Some fundamentals of Amiri Baraka’s biography
While discussing Amiri Baraka’s famous play The Dutchman, I would like to tell a few words about the author. So, first of all, there is a need to point out that Baraka is considered to be a well-known writer, journalists, and essayist of famous Black Arts movement. He was born in the early thirties. In the early fifties, Amiri got his degree at Howard University.
The writer is also known as a music critic. In the early sixties, Baraka was extremely interested in political and aesthetic issues. In other words, at that period the author’s beliefs were radically changed. Generally, one is to keep in mind that Baraka is recognized to be one of the most important representatives of the black community. The author founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre to fight against American racism.
The author was a supporter of black cultural nationalism. It should be pointed out that Amiri Baraka was interested not only in racial problems, but he also tried to resolve certain economic contradictions of blacks. The author’s ideas about the ideology were expressed in his works. Thus, Baraka wanted people to fight against the capitalist regime. In other words, the author’s main purpose was to fight against chauvinism.
The representative of black cultural nationalism said that his thoughts and ideas concerning political philosophy were not changed; but they developed. Shana Riddick says that according to Woodard, “through Black cultural nationalism African Americans were able to develop a collective consciousness” (p. 1).
When speaking about Baraka’s most important works, one is to keep in mind that his ground-breaking play The Dutchman requires special attention. Generally, the basic theme of the work is considered to be racial injustice. In the play the author discloses the relations between a white woman and a black man. “The Dutch sailed the first slave-bearing vessel to the American colonies.
The legend of The Flying Dutchman is one of a ship cursed to sail the seas eternally without ever finding safe harbor” (“Amiri Baraka and The Dutchman” par. 7). In my opinion, another important theme of the play seems to be nonrecognition of blacks. In other words, the USA is portrayed as a doomed country, because it rejects the members of black society. Other important themes of the play, which should be highlighted, are related to the concept of death.
Thus, according to the first theme, it becomes obvious that “dehumanizing sexuality, in any form, leads to death. Clay and Lula’s sexual interaction is simply another layer of masking. It is sterile, with no spiritual or emotional intimacy. Baraka’s second theme is that psychic paralysis leads to annihilation” (“Amiri Baraka and The Dutchman” par. 14).
Generally, the author of the play told that in The Dutchman the feelings of all the blacks were expressed. Baraka states that being a black in the USA is one of the most difficult tasks.
Another interesting moment I would like to draw your attention to is considered to be the symbolic meaning of the play. For instance, the moment when Lula eats an apple and teases Clay reminds us of a biblical story concerning an apple and temptation. Moreover, one is to keep in mind that the title of the play is closely related to the myth of the Flying Dutchman.
For instance, it is evident that the ideas of eternal wandering, and damnation are taken form the myth. However, when analyzing the symbolic meaning of the play, one can make a conclusion that the hidden essence of racism is the key idea of the work.
Another interesting moment, I would like to tell a few words about is related to Baraka’s own attitude towards his play. Thus, the author says,
When I wrote that play Dutchman, I didn’t know what I had written. I stayed up
all night and wrote it, went to sleep at the desk and then woke up, and looked
at it and said “what the [f—] is this?” And then put it down and went to bed.
(Laughter.) You have to always figure that you can hold on and you just open
your mind to where it wants to go to, which you don’t know at the time, but if
it’s legitimate, you’ll find out what you’re saying (Kalamu par. 8).
So, taking into account the previous quotation, one can make a conclusion that the play The Dutchman reflects the inner feelings of the author. In other words, Baraka’s play is based on his levels of knowledge, i.e. perception, rationalization, and use. The author did not know what general impression his play could cause; however, his inner wisdom helped him.
In my opinion, racial oppression seems to be one of the most important barriers in relation to social justice. They say that the modern society in the USA can be even called a racialized social system. For this reason, I suppose that Baraka’s play reflected the perspectives of social hierarchies development. To my mind, the play The Dutchman is closely related to racial ideologies. Thus, the writer points out that racial stratification always existed in the USA.
The fact that Amiri Baraka was interested in the political struggle and the issues of racism, gives us an opportunity to state that it is racial discourse the play is based on. There is an opinion that “Through racial discourse, individuals and groups frame racial issues as they strive for ideological and political advantage. In essence, racial discourse is a form of propaganda” (Doane p. 256). Thus, I suppose that The Dutchman seems to be the author’s instinctive attempt to show the importance of the problem of racism.
Generally, one is to keep in mind that the concept racism includes numerous constituents. However, extremely negative connotation of the term means that the definition of the term seems to be rather ambiguous and not so easy to define.
The structure of racism conflict is different; however, it should be pointed out that racist attitudes remain the same. In my opinion, Baraka wrote about ideological struggle, which influenced racial issues. I suppose that the author discloses hegemonic positions of whites, which reflect the kind of racism.
The Dutchman represents the so-called struggle for racial equality. The author wants all people to be equal; he wants to resolve the burning problem of American society. Color-blind paradigm gives the readers an opportunity to understand the concept of racial discrimination deeper.
Doane is of the opinion that “racism in America takes many forms, including obstacles to access to positions of power in government and business, unfair and degrading legislation, lower quality education in predominantly black areas, offensive cultural stereotypes and, sometimes, deadly violence” (262). So, when Baraka speaks about racism in his play, it is obvious that he analyzes the origin and nature of the negative phenomenon in American society.
Racism as a complicated issue
So, in my opinion, understanding the roots of the problem, gives us an opportunity to resolve it as soon as possible. The Dutchman reflects racism as a political construction. The play written by Amiri Baraka is recognized to be the so-called reflection of the reality. The author does not state that he describes a new problem; on the contrary, according to him, the social inequality exists too long, but no measures are taken to abolish racial discrimination.
It seems that “white people identify themselves as a hegemony that opposes the minority and African Americans identify themselves as a minority that must seek reform to secure their equality – completing a vicious cycle of racial relations” (Rivera p. 3).
Thus, one can make a conclusion that the issue of rediscrimination is considered to be a constant variable. However, it should be pointed out that Baraka is not ready to give up. On the contrary, he is sure that the USA is to be ready to face the so-called racial tension.
In my opinion, however, the author partially highlighted the burning problem of American society. For instance, one is to keep in mind that the issue of racism covers two contradictory questions. So, on the one hand, the definition of racism seems to be quite ambiguous.
Thus, it is still unclear who can be a racist. While relying on logic, nobody will deny the fact that the representatives of dominant groups as well as oppressed ones can be racists. However, as far as the kind of discrimination is closely related to institutional power, it becomes evident that there are whites, who are considered to be racists. Still, such divergent perspectives do not provide us with clear impression.
“Amiri Baraka and The Dutchman.” Uwp.edu, 2010. Web. 09 Apr. 2012.
Doane, Ashley. What is Racism? Racial Discourse and Racial Politics, 2006. Web. 09 Apr. 2012.
Kalamu, Ya Salaam. A Conversation with Amiri Baraka, n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2012.
Riddick, Shana. Review of Woodard’s “A Nation within a Nation: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Black Power Politics,” 2010. Web. 09 Apr. 2012.
Rivera, Lysa. The Paradox of Modern Racism Through Science Fiction Literature, 2007. Web. 09 Apr. 2012.