Saturday, July 20, 2013

Poem: "On Being Criticized for Identifying Ishmael Reed as a MacArthur Fellow"

On Being Criticized for Identifying Ishmael Reed as a MacArthur Fellow
Writer, public intellectual, media commentator, Berkeley professor, recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, father, and 75-year-old man-of-color, Ishmael Reed was hassled by three clerks today at a Walgreens on Shattuck. He was shopping for a bargain pack of bottled water.

Taking a break from hiding out from the Nazis in an attic with his family in Holland, teenaged girl Ishmael Reed was harassed today by three clerks at a Walgreens in Berkeley. As he noted in his famous diary, it was a hot day in July and he was shopping for bottled water.

Long known as Walt Disney’s favorite Mouseketeer, buxom Ishmael Reed, who died earlier this year from complications of MS, was targeted today by three clerks at Walgreens. He was thirsty and looking to buy a bottle of water.

Hunted across the seas by the bookish Captain Ahab of New England, large white whale Ishmael Reed was profiled by three clerks at a Walgreens in Berkeley. It was July, the Pacific was hot, and he had tired of salt water.

Holding a bag of Skittles and a cell phone, and wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, 17-year old Ishmael Reed was challenged today by three clerks at a Walgreens in Berkeley.  Mr. Reed was shot dead by George Zimmerman on the night of February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida.  He had set out to buy a bottle of water.
Sarah Sarai, July 18, 2013 

For info on Ishmael Reed, click.

I was questioned by a friend (a good friend, whose outrage I am spinning off) when I identified Reed as a MacArthur Fellow, and, yes, some of my outrage came from that, and his age, and his Ishmael Reedness. Last Sunday night when I was demonstrating at Union Square my outrage came from, in part, the fact that Trayvon Martin was a silly kid with a bag of Skittles.  We're defined by how we present but that doesn't make the circumstances enacted on us worse or better, or not entirely.

I didn't post this poem when I wrote it because I am not sure it should see the light of day.  But here I go, foolhardy as always.

The astonishing artwork is from Chris Doom is the artist.


  1. I saw you read this poem at TBD about a week ago, and just wanted to express how wonderful I think it is. The end caught me entirely by surprise/off-guard in a way that was very powerful. This is really fantastic.