I had intended this week’s Baobab to focus on Center for Performing Art’s wonderful production of the Soweto Gospel Choir. Five hundred local school children were educated and entertained at Eisenhower Auditorium. Or Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, now the first African American to ascend to the leadership of the House Democrats. However, hateful pronouncements of an antisemitic bigot and the rising attacks on Jewish people prompted me to revisit this poem, which I first read at a spoken word slam at New York’s TIME Café in 1994.
“Yo bro, please don’t curse Jews’
Young brother, next time you want to rant and rave about dirty Jews, save some of your poisonous venom for me. ‘Cause Couz, you see, I am like a leaf clinging to the slightly bent branch of that ancient tree rooted in the covenants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Sitting at the bony knee of our ebony grandmother I listen to stories
‘bout Moses leading us out of Egypt, shivering with Daniel in the lion’s den, I asked
“Granny when our Daniel and Moses gon’ come?”
Granny didn’t call herself a Jew. But, followed a Christ who prayed the Psalms and read the Torah, and came to fulfill ancient Hebrew prophecy by liberating the Jewish nation.
“I’m a Christian, proud and true,” she’d declare righteously.
But, for me, the stories about a sweet and kind Jesus weren’t exactly relevant to our situation. “Seek and you shall find” and “Love your neighbor” didn’t make no sense when crackers had their boots up your behind.
But the stories of the Jewish nation — Ten serious commandments, eye for an eye. I most liked having a big bad Jehovah at your right hand while you fought to recapture your promised land.
So, spiritually, I am a leaf from the Original Testament tree. Though brown and withered with age, I still circle my rage like Joshua at Jericho. I await the Maccabees to relight my fire, singing Psalms with our eight-man choir. We yet march illuminated by holocaust flames in the temple. Consumed as sacrificial lambs, our blood splatters the ancient and sacred earth, life blood drawn fresh from the ritually slit throats of young black, white, brown and pink lambs on the altar for freedom and dignity. There was a time Bro’ — when “commie-Jew-N###” were all the same word and a death sentence to boot. That’s the sho’ nuff truth.
We once sat on the floor of the Freedom House staring at the door, waiting for the man, or the klan.
They had just slaughtered James, Andy, Mickey, a Mississippi Black and two New York Jews, who watered the tree and nourished the root, then made room for new figs. We clung together in the dark. Black, white. Jew, Gentile, united by a dream that somehow the young people (You — young people) would have a better world.
So watch it boy, you too girl. I’m not just another goy — I’m your ancestor.
Too many have suffered and died, trying to get you freedom enough. You think I’m just talking stuff?
Grandma’s gone but her spirit’s still rocking, still telling her stories ‘bout Joshua blowing his horn
‘bout Daniel in the den, bout God striking Pharoah’s first born, ‘bout Elijah hearing voices in the wind.
I know ... you got your own life, your future is yours to make. But, take some advice — you got no future if you lose your history. Tomorrow is yesterday, one way or the other.
So listen, little brother; you, too, little sis
I wouldn’t lead you amiss. Why? Because I love you. And though you sometimes can get a little wild You’re still my child. So, please, don’t ever curse the Jew; you’re cursing me. I come from the same tree and, couz, so do you.
Charles Dumas is a lifetime political activist, a professor emeritus from Penn State, and was the Democratic Party’s nominee for U.S. Congress in 2012. He was the 2022 Lion’s Paw Awardee and Living Legend honoree of the National Black Theatre Festival. He lives with his partner and wife of 50 years in State College.