Pazz & Jop ’89: “I’ve decided not to participate…”

I’ve decided not to participate in this year’s Pazz & Jop poll because the poll—perhaps following the lead of some Voice editors and critics—seems to me likely to further legitimize both Public Enemy and the hate they are now trading in. I think the critical tolerance of—even a certain critical excitement over—the scapegoating of an entire element of humankind is a crucial underpinning of the story Public Enemy is telling, and I want nothing to do with it.

As members of a polity whose dominant politics scapegoat young black men as the public enemy responsible for all that is wrong in our society (“If we could just solve that problem”­i.e., if we could just get rid of them–“everything would be OK”), the young black men who make up Public Enemy have responded not by attempting to identify and criticize their real enemies, but, in weakness and in cowardice, by fixing on a vulnerable element, thus speaking not a new language but mouthing the language of their real enemies: If we could just get rid of the Jews, everything would be OK. That is a crucial and not at all small part of the story that has taken us from the smears of Professor Griff and the charade of Public Enemy’s “the best part of breaking up is making up” publicity stunts to the incorporation and extension of Griff’s beliefs into “Welcome to the Terrordorne.”

Karl Marx called anti-Semi­tism “the socialism of fools.” He meant the idiocy of believing that the removal of a false public enemy could result in the flowering of a new world. In the contradiction identified is a host of stupidities—careful meliorisms, studied apologies, fine distinctions—any of which have the power to lead to evils their authors are free to disavow, which only other people have to pay for. Public Enemy, in the person of Chuck D, “may be spreading anti-semitism, but he’s not advocating it,” a Voice critic wrote in a recent issue. It’s a distinction the dead wouldn’t recognize, that the living may find worth refusing. It means nothing to me.

Village Voice, February 27, 1990

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