17 Feb '16    home | previous

The Panther Party

The subject was Stanley Gordon's history piece on the Black Panthers, broadcast last night on PBS. Comments to the Washington Post included people who believe as I do that it was a good work depicting a variety of realities and shades of gray. I knew the Panthers, who came into being while I was at UC Berkeley, next door to the city of Oakland. There were sober community organizers. There was pomposity and revolutionist rhetoric that rang hollow to someone like me who believed the future would be made by electoral politics rather than a youthful elite carrying weapons and pursuing revolution, and there was Eldridge Cleaver speaking on Sproul Steps, covering his nervousness and trying to establish himself with bombast.

Many comments to the Post expressed an interesting view. But there were also the usual boring black-and-white distortions.

Someone who identifies himself as Lex CDXIV wrote nonsense:

They hated the rule of law and they hated America. To hell with them, forever.

Someone who calls himself Balmoral-Medina was sarcastic:

Let's see now...

Angry blacks with guns and bombs advocating the eradication of whites in America, assisted by their drugged-up "I-hate-my-daddy" white debutantes .  Geeeee...now that's a new concept.  And now we're supposed to look for some deeper, more transcendent meaning?  

Same old escapist, apologist "hate-the-white-man" faux-journalistic clap-trap. 

Meanwhile, Oprah is even richer, Obama is president and OJ is finally in jail. 

I doubt that there is any reasoning with this guy. There was little if any advocating the eradication of whites by the Panthers. His "I hate-my-daddy debutantes" is distortion or rumor. The transcendent meaning he refers to is merely the need to observe with some accuracy. And "hate-the-white-man" was not a part of the Panther revolutionary approach any more than it was a part of Maoism or other Marxist-Leninists. Balmoral-Medina sees the Panthers as absurd and expresses it with absurdity of his own.

The lesson from the Panther experience is:

  • Put quiet community organizing and electoral politics above grandiose rhetoric and bombast.
  • Don't be obsequious but be direct about who you are differing with.
  • Keep in mind that politics is about humans, not demons. Don't antagonize people unnecessarily.
  • Don't call people "pigs."
  • Realize that to some extent public opinion can be either your chief adversary or your ally.
  • Be no more willing to break the law that was Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Demand that law enforcement be professional and obey the law.
  • Speak about the merits or faults of an individual uninhibited by his race or whether he is a leader.
  • Don't let fear or social panics distort your thinking. (Shame on those who called the writer Dalton Trumbo a traitor.)
  • Avoid name calling. (Cleaver called the honorary Panther Prime Minister Stokely Carmichael "bourgeois."
  • Seek political strength through alliances. (Carmichael opposed the Panthers working with whites.)
  • Don't be divisive. (Carmichael complained that the Panthers were like a Salvation Army rather than revolutionaries.
  • Stay real, unlike Eldridge Cleaver. (While abroad he called for an uprising in the United States.)
  • Watch out for leaders like Cleaver, and provocateurs.
  • Draw your analyses and strategies from a great body of today's specifics, without self-glorification.
  • Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.