Black Against Empire by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E Martin: (A Review) #AMST525

To say that much of America lacks an understanding of black history would be an understatement.  Neither taught in schools nor adequately represented within public discourse, the history of black America remains largely invisible into the twenty first century.  This is especially the case when thinking about the history of resistance and social movements – for all too many, they are hidden from the historic transcript.  That is, the challenges to white supremacy, from slave revolts to the Dream Defenders, from anti-lynching crusades of the early twentieth century to the Black Panther Party, are omitted and misrepresented, turned into an illegible footnote to the larger struggle against white supremacy.

Joshua Bloom and Waldon Martin enter into this historic vacuum with Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party (UC Press, 2013).  Countering the broader erasure, its exploration of the Black Panther Party offers an important intervention against the surfaced treatment of the Black Freedom Struggle and specific counternarrative to the historic lies surrounding the Panthers.   Although there have been several books to date – a number of collections and memoirs – that have worked to set the record straight regarding the Panthers, Bloom and Martin offer a groundbreaking intervention that thoroughly documents the complex and rich history of the Black Panther Party.

Like so many movements, organizations, and individuals, the Panthers have been erased from the historiography.  More significantly, those inclusions are often defined by stereotypes (cue Forest Gump), flattened representations (cue The Butler), and the perpetuation of lies about the Panthers.  Whether reduced to “gun-totting thugs” or imagined as a static organization, whether seen as a “media creation” or an insignificant footnote that had little impact, the myths and misinformation surrounding the Panthers has remained in place for more than forty years.

A core theme for the book is the dynamic nature of the Panthers.  There is no single history of the Panthers but many histories.  There is the history of the self-defense organization that seized upon the tradition of guns and freedom in an effort to challenge persistent and unchecked state violence.  That is, in the face of police violence, police brutality, and the failure of the state to uphold and protect the rights of African Americans, particularly those segregated inside America’s ghettos, the Panthers filled that void. This isn’t the only history of the Panthers; there is the story of survival programs – health care, schools, breakfast programs – in Los Angeles, Oakland, New York, and countless other cities.  There is the history of the Panthers transnationally – their direct organization throughout the globe and also their influence in China, Sweden, Cuba and many other places.  There are the histories of organizations, from the Young Lords to the Brown Berets, who not only found inspiration in the aesthetics and the BPP platform, but with a shared ideology.  There is the history of the relationship between the Panthers and the New Left, between the Panthers and wealthy white “allies.”  There are many stories that highlight the complexity of the Panthers and the historicity of their ideology, tactics, shortcomings, and trajectory.  And there are the histories of Huey Newton and Ericka Huggins, Bobby Seale and Elaine Brown, Aaron Dixon and Kathleen Cleaver, Bobby Hutton, Eldridge Cleaver, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, Assata Shakur, and many more.

The book also spotlights these many histories, providing readers with a chronological and detailed understanding of the multiple histories, the dynamic shifts, and the fluid nature of the Panthers; yet it also brings to life the many locations, the many individuals, and the many movements that encompass the Panthers.  While Black against Empire is the story of an organization it is much more a story of a movement.

A second and crucial theme to the book is it’s understanding of the Panthers within a larger history of social upheaval.

The Black Panther Party was also specific to its times.  The times did not make the Black Panther Party, but the specific practices of the Black Panthers became influential precisely because of the political context.  Without the successes of the insurgent Civil Rights Movement, and without its limitations, the Black Power ferment from which the Black Panther Party emerged would have not existed.  Without widespread exclusion of black people from political representation, good jobs, government employment, quality education, and the middle class, most black people would have opposed the Panthers’ politics.  Without the Vietnam War draft and the crisis of legitimacy ion the Democratic Party, few nonblack allies would have mobilized resistance to state repression of the Party.  Without powerful anti-imperialist allies abroad, the Panthers would have been deprived of both resources and credibility (p. 13).

They further note understanding the history of this movement isn’t simply knowing the Panthers:  “It’s not simply what the Panthers did” (14) – it’s how they did it, where and when they did it, under what conditions they did it, and how they responded to the shifting landscape. To understand the Panthers is to comprehend the landscape of late 1960s and early 1970s . . . to understand this era requires looking at the Panthers.

The book is very invested (& rightly so) in spotlighting the dialectics between the Panthers and the shifting social, political, racial, cultural, and economic landscapes. It sees the Panthers as an important challenge against U.S. Empire.  Like the Panthers, the book documents the interconnections of Empire (see image above from Emory Douglas as illustrative here), making clear the many ways that people and communities throughout globe felt the reach of state violence.

