 7, 1934, in Newark, New Jersey. After developing an interest in poetry and jazz in high school, Baraka attended Howard University, where he changed his name to LeRoi James. He earned his degree in English in 1954, and then joined the United States Air Force. After three years of service, Baraka received a dishonorable discharge for owning inappropriate texts.

Baraka then moved to Manhattan, where, in addition to attending Columbia University and The New School, he became a prominent artist in the Greenwich Village scene and befriended Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. He published their and other poets' work in the newly founded Totem Press. In 1961, Baraka published his first major collection of poetry, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note. His 1964 play, The Dutchman, which addressed racial tensions and American blacks' repressed hostility toward whites, gained him fame and acclaim.

Political Activism
After a trip to Cuba, Baraka disassociated with the apolitical Beat movement in favor of addressing racial politics. The assassination of Malcolm X was a turning point in his life. Afterward, he disavowed his old life—including his marriage to Hettie Cohen—and changed his name to Amiri Baraka. He became a black nationalist, moved to Harlem and founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School. The company dissolved after a few months, however, and Bakara moved back to Newark and founded the Spirit House Players. Baraka fully immersed himself in Newark, becoming a leader of the city's African-American community.

In 1968, Baraka became a Muslim and added the prefix Imamu, meaning "spiritual leader," to his name. In 1974, however, he dropped the prefix, identifying as a Marxist.

Later Life & Death
Baraka is known for his aggressive, incendiary style. His writing is controversial and has often polarized readers. His poem "Somebody Blew up America," suggesting that Israel and American leaders knew of the 9/11 attacks before they happened, was condemned for being anti-Semitic. After the public outcry against the poem, Baraka was fired from his position as New Jersey's poet laureate.

A prolific writer, Baraka has penned more than 50 books, including fiction, music criticism, essays, short stories, poetry and plays. In 1984, he published The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka. He's taught at many universities, including the New School for Social Research, San Francisco State University and Yale University. Before retirement, he served as professor emeritus of Africana Studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook for 20 years.

Baraka died on January 9, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey at the age of 79. He is survived by his wife, Amina Baraka, two daughters from his first marriage and four children from his second.

..."In 1967, Baraka (still Leroi Jones) visited Maulana Karenga in Los Angeles and became an advocate of his philosophy of Kawaida, a multifaceted, categorized activist philosophy that produced the "Nguzo Saba," Kwanzaa, and an emphasis on African names.[9] It was at this time that he adopted the name Imamu Amear Baraka.[1] Imamu is a Swahili title for "spiritual leader", derived from the Arabic word Imam (إمام). According to Shaw, he dropped the honorific Imamu and eventually changed Amear (which means "Prince") to Amiri.[1] Baraka means "blessing, in the sense of divine favor."[1]”...
As a member of the cultural nationalist organization Committee For Unified Newark (CFUN) from 1967-August 1969. During most of that time Amiri Baraka was the head of that organization and was known by the title "Imamu".

I was aware that Imamu Baraka either was or used to be Muslim, but no Islamic or any other religious teachings were given in that organization. I do however recall that some people (perhaps also Amiri Baraka) voluntarily fasted during the Islamic observation of Ramadan.

I don’t recall Imamu Baraka’s name being spelled “Amear” and not “Amiri” (the standard Swahili spelling of that name).
Update: January 14, 2018 3:20 PM
To clarify, from 1967-August 1969 (or possibly beginning in late 1966) that I was a member of the organization that Amiri Baraka eventually led, I was aware that he was or used to be Sunni Muslim. And there were other Sunni Muslims in that organization (for instance, during some of the time that I was a member of that organization I was romantically involved with Zayd Ibn Muhammad, one of the leaders of that organization. He was Sunni Muslim as were some other people, particularly in early 1967 or late 1966. I remember that a number of Muslims left the organization at the same time in protest, because (if I recall correctly) they said that a Sunni Muslim man who had been arrested hadn't receive the support that he should have from that organization.

There were no members of Nation Of Islam in that CFUN cultural nationalist organization- but I remember buying their delicious bean pies and also remember reading their newspaper.

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  1. Here's some information about the personal name "Imamu":
    "Given Name IMAMU
    GENDER: Masculine
    USAGE: Eastern African, Swahili
    Meaning & History
    Means "spiritual leader" in Swahili, ultimately from Arabic إمام (Imam)."
    In KiSwahili, "imamu" (pronounced e-MAH-moo) is a title. I don't know if this word is ever used as a given (personal) name.

    My guess is that the custom of giving "imamu" as a personal name was inspired by poet, playwright, music critic, activist Imamu Amiri Baraka.

    Here's a recent example of the name "Imamu Baraka" referring to another man and not poet, playwright, activist Amiri Baraka:

    By JEFF PEGUES CBS NEWS January 10, 2018 Man captures video of "patient dumping" outside Baltimore hospital
    "BALTIMORE -- Overnight, Imamu Baraka was walking past a Baltimore hospital when he noticed something he says he'll never forget.

    The hospital's security guards had just wheeled a patient to a bus stop, and in the freezing temperatures they left her there. The only thing she had on was a hospital gown.

    "It's about 30 degrees out here right now," Baraka says in a recording of the encounter. "Are you OK, ma'am? Do you need me to call the police?" he asks.

    It's called "patient dumping" and it doesn't just happen in Baltimore. In 2007, "60 Minutes" investigated the practice of removing homeless patients from Los Angeles hospitals and leaving them downtown.”...
    Here's more information about that Imamu Baraka:
    "Imamu Baraka PhDc MHS LCPC NCC DCC
    Mental Health Service in Baltimore, Maryland"

    1. Here are two other examples (father & son) of the Swahili word "imamu" being used as a given (personal name):

      "Imamu Amiri Mayfield (born April 19, 1972) is an American professional boxer.[1]
      [born] Freehold Borough, New Jersey"

      From From ring to gridiron, Mayfield name echoes in Jersey by Jerry Carino, Oct. 20, 2014
      "FREEHOLD – The name is printed across his red sweatshirt in big white letters, with the phonetic spelling underneath.

      Imamu (e-ma-moo).

      If you followed boxing in the 1990s, Imamu Mayfield almost certainly rings a bell. "The Pride of New Brunswick" earned the International Boxing Federation's cruiserweight title in 1997, fighting on a Las Vegas card that featured Evander Holyfield.

      On this October evening, the retired pugilist trains young boxers at his South Street gym, Freehold Boxing and Fitness. His son is on the way over after football practice.

      "I've told him, 'This is his time,' " Mayfield said of his firstborn son, who has returned the family name to the spotlight.

      If you follow high school football in the Garden State, Imamu Mayfield probably rings a bell. The senior tailback is enjoying an enormous season for Manalapan High School's powerhouse team.

      The way his dad once commanded the ring, Mayfield Jr. is flooring opponents on the gridiron. His numbers through six games are astonishing: 931 yards on 113 carries (8.2 yards per carry) and 21 touchdowns. The unbeaten Braves visit 6-0 Red Bank Catholic Friday night in the Shore Conference's game of the year.

      The champ will be there, blending into the background.”...