Monday, April 23, 2007

Acting White: Nikki Giovanni's Eyes Wide Shut

After reading the creative works of the VT student and mass killer Cho Seung Hui, and then reading the works of his star VT professor Nikki Giovanni, it is very reasonable to consider the similarity in violence each created in their minds, onto paper, and in Cho’s case, through a killing spree we shall not soon forget.

I confess that I know little of Ms. Giovanni, other than her fame as a poetic voice of the sixties. But if Cho spent anytime reading his famous professor’s works, which would not be unreasonable, he found, as I did, quite a glimpse of thoughts of violence, murder and mayhem to tickle his sick mind.

I am not saying the noted professor caused Cho to go on his rampage, but the word ‘inspire’ would not be an unfair consideration, in light of the death and injury toll. The consideration is particularly appropriate as she proudly whips out her ‘thuglife’ tattoo, displaying to her impressionable students and the world, the up to date bridge of solidarity she sought with murdered gansta-rapper Tupac Shakur.

In an interview in 2004 with Brian Lamb, she compares Tupac to Emmett Till, a black boy killed in 1955 by Mississippi whites, for allegedly whistling at a white women. She says, “…I wanted to share with the generation a loss, because Tupac was this generation`s Emmett Till”. Say what? Excuse me, but wasn’t Till killed by racist white men, while Tupac, on the other hand, was killed by murderous men, like himself, who extolled violence as a way of living and dying?

If Ms. Giovanni wants to live ‘phat’ as she might say on the lecture fees of dishing memories of the sixties, this is fine with me, but no way in hell should she be ‘teaching’ kids. VT leadership, lawyers, and risk management advisers have to be hoping and praying that the families of the dead and injured never read Ms. Giovanni’s web site, which points the way to selected works, and more.

James C. Collier


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Native Son said...

This is interesting. I will admit that I know of Giovanni, but not much.

As a young black male (31 y/o), it still amazes me how people in my generation and a few other older folk glorify and look up to Tupac. I have almost been beat down, for having debates on the relevance of Tupac. To me he was a confused man who got caught up in thug culture. I just don't get it. He wasn't on the level of Dr. King or Malcolm X, or Carmichael.

Some call Tupac a "Thug Angel" and Michael Eric Dyson has called Tupac a "hip-Hop" prophet. For Giovanni to compare Tupac to Tills is way off. Tupac was killed by racist white people.

Tom James said...

James I'm a little slow.

Help me understand why she shouldn't be teaching kids.

I looked at her website, and other than the tat you mention I didn't see anything too outrageous.

Granted I haven't read anything of hers.

James C. Collier said...

Tom: her poems at 25 were not so different than Cho's. Her recent 'thuglife' tattoo and testaments align her with, and glorify criminals and their behavior. Here is a sample...

The True Import Of Present Dialogue, Black vs. Negro (For Peppe, Who Will Ultimately Judge Our Efforts)
by Nikki Giovanni

Can you kill
Can you kill
Can a nigger kill
Can a nigger kill a honkie
Can a nigger kill the Man
Can you kill nigger
Huh? nigger can you
Do you know how to draw blood
Can you poison
Can you stab-a-Jew
Can you kill huh? nigger
Can you kill
Can you run a protestant down with your
'68 El Dorado
(that's all they're good for anyway)
Can you kill
Can you piss on a blond head
Can you cut it off
Can you kill
A nigger can die
We ain't got to prove we can die
We got to prove we can kill
They sent us to kill
Japan and Africa
We policed europe
Can you kill
Can you kill a white man
Can you kill the nigger
in you
Can you make your nigger mind
Can you kill your nigger mind
And free your black hands to
Can you kill
Can a nigger kill
Can you shoot straight and
Fire for good measure
Can you splatter their brains in the street
Can you kill them
Can you lure them to bed to kill them
We kill in Viet Nam
for them
We kill for UN & NATO & SEATO & US
And everywhere for all alphabet but
Can we learn to kill WHITE for BLACK
Learn to kill niggers
Learn to be Black men

mark said...

Some call Tupac a "Thug Angel" and Michael Eric Dyson has called Tupac a "hip-Hop" prophet. For Giovanni to compare Tupac to Tills is way off. Tupac was killed by racist white people. "

mark bey: I agree Tupac although I love Tupacs music (not the negative stuff) he was spewing lot of destructive messages in his music. Native is correct, Tupac enjoyed rights Emitt Till never had and also as you said Tupac was killed by another black man which makes the to completely different.

josh said...

