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“A few of the major textbooks don’t even mention the Black Panthers, while most give the organization only a sentence or two. Even the small number that do devote a few paragraphs to the party, give little context for their actions and distort their ideology. “ — Adam Sanchez and Jesse Hagopian of the Zinn Education Project

Black Panther, its positive sides for many moviegoers notwithstanding, is a bit ponderous… and prone to answering profound political questions by means of mortal combat. That’s one thing when you’ve got a licensed-to-kill operative trying to stop a countdown (as in, say, a Bond flick), but it’s another trick entirely when you have it as the accepted method for legitimate political rivals to determine a nation’s foreign policy.

I say “trick” because audiences are being played for all they’re worth by cinematic artists appealing to the violence that’s in vogue in their indiscriminate minds of this post-modern moment. What? [Pause.] It’s one thing to take in anything in the name of being distracted, diverted from… taking a break from the violence that we’re embedded in right now, refusing to face the fighting we’ve been responsible for globally… for a very long time. “You deserve a break today”… maybe… in the spirit of McDonald’s burgers and fries mantra. Whether or not the food is good for you. But when it comes to VIOLENCE (in italicized boldfaced underscored caps!)… that’s another matter. It matters above and beyond your personal realm. It impacts on everyone — when it’s a function of a nation’s foreign policy — from kids in a domestic school to children in a foreign hospital (the former attacked by someone wielding an AR-15, the latter devastated by drones).

It’s not okay that the same implements of mass death used at My Lai are entirely legal to buy, sell and own fifty years following Operation Phoenix. In fact, those weapons — like our illegal, immoral abominations in Southeast Asia themselves — have been sanctified in American culture… whether in the form of a Ken Burns documentary produced by PBS or by some citizen wearing an AR-15 medallion like a crucifix.

There is a correlation I’ve spotlighted above which is virtually ignored by teachers and administrators nationwide.

Another “story” that’s neglected by educators — not given justice to — is what came down with the Black Panthers. What they were really about. When I think about the organizing they did in Richmond, California back in the day, the first thing that comes to mind is the Free Breakfast Program that fed hundreds of hungry children before school and eventually became an integral part of the U.S. education system.

Other services come to mind also, of course. But suffice it to say that today too many folks first think of VIOLENCE when the organization is mentioned. Not the violence of the FBI, but what’s been attributed to Blacks.

I humbly and respectfully request that one and all urge local educators to make a distinction between the kind of popular entertainment represented by Black Panther and the under-appreciated positive contributions that were made by such groups as the Black Panthers. For the kids. For us all. All over the world.

Identity politics can be praised, politics and entertainment advocating violence cannot. And contributions like what the Black Panthers made must not be forgotten.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot…. I have a question: How can an “African-American” be a part of a production that co-opts the Black Panther name for Disney-like purposes?

Richard Martin Oxman has been an educator for over half-a-century (including the teaching of Cinema History and African-American History on the college level). He can be reached at aptosnews@gmail.com

2 Comments

  1. I agree with the thrust of your comments, especially on the need to not overlook the other important work the BPP did for local communities. But it’s also important to note that the comic book hero Black Panther (or Black Leopard as he was temporarily renamed in the 70s) predated the BPP founding in Cali. More importantly, the name Black Panther Party didn’t originate with Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Cali, as some movement histories commonly state. In fact it originated in 1965 out of SNCC freedom summer organizing in Alabama through the Lowndes Country Freedom Organization (LCFO), which first used the black panther image and name for their party in local elections that year. From what I can tell, this is the same panther design the BPP later adopted, which makes sense given the close ties of SNCC and other civil rights groups at this time, esp. through figures like Stokely Carmichael. I’d wager the image may have made the jump from AL to CA thanks to the “Black Power and its Challenges” conference held at UC Berkeley, October 29, 1966, shortly before the Oakland BPP formed, as publicity for the event also used the panther on its flyers.

    More of this history here: https://snccdigital.org/inside-sncc/alliances-relationships/lcfp/
    and here: http://www.docspopuli.org/articles/Yuen/BPP_logo.html

    But I’m curious why you think this is a Disney-like cooptation, given that this is pretty much the least Walt Disney film that has ever been produced by Disney, or any other major studio, for that matter?

    • So if SNCC started in 1965 and the first appearance of the Black Panther character was in July of 1966, do you think it was a possible that Jack Kirby and Stan Lee got the Idea from the logo of LCFO? Just curious about your take on that Chriscrews.