Changing Perspectives: The Black Panther Party
Think about mainstream opinions on the Black Panther Party. Militant. Angry. Divisive. Calling someone a black panther is arguably on par with calling them a terrorist or a racist.
Heck, after her *amazing* super bowl performance, Beyonce was accused of being a black panther.
But what's really the problem here?
A Quick History Lesson on the BPP
Now I'm not frontin'. The Black Panther Party was militant, but only due to the time it was born out of.
The Black Panther Party was originally called the Black Panther Party For Self-Defense. Why?
Huey Newton and Bobby Seale created the party in the 60's for some very obvious reasons. On one hand you have Dr. King preaching love and pacifism, and then you have brother Malcolm, who said, "Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery." Amidst all this discourse, there's blatant police brutality, the end tail of Jim Crow, housing discrimination, and pretty much every form of racism you can think of (barring slavery and chain gangs).
So when the party was founded, Newton and Seale were very focused on police brutality because it was one of the most pressing issues the black community faced.
So What Did They Do?
The Black Panther Party started doing "police patrols," where they literally followed police officers around Oakland, CA, watching to see if they were going to act unlawfully. If they did act unlawfully, the BPP members would shout out the rights of the person being brutalized, so that they knew what their rights were.
On top of that, the Black Panther Party was responsible for SO many programs that benefitted the black community at a time where the concept was relatively new. Here's a link to a list of programs they ran. Literally over 60 programs. Some include free tutoring, pest control, dental care, breakfast for children, health clinics, drug abuse awareness, and clothing.
But Why Do Most People Assume It's A Bad Organization?
I'm not going to start on the amount of negative propaganda that's been put out against the BPP.
I'm not going to discuss COINTELPRO, a program created by the FBI to interfere with the BPP and led to the murder of over 20 black panther members.
What I will say is that many people don't know what the party actually stood for, and the concept of black pride is scary if you don't truly understand it.
The Black Panther party stood for equality. If you read their ten-point program, you''ll see that all of their grievances were due to abuse and discrimination. Every single one of their points make sense for a group of people that has been subjected to 200+ years of oppression. Wouldn't you want to not be brutalized by police because of your skin color? Would you want to go to war and defend a government that wouldn't even let you vote? Wouldn't you want to be tried by a jury of people who *actually* looked like you?
On top of that, there's black pride. Black empowerment. Black power. A term, which MLK himself knew was important.
He didn't think it was the best choice of words, but he understood that its message was important and an emotional reaction to the oppression that the black community faced, saying, "[Black Power] was born from the wombs of despair and disappointment. Black Power is a cry of pain. It is in fact a reaction to the failure of White Power to deliver the promises and to do it in a hurry.… The cry of Black Power is really a cry of hurt" (3).
But the term can be very frightening for people that aren't in that group. What do you mean black power? Black power over white power? Over green power? Blue? But it isn't a call for domination, oppression, or suppression. It's a call to empowerment. A call that's supposed to emphasize the fact that even though some people think otherwise, we matter.
Remind you of any other sayings you hear today?
Please don't confuse my support of the party with total blindness to its faults. Some members were rash. They wanted revenge over equality— a feeling that I, as a human being, completely understand. This sentiment is still held today:
I'm not saying you've gotta be a die hard, gun-toting, all black-wearing, afro-picking black panther. I'm not saying you even have to like them.
I'm saying that you should not minimize or erase their contributions to the black community, because they matter.*
1. Ampim, Manu, Professor. "Prof. Manu Ampim." DR. KING SUPPORTED "BLACK POWER" N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2016.
2. "Black Panther Party Founded." Welcome To "Voices That Guide Us" Personal Narratives. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2016.
3. "Black Power." Black Power. Stanford University, n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2016.
4. "Ten-Point Program and Platform of the Black Student Unions." Ten-Point Program and Platform of the Black Student Unions. Virginia.edu, n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2016.
*just like Black Lives.