Reviews: Books & Film
Comments 5

Black Against Empire by Bloom and Martin (2012)

I am just starting in on this fascinating text, a thoroughgoing academic analysis of the Black Panther Movement, situated in its cultural context. I’ll be posting quotes and thoughts as I go, and I welcome anyone else to read along with me. The Black Panther Party was formed in a cultural and political milieu in which the Civil Rights Movement had come up to its limits. Whites would only allow so much. And police brutality was relentless and cruel.

The Black Panthers’ crucial political innovation was not only ideational but practical. At the center of their politics was the practice of armed self-defense against the police. While revolutionary ideas could be easily ignored, widespread confrontations between young armed black people and the police could not. The Panthers’ politics of armed self-defense gave them political leverage, forcibly contesting the legitimacy of the American political regime. In late 1968, Bobby Seale and David Hilliard shifted the Party’s focus to organizing community programs such as free breakfasts for children. In 1969, every Panther chapter organized community services, and these programs soon became the staple activity for Party members nationwide. By that summer, the Party estimated it was feeding ten thousand children free breakfast every day……

“Huey Newton was able to go down, and to take the nigger on the street and relate to him, understand what was going on inside of him, what he was thinking, and then implement that into an organization, into a PROGRAM and a PLATFORM, you dig it? Into the BLACK PANTHER PARTY—and then let it spread like wildfire across this country.”

—Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter, leader of the Slauson gang and founder of the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party
This entry was posted in: Reviews: Books & Film

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Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

5 Comments

  1. During the large and ongoing Vietnam War protests at my college the most impressive participants were the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and the Black Panthers. Amid all us college kids running around they brought a sense of serious purpose and self-discipline and organization.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well I am a lot older now;)

      It was sort of surprising that the Panthers showed up on campus for the demonstrations, since it was pretty much a single-issue movement championed by relatively privileged white boys. Blacks weren’t necessarily over-represented in the military or in combat. But the war did divide people along class lines: volunteers and draftees were mostly working-class, lacking the resources to delay or avoid getting drafted by going to college.

      Most of the white working class were pro-war, especially among the younger generation, so there was quite a lot of mutual antagonism. I went to Michigan State: in 1972 George Wallace won the Democratic primary in Michigan, running on a platform of racism, law and order, nuking the Vietnamese back to the stone age, and making those damned hippies get a haircut and a job. So I think the Panthers saw enough common cause with the antiwar college kids to join the fray: ending the war would end the ruling class’s exploitation of working-class soldiers, black and white alike. Wallace got shot and antiwar candidate George McGovern won the Dem nomination, only to be trounced in Nixon’s re-election. Of course now we know how that second term worked out for Tricky Dick…

      Maybe the significant presence of young working-class white people in the BLM protests reflects a similar common cause based on class. Will history repeat itself with Trump winning re-election in a landslide? Those same working-class Boomers who supported Wallace and Nixon back then are now Trump’s base. Tonight’s Tulsa events should prove interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “Will history repeat itself with Trump winning re-election in a landslide? Those same working-class Boomers who supported Wallace and Nixon back then are now Trump’s base…”

        Indeed. An eerie and disturbing thought, but very true and deeply relevant to the moment.

        There are young white working class people with common cause and there are white people of all ages who join in solidarity with Black activists. But systemic racism is so deeply rooted in the American system that I find it very difficult to imagine a fix based on reforming that current system, especially considering all the ways in which that system has broken down. So from my perspective it’s likely going to be revolution or systemic collapse…but I don’t know that most white middle-class Americans have the ability to wrap their mental arms around that concept…

        Liked by 2 people

  2. “but I don’t know that most white middle-class Americans have the ability to wrap their mental arms around that concept…”

    Truly I expected revolution back when the antiwar protests were drawing huge crowds and radical change seemed imminent. The capitalist system is nothing if not adapive. They did wind down that war and they ended the draft. Lots of job opportunities presented themselves to the newly educated energetic young activists, keeping the wheels of commerce rolling along with barely a hitch.

    Threats to the system get co-opted. Thanks to the bailouts Wall Street is right back where it was in late February when the pandemic began. Raise the minimum wage? Sure, though maybe not all the jobs will come back. A kinder gentler police force? Sure, there are other, maybe even more effective means of coercion the police could deploy for maintaining the status quo. Relatively more equal opportunities for people of color? It’s been happening for women, incrementally over recent decades. Expanded access to low-cost healthcare paid for by government instead of employers? Sure. A shift in the energy sector, where people continue to pay not for fossil fuels but for renewables that cost next to nothing for energy companies to extract from the environment? Sure.

    I for one got a kick out of seeing all the empty seats in the Tulsa arena. The crowd could have spread out into social distancing, but the optics wouldn’t have been as good for the close-ups.

    Liked by 1 person

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