Mr. Collier,

I would like to address your decision to moderate the comments on your blog. By requiring your approval to any potential comment to a post of yours, it seems to me a suggestion that you are not interesting in opening a space for dialogue amongst perspectives different from your own. Indeed, many of the comments to your posts seems to be self-affirming and lack the objective of challenging, contesting, or engaging any of the claims you make in your original posts. Of course, how you operate your blog is your prerogative, but I respectfully encourage you to provide a space for healthy and productive discussion beyond agreements with your own ideas. Don't hesitate to be challenged.

James C. Collier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James C. Collier said...

Josh, thanks for your comment. Consider that there are uses of the moderate function beyond censorship. I do not approve or disapprove responses. I publish all comments, with the following caveats. No profanity, and no gratuitous name-calling. Until blogger comes up with a way to filter under these rules, I will carry this out manually. Dissenters are more than welcome, and I look forward to hearing from you, if you like.

Tom James said...

Yeah, James, hat's pretty disturbing and you are correct not much different from Cho. I understand why you said the Admin must be hoping and praying. They along with the rest of the State officials. Scary stuff, our kids are exposed to in the name of "higher learning."

Thank you for helping me understand.

Tom James said...

Anyone have any info on how many speaking engagements NG has been offered since the VT tragedy.

This may be the windfall NG has waited all her life for.

I wonder if she'll donate the money to the families or to mental health care?

Or will she just get another "thug life" tattoo?

Golden Silence said...

I'm shocked. I too knew of Nikki Giovanni (and used one of her love poems as a basis for one of my poems for an assignment in college eons ago), and didn't know she was into that thug culture.

I did not know.

Marcus said...

See this video that asks if Cho was inspired by Giovanni.

Alexis said...

James, I have to disagree with you on this one. While I cannot claim to be deeply knowledgeable about Giovanni's work, her poem, Ego Tripping, profoundly affected my life in the most beneficial way.

Also, if a person can put aside knee-jerk reactions to the violent imagery in the poem you listed, it becomes clear in the end that Giovanni is addressing the violent tendencies of the n*gger mentality prevalent in Diasporan youth culture. By the end of the poem she advocates for stopping the killing (which is what n*ggas & n*ggers do) and instead to be (nonviolent) black MEN.

Finally, it is obvious that Till was killed by racist white men and that Tupac was killed by the community of Diasporans who internalize racism and express it through black-on-black crime. For this reason, I feel that Giovanni's comparison of Tupac & Till is about the violent and unnecessary murders of young black men, rather than who killed them.

I do agree with you in disliking Giovanni's Thuglife tatoo, but I can't see how this disqualifies her to teach, and I also see no evidence that Cho was affected by Giovanni's poetry or teaching.

Tom James said...

Well, just announced at the VT tragedy press conference in Roanoke VA today, Cho sent a "rambling" letter to the VT English dept, just before the rampage.

Hmmmm! Any evidence now of Giovanni's effect?

Tom James said...

James, Thought who would enjoy this news flash.

Becca said...

I have never quite understood this argument against Giovanni and her writing. To me it has always seemed that by the end of the poem she is NOT "egging" black people on to kill, but for them to "kill" - symbolically - the "n*gger" stereotype within them - those that feel they must prove themselves by killing white men, or being violent in general. Since she wrote during the Civil Rights movements, I can understand where it's coming from.

"Can you kill the nigger
Can you make YOUR nigger MIND
Can you kill YOUR nigger MIND
And free YOUR black hands to

And then in the end of the poem:

"Learn to kill niggers
Learn to be Black men"

I don't believe she's saying "Learn to kill, niggers" as in speaking to them, but "Learn to kill niggers, learn to be black men" as in to throw away the mindset of a killing, violent "n*gger* and become a real "black man"...

At least, that's what I've always believed. Giovanni did not plant any ideas in Cho's mind about shooting people. He had written deranged material in high school before he even met her.

In fact, IIRC he was taken to court for following some young girls and the judge was presented with his disturbed writing - his choice was either to send Cho to a hospital or to make him go to counseling. He chose counseling. What would have happened if he had been hospitalized? We won't ever know, I guess.

Nikki's poems were not for those who enjoyed peaceful, inspiring wisdom. She grew up in a hard life, and it is reflected in her words - yes, she may be vulgar and sound harsh, but that's how it was for her. You have to keep the author's background in prospective, always, when analyzing poetry.

If he was interpreting her poems the wrong way, how is she to blame?

James C. Collier said...

Becca: I appreciate your analysis, but it is incomplete. You selected certain portions of the poem to emphasize while ignoring the rest. I welcome you to review the entire work. And please reconcile NG's 'Thug Life' tattoo and supporting words for people who extol living and dieing violently by their own. BTW, NG grew up as a child of Black middle-class privilege, per my former spouse who had her as a prof. at Fisk.

