October 7, 2016
Amiri Baraka, who for many years early in his career published under his birth name LeRoi Jones, was born this day in 1934 in Newark, New Jersey. He died in 2014. Besides his enormous reputation as a poet and playwright, Baraka was a mover and a shaker in the Beat Movement.
The following is from Baraka’s essay “Expressive Language,” from Home, published in 1965. Here is what the concept of money meant to one of America’s premier social critics.
“Money” does not possess the same meanings for the rich man as it does for me, a lower-middle-class American, albeit of laughably “aristocratic” pretensions. What possibly can “money” mean to a poor man? And I am not talking now about those courageous products of our permissive society who walk knowledgeably into “poverty” as they would into a public toilet. I mean, The Poor.
I look in my pocket; I have seventy cents. Possibly I can buy a beer. A quart of ale, specifically. Then I will have twenty cents with which to annoy and seduce my fingers when they wearily search for gainful employment. I have no idea at this moment what that seventy cents will mean to my neighbor around the corner, a poor Puerto Rican man I have seen hopefully watching my plastic garbage can. But I am certain it cannot mean the same thing. Say to David Rockefeller, “I have money,” and he will think you mean something entirely different. That is, if you also dress the part. He would not for a moment think, “Seventy cents.” . . .