While chronicling the history of the BPP, it argues that one cannot understand this organization (or these histories) without looking at: the influence of decolonization movements and Third World liberation ideologies, the anti-War Movement, the shifting political landscape resulting from the election of Richard Nixon, the existence of the Hollywood left, and deindustrialization; one cannot think about the ideological arguments and the “Freedom Dreams” put forth by the Panthers without looking at Fanon, Che, Mao, Malcolm, and countless others.   Although it misses some important opportunities to show the ways that say Fanon’s discussion of violence or the idea of domestic colonialism impacted the organizational approach/tactics embraced by the BPP, it masterfully shows the ways that the Panthers built on the traditions of Malcolm and Robert Williams, Fanon and Mao not just its day-to-day activities but with its theorizing about the state, intercommunalism, and self determination.  Policing the police or breakfast programs weren’t simply strategies, tactics, or part of the Panthers larger intervention against a racist capitalist state but theorization about the state and its challenge to American Empire.

While the book does leave out intellectual and theoretical contributions of say Fanon, instead simply noting his influence, the book does an excellent job highlighting the historic ingredients that give rise to the Panthers, even while not the shifting nature of the Panthers amid a fluid environment.

Despite its 400 plus pages, there are absences and omissions: it falls short in its discussion of the influences of the Black Feminist Movement, painting the Panthers shifting gender ideology as somewhat organic.  Along these same lines, its erasure of the likes of Vicki Garvin, Ella Baker and countless other women who encompass the black radical tradition, points to further points of intervention.

As I read I also found myself wondering about the legacy of the Panthers.  To think about the Panthers today is not simply reflect on historic recovery but also their ongoing contributions: policing the police, free breakfast programs and an emphasis on self-determination.  A legacy of their challenge to empire is also evidenced in the increased power of the state, visible in the allegiance to discourses law and order and the rise of the prison industrial complex.  While not a point of focus, the detailed history brings to life the legacies and the persistent violence that operate from empire.

See more on the book


  1. How was framing (pg 160) central to the emergence of the Panthers?  Why is this so often erased from the discussion of Black Radical social movements
  2. In what ways were the BPP a product of the moment?
  3. How can we talk about social movements that spotlights the importance of the larger context while not erasing the ways that organizations and individuals made history
  4. Why were coalitions so crucial for the Panthers; in what ways do coalitions reveal the contradictory space which the Panthers had to occupy
  5. How were the Panthers as much a political intervention as a social movement
  6. Why did Panthers’ politics focus on creation of parallel institutions; why was this so important not simply in terms of organizing but in terms of theorizing and but in terms of a revolutionary mindset
  7. Why were the survival programs the biggest threat to hegemony?
  8. In what ways did the state neutralize the BPP and what does this reveal about social movements?

Dr. David J. Leonard: Got Solutions? Beyond Denial and Toward Transformation (Part 2)

Got Solutions?

Beyond Denial and Toward Transformation (Part 2)

David J. Leonard

As I noted in part 1, white denial about racism and demands for solutions (for the racial injustices often dismissed) go hand in hand. As Mark Anthony Neal brilliantly reminded people in a Facebook status update: “The very essence of ‘privilege’ is when you enter into a space and are fundamentally unaware that not only have you changed the conversation, but have made the conversation about you.” Beyond attempting to turn the conversation into what they want, what these demands fail to recognize is white denial about racism, male denial about sexism, and heterosexual denial about homophobia is problematic and is instrumental in the perpetuation of violence, inequality, and privilege. While I remain wary of the demands for solutions, especially in absence of a willingness to work toward social change and accountability, there are many individual and systemic changes that will not only foster greater equality and justice but will address historically produced inequalities. There is much that can and must be done as part of a movement of racial reconciliation and change.

Universal Health Care: A consequence of America’s history of racism, violence, segregation, wealth disparity, and inequality represents stark differences between life and death. Whether looking at life expectancy, infant mortality, and countless illness, we see that racial inequality has consequences. In other words, racism kills. To combat the health consequences of American Apartheid, we must adopt a single-payer national health system. The grave impact of a Jim Crow system of “health care” is seen each and every day. According to a recent study from Harvard University, “Nearly 45,000 people die in the United States each year — one every 12 minutes — in large part because they lack health insurance and can not get good care.” Race matters here. Tim Wise notes that each year 100,000 African Americans die “who wouldn’t if black mortality rates were equal to that of whites.” Universal health care would not solve these disparities but it would certainly dramatically intercede against racism’s assault on the basic human right of life. Lesley M Russell makes this clear:

Racial and ethnic minorities make up more than half of America’s uninsured and they suffer higher rates of chronic illness than the general population. They are more likely to experience risk factors that predispose them to chronic illnesses such as obesity, and are much less likely to receive preventive screenings, regular care, and to fill needed prescriptions that could prevent or ameliorate their conditions. Because being uninsured often means postponing needed heath care services, people of color are diagnosed at more advanced disease stages, and once diagnosed, they receive poorer care. Inevitably, they are sicker and die sooner.

