Friday, February 12, 2016

Black is Beautiful

You have to hand it to Beyonce for making the Black Panthers and Malcolm X a part of Black History Month whether Middle America wanted it or not.  Fox News is still raging over her Super Bowl Halftime performance, with many of their guests calling it "racist" that she could reference these notorious figures in her routine.  Many have compared her performance to the KKK, despite the fact that no crosses were burned during the program.  Suffice it to say, the Black Panthers and Malcolm X are generally seen in a bad light, even by black police sergeants.

Maybe this is a good time to find out more about the two.  For starters, the Black Panthers were founded on Malcolm X's concept of black nationalism.  Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965, which was one of the reasons Beyonce was referring to him, and the Black Panthers were formed the following year in Oakland, coincidentally the same year as Super Bowl I.  She, like many others, have linked the two to Black Lives Matter, which has gained a notorious reputation among conservative pundits and city police chiefs as a militant black nationalist group.

One of the many ironies here is that the Black Panthers SAFE program modeled itself after a neighborhood watch group. offering protection to the black citizens of Oakland and eventually other cities.  This was not much unlike the neighborhood watch groups and militia units we see all around the country today.  For the most part, the Black Panthers were unarmed, as gun laws were more restrictive then, but their menacing presence in black jackets and black berets was enough to send jitters through a white establishment that wasn't ready to deal with militant negroes.  This all came to a head in 1968 when two black athletes had the audacity to put on black gloves and give the "black power salute" at the Olympic Games in Mexico City.

The Black Nationalism that rose to the fore in the 60s dates back to Marcus Garvey, who established a colony in Jamaica in 1914.  Garvey preached Pan-Africanism, which spread through the Caribbean and Africa and became the principal motivational tool for independence in the 60s.  There was a Pan-African political party in South Africa, but it was second cousin to the African National Congress, and faded into oblivion when the first truly democratic elections were held in the 1990s.

It was more difficult for these movements to gain a foothold in the United States, especially in the South.  Any kind of black militantism was usually met with harsh violence.  This was sadly true for Black Panthers like Fred Hampton, who was savagely gunned down by the FBI and Chicago police in 1969.  As the movement grew to other cities, the FBI took a strong interest, treating this movement the same as it did the communist movement of the 50s.  This resulted in raids, which led to the arrest and deaths of prominent Black Panther leaders, and cemented in the mind of Middle America that the Black Panthers were bad.

The fact that the Black Panthers started as a community outreach program, providing a breakfast program, health care and other services to local blacks was lost on the broader American public.  SAFE became the most visible aspect of the Black Panthers, a neighborhood watch group that many whites so as a militant organization.  This was similar to the Nation of Islam, which Malcolm X was part of in New York, although the Black Panthers had no specific religious affiliation.

Other key figures emerged in the 70s like Angela Davis with her huge afro that Beyonce's dancers took as well.  Davis was fired as a professor at UCLA for what were perceived as her radical views.  The Board of Regents for the University of California petitioned then Governor Ronald Reagan to dismiss her, which he did in 1969 for her membership in the Communist Party.  She was later arrested for purchasing firearms that 17-year-old Jonathon Jackson used in the takeover of a Marin County Courthouse, which led to a violent shootout resulting in the deaths of a judge and three other men.  Davis faced a lengthy trial but was finally acquitted in 1971.  However, in the minds of the white public she remained guilty of arming Jackson.

The Black Power movement was responding to rampant discrimination at the time.  If white society wasn't going to accept blacks in their midst then blacks had to carve out their own separate identity.  The militia groups served mostly for protection, but when they stood up to local police forces the white media took SAFE and other similar organizations as para-military groups bent on creating havoc in society.

The irony is that today we see many white neighborhood watch groups and local militias that are armed to the teeth with assault weapons that they can openly carry in many states, but this is not viewed in the same sinister light.  When the Oath Keepers came to the aid of Cliven Bundy and his dispute with the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada, Fox News treated both like modern-day folk heroes.  Fox was a little less committal when Bundy's sons staged the takevoer of a bird sanctuary in Oregon, but still gave Ammon Bundy plenty of airtime during the month-long siege.

Woe be it to Beyonce for bringing the Black Panthers and Malcolm X into the Super Bowl festivities.  Many white conservative groups are planning anti-Beyonce rallies and demanding a boycott of her music sales on social media.  Nothing like deflecting the hate to the other side, with the assist of black surrogates, which Fox generously provides.

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