Amiri Baraka: Perspectives on Music and Race
In chapter 20 titled, "Ritual and Performance," Baraka states, "We must rejuvenate and reorganize the popular culture of the U.S. by going to the grassroots of creativity and productivity, the masses of the people, of which we are hopefully one of the most sensitive and thoughtful parts. We must create our own theaters, concert venues, magazines, newspapers, journals, publishing houses, art galleries, schools and not merely toll away like drugged monks at the bell of vicious moribund capitalism, called imperialism." This is a most interesting statement and perhaps an even more critical one when you consider that an African American now resides in the Whitehouse. Let me explain. A number of surveys have recently been considered asking if African Americans are better off today, and whether the issue of racism still exists in America. But the election of Barak Obama creates a new type of challenge for African Americans. In fact, the election of Barak Obama has only helped to create the illusion that racism no longer exists in America and that African Americans' are now better off today. Sadly but predictably, it hasn't taken us long to forget about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which is one the most telling and humiliating embarrassments in the history of our country, and one that was largely about race. Why?
As mentioned previously, the American public educational system has never incorporated a curriculum that yields to the importance of African American culture in our history. African American youth need to understand the challenges of the past, and most importantly, the inventions and accomplishments of the numerous outstanding African American scholars within science, medicine, and the arts. The names are endless yet one would be hard pressed to find these names within the curriculum of any American grade school system. Now with the election of President Obama, will the African American community still feel the need to stand up and demand change in our public school curriculums, or will they sit back and wait for the president to make the needed changes all by himself? The truth is, there is not a more appropriate time for higher expectations in the support for African American children and the education that they deserve to receive. Why do many African American children today link Martin Luther King with the freeing of slaves? Children should not have to wait to attend a university to learn about the significant accomplishments by African Americans. How can we expect African American children to grow up with a sense of pride and ownership if they are not taught what is theirs to own so that they can build on that history rather than not expecting to have a future at all. It's not just wrong, it is a crime and it is unjust. Now is the time for new community Black Leaders to step up and demand change in our educational curriculums. Now is the time not to accept "no" for an answer.
There are two chapters where Baraka mentions the fact that Down Beat provided no stars in its rating review of records by Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Yes, that was a lack of vision and yes, I'm sure that Downbeat wishes it could turn back the clock, but was it on purpose due to the influence of race? If Down Beat was racist, why would they start a publication on a music that was largely dominated by the genius of African American's? Does Baraka want to see them fail because of a lack of foresight 70 years ago? Wasn't it Louis Armstrong that called this new music (Bebop) Chinese music? We recently observed the demise of JazzTimes but fortunately due to outside help and a quick turnaround, it is still alive. Let's also not forget that particular prominent and progressive African American jazz musicians have been featured within the pages of Down Beat, but have yet to perform at "Jazz at Lincoln Center," which has an African American as its Artistic Director. I'm not denying that racism exists; I am deploring the author's unrealistic and unfair shotgun approach.