A single payer system may not be a complete solution but it is a way to save lives, improve lives, and challenge the ongoing history of racism. Who is on board? It would seem that providing health care and dismantling America’s prison nation is the ultimate fulfillment of family values. You want a solution, how about respecting and valuing every person’s family; now that’s some values I can get on board with.

While we are nationalizing things, how about we abandon the inequitable local funding formulas employed by school districts and ensure that equity and equality is maintained in each and every school district. Since I know everyone is interested in change, how about a higher education that is open and accessible to everyone.

Solutions are a-plenty. Abolish the Electoral College and move toward publicly funded elections.

There are of course many solutions, from the Dream Act to dramatically changing the tax code and increasing minimum wage would take us on a path toward equality, justice, and racial reconciliation. If you want solutions, join me in fighting for them: if people get to deduct mortgage payments from their taxes, how about rental tax deductions; if children are deductible what about no children? Free childcare for all; what about public transformation in every community – interested? An end to the war on drugs and the military industrial complex! Are these the solutions you had in mind?

Continue reading @ Dr. David J. Leonard: Got Solutions? Beyond Denial and Toward Transformation (Part 2).

Marc Robinson: Priceless Footage, but Limited as a Teaching Tool: Black Power Mixtape (2011)

Priceless Footage, but Limited as a Teaching Tool: Black Power Mixtape (2011) – Film Review

Marc Arsell Robinson

Special to No Tsuris

Black Power Mixtape (2011) is a documentary about the Black Power Movement that uses footage taken by Swedish filmmakers between 1967 and 1975.  It is the latest in a string of documentaries about the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements released in the past few years.  These include Negroes with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power (2005), Neshoba: The Price of Freedom (2008), Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968 (2009), and Soundtrack for a Revolution (2010).  The archival footage in Mixtape contributes priceless visual imagery of 1960’s and 1970’s Black politics, but the film itself lacks a coherent or engaging narrative.

The film does provide exceptional moments, such as when Stokely Carmichael interviews his mother about their family’s struggles during Stokely’s childhood.  Best of all is an impromptu speech given by Angela Davis about White repressive violence and Black self-defense.  As David Leonard wrote in another review of the film, “Humanizing the movement and focusing on the interpersonal dynamics in a core theme of the film.”

However, as a historical text, I found the film disappointing.  Undoubtedly, the movie was limited by the footage available; and it even opens with the following statement, “This film…does not presume to tell the whole story of the Black Power Movement, but to show how it was perceived by some Swedish filmmakers.”  Thus, its creators deserve credit for recognizing Mixape’s shortcomings.  Yet, although the documentary’s weaknesses can be forgiven, they unfortunately limit the film’s use as a teaching tool.

At times Mixtape presents an inaccurate chronology, like when it introduces the Black Panthers in its 1969 section, even though the organization was formed in 1966.  In addition, the latter section of the film, on 1970-1975, becomes increasingly unfocused as the film shifts to concentrate on Black ghetto life and drug usage.  The narrative further breaks down when the War on Drugs is discussed, which did not begin in earnest until the 1980’s.  While the introduction and promotion of drugs like heroin, and later crack cocaine, certainly deserves a place in the story of Black Power, here it undermines the films coherence.

Moreover, the section on the 1970’s leaves out other notable developments such as the proliferation of Black cultural nationalism in the form of fashion, food, entertainment and culture.  Also left out is Black Power’s increasing presence in electoral politics such as the Black Panthers’ bid for offices in Oakland and the Black Political Conventions of the early 70’s.  Other topics that could have been address were the proliferation of Black Studies and Black Power’s impact in education, as well as the issues of masculinity and gender within the movement.  Unfortunately, Mixtape ends up perpetuating the erroneous notion that the Black Power Movement was effectively over by 1971, save the Angela Davis trial.

Therefore, Mixtape would not be best for 100 or 200 level students, or as an introductory source on the Black Power Movement.  Certain sections might be useful, but other films like Eyes on the Prize: Power!, Eyes on the Prize: A Nation of Law?, Negroes with Guns, and Scarred Justice are better suited for introductory purposes.  However, for advanced students and scholars of the period, the film provides invaluable imagery of the 1960’s and 70’s Black Freedom Struggle.

Marc A. Robinson is a PhD candidate in the American Studies Program and teaches in the Critical Culture, Gender and Race Studies Department at Washington State University.  His dissertation is on the Black Student Union and Black Power in the late 1960’s.  Follow him @MarcARobinson1.

