Poetry, Politics and Common Sense

Poetry, Politics and Common Sense

Are right-wing Republicans using Common's poetry as a political wedge against Obama?

Published May 12, 2011

Back in 2003, then First Lady Laura Bush invited some of the nation’s best poets to the White House for a symposium on the works of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman. Unfortunately the gathering never took place because many of the poets invited decided that they would read anti-war poems in protest of President Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Upon hearing about the poets' plans, Mrs. Bush cancelled the event, citing that there was nothing political about American literature


For the past two years, the Obamas have held cultural events such as concerts, art exhibits and poetry readings at the White House. The events bring some of America’s best and brightest visual artists, musicians, actors and writers form all backgrounds to the nation’s capitol to celebrate the rich diversity of American culture. Keeping with the spirit of diversity, Michelle Obama invited her fellow Chicagoan, Common, to read his works.


As a rapper and folk poet, Common exemplifies the rich oral tradition that has long been the hallmark of African American poetry.  His thought-provoking lyrics reflect the human experience as eloquently as any poet of his generation. However, apparently some people don’t think so.


Needless to say, many hip hop fans were absolutely shocked to hear far right wing media outlets like the Daily Caller refer to Common as a “vile" rapper.  Their outrage stems from a poem called "A Letter to the Law" that the rapper read on Def Poetry Jam addressing police brutality and George Bush’s war effort in Iraq . While the poem does contain some harsh images, they are by no means any harsher than an action movie starring former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. But by calling him a “vile” rapper, the right wing is hoping to conjure up stereotypical images of rappers that evoke racist, anti-rap sentiment that many right wingers already harbor toward hip hop.


Anybody who is remotely familiar with Common knows that he poses absolutely no real threat to George Bush and/or policemen. In fact, if they took a cursory listen to his music, they would know that he is far cry from the foul-mouthed, gun-toting, drug-slinging thug image that the right wing is trying to smear him with. He is the antithesis of it. So, if poetry is supposed to be apolitical in the Republican’s eyes, why all this partisan politics over a poem? Perhaps Mrs. Bush and her Republican friends understand the nature of American Literature better than they would have us believe.


(Photo: AP Photo/Cass Bird)

Written by Charlie Braxton


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