Minnepeach19 said...

When I heard that Cho had admired the works of Nikki Giovanni and attempted to make a connection to her, it seemed to me that she missed an intervention opportunity.

As a free speech advocate, I don't take issue with her so-called "thug life" writings and affinity for Tupac. However, I do take issue with her "celebrity status" and apparent "professor arrogance" by not making a better attempt at getting the young man the help he needed.

Anyone who spent more than 10 minutes with Cho would have probably known he was in crisis (and mentally and/or emotionally unstable). Cho was disappointed by someone who he idolized and that final disappointment sent him over the edge.

I lost a lot of respect for her after the VT incident.

Zoey said...

James, I came across your blog today while researching Nikki Giovanni. My concern with her is the following: "I was willing to resign before I would continue with him [Cho, in her class]," she told CNN. This is small thinking. Did she not have the power to act and have the student Cho removed from the school? She is considered an "activist," but for whom? Herself, and the comfortable bubble she lives in? At Virginia Tech she is listed as "Distinguished Professor." If Cho was so terrifying, why did Giovanni and Roy passively hold their breaths waiting for the bomb to drop. (I refuse to believe the university's polices are writ in stone.) I am as disappointed as the rest that she is rewarded with "silver" while there are these absurd inconsistencies in who she is. At the end of the day, she remains an academic--a thinker, not a doer, and certainly not an activist.

I'll look forward to reading your book when it comes out.

Anonymous said...

Nikki Giovanni is a racist. It is interesting how light-skinned she is; does this cause her to be even more radical in her cause? In my opinion she was culpable in the mass murder by Cho, and it is insulting to any respectable human being that she was the speaker at VT after this tragedy. Look how she treated this kid? This "lady" is disgusting; she should actually be sued in a civil suit.

patience.noblues said...

I suppose that in order to understand the work of Nikki Giovanni, you would have to understand the Black Arts Movement and the struggles of the era. It wasn't just her writing about being a "Nigger" and about "killing the Honkie" there is a whole cannon of black artwork which was totally warranted and long past due for the impact it had on Black Revolution. You have to think of Gil Scott-Heron, Kalamu Ya Salaam, and Amiri Baraka, who lived through the racism and blatant disrespect for young blacks during that time. It was a liberation era, and liberation calls for violent resistance. Cho was not a young man of color fighting for revolution he wasn't this age's Huey Newton or Che Guevera he was a deranged young man who couldn't handle the pressures of life. You can't compare the two. To do so would be to dismiss history and that would be reckless. And as far as glorifying Tupac Shakur, if you've read any of his earlier work or even listened to more than simply the choruses of that in his later age you would understand why most rappers don't look up to him as a gangster rapper, but as one who was more conscious than any politico of the 90's, and his lyrics have as much resemblance to those of the Black Power and Arts Movements than any politically aware emcee in the game. So before you take snippets of information and use it out of context understand that everyones art and expression does not produce the same outcome and doesn't always come from the same place. -Patience

James C. Collier said...

patience: if what you say is true, and your eloquence alone could inform the prof., she has done Tupac a disservice. It is she, in your so-called snippets, who says she would rather hang out with 'thugs' like Tupac. The picture she paints when she calls him a thug and sports the thug-life tatoo is one of senseless black-on-black violence. He may have had another side, but this is not the one she chooses to extoll on her website. The analogy she drew of him with Emmett Till was dribble. The context she presents of Tupac is her responsibility. I have no doubt that he had good in his work, but as you imply, some of what he had to say was consistent with the way he died, and there is nothing good about that. Giovanni is making sure he is remembered for the least of his contributions. Thanks/JC

Anonymous said...

I was a student in one of Nikki Giovanni's about 15 years ago. I took the course as an English elective and was stunned when, on the first day of class, she said that if you were white, then the best you could expect from her class was a 3.0. Apparently, white people like myself can't understand the pain, suffering and struggle that a "person of color" goes through everyday, therefore we would be unable to get the full impact of her course. I dropped the class after the first day and mentioned the incident to my class counselor, who advised me not to follow up on the incident, since Ms. Giovanni was a "distinguished professor" at Virginia Tech and the incident would almost certainly be ignored or glossed over. Since I was at the university on a scholarship (my family certainly couldn't afford to send me to university), I bit my tongue out of fear of the pressure that a "distinguished professor" can bring to bear and was afraid of losing my scholarship. I had several acquaintances who had similar experiences with her in their university careers. I realize that some will refuse to believe me, but that is your right and your choice, but I just wanted to say that I lost any and all respect for Ms. Giovanni that day and a great deal of respect for the Virginia Tech administration.