Mark Anthony Neal @NewBlackMan: “I Arrived the Day Fred Hampton Died”: If Jay Z Met Fred Hampton


“I Arrived the Day Fred Hampton Died”: If Jay Z Met Fred Hampton

by Mark Anthony Neal | NewBlackMan

In the early morning of December 4, 1969, before dawn, the Chicago Police Department in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation—The FBI—riddled the residence of Black Panther Party leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, killing them both. Hampton, who was sleeping in the back of the house with his pregnant girlfriend was unable to defend himself (he had been drugged by an informant), leading poet and Third World Press founder Haki Madhubuti (then Don L. Lee) to describe the incident as a “One Sided Shootout.” On that same day, Shawn Corey Carter—the maverick hip-hop mogul and artist—was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, NY. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if these two—icons for two distinct generation of Black youth—might have ever had the chance to meet.

For those familiar with the legacy of Fred Hampton, simply known as Chairman Fred for many, Jay Z might seem the very antithesis of what Hampton represented. At the time of his assassination, Hampton was being prepared for national leadership within The Black Panther Party, which was decimated by incarceration (Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale) and exile (Eldridge Cleaver). Hampton was 21-years-old, five years younger than Martin Luther King, Jr. was when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the same age of Malcolm Little when he was when he began the prison sentence that transformed him into Malcolm X. Hampton was no ordinary young Black man.

Specifically the Black Panther Party was targeted by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s counter-intelligence program, known by the acronym COINTELPRO. The year before Hampton’s death, Hoover publically announced that the Black Panther Party was the “greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Part of the FBI’s strategy was to kill off the local leadership of the Black Panther Party, before it could ascend to national leadership. In that vein Hoover targeted the Black Panther Party’s breakfast program, because it was one of the most tangible ways the organization impacted their communities.

According to historian Craig Ciccione, author of the forthcoming If I Die Before I Wake: The Assassination of Fred Hampton, “The threat was on the local level because on the local level the organizing was most effective.” Ciccone suggests that killing off local leadership could be achieved on a much quieter level—he notes that virtually none of the Panthers killed in the late 1960s were part of the national leadership.

Of those local leaders, Fred Hampton was perhaps the most significant—The FBI created a file on Hampton when he was just an 18-year-old high school student, who would shortly become leader of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party. Fred Hampton was a compelling figure because of his skills as an organizer—he was instrumental in the creation of the Rainbow Coalition (a term later appropriated by Jesse Jackson) which included the Black Panther Party, young White activist known as The Young Patriots and The Young Lords, a national organization of Puerto Rican activists co-founded by Felipe Luciano, who was also a member of the original Last Poets.

Combined with his accomplished skills as an orator and his willingness to organize beyond the Black community, Hampton was the prototype for the next generation of Black activist, a possibility that was literally killed in the early hours of December 4, 1969.

One of the tragedies of Fred Hampton’s death is that his presence would not be felt in the Marcy Houses that Jay Z came of age in, or in any of the like communities across this country were young Black Americans lacked examples of political agency and activism that were in sync with their lives at the dawn of 1980s. The period, best known as the Reagan era, was marked by the child murders in Atlanta, the explosion of crack cocaine in Black communities, the emergence of AIDS and the collapse of the kinds of social and cultural infrastructures that helped Black Americans survive segregation and racial violence throughout the 20th Century.

Hip-Hop initially filled that void and though early hip-hop was little more than the “party and bullshit” that seems so normative today, it ability to allow young Black Americans a voice and alternative ways to view the world may have been it most potent political achievement. For example, Chuck D would have been Chuck D regardless of Hip-Hop, but how many young Blacks became politically engaged because Chuck D had Hip-Hop. Indeed as Jay Z details throughout his memoir Decoded (written with Dream Hampton), the possibilities that Hip-hop offered were compelling enough to take him from the street life.

The easy part of this story is to suggest that Jay Z, as emblematic of a Black generational ethos, has squandered Hip-Hop’s political potential on the spoils of crass materialism, middle-management wealth and a politics of pragmatism (as embodied by his man Obama). The feel good move is to imagine a 61-year-old Hampton and a 41-year-old Carter sitting down in conversation with Sonia Sanchez to discuss the legacy of the Black Panther Party on Hip-Hop and Carter’s funding of the Fred Hampton and Shirley Chisholm Institute for Black Leadership Development (which by the way Mr. Carter, need not be a dream). Unfortunately the history of Black political engagement is not as simple as one of those Staples “easy” buttons.

Continue reading at NewBlackMan: “I Arrived the Day Fred Hampton Died”: If Jay Z Met Fred Hampton.