The Lies They Tell About Black Liberation

Women perform a drill with Black Panther Party flags. (Courtesy of Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch)

Last night, Stanley Nelson’s documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, premiered on PBS’s Independent Lens. Many tuned in to watch and Black Twitter certainly had a lot to say. Most of this information has been available to us all for years, though not mainstream, but revisiting this history will never not be emotionally traumatic for me and others who are particularly sensitive to issues of injustice.

Worf at one of the Enterprise’s consoles (PC: CBS Television Distribution)

Still, by the end of the film, I found myself thinking of Lieutenant Worf, a Klingon Starfleet officer played by Michael Dorn in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Worf is, in my opinion, the most nuanced character in the entire series, balancing an amalgam of his Klingon heritage, the epitome of machismo, oppressive patriarchy, grit, and honor, with his personable human upbringing. For much of the series, Worf is forced to hold onto a secret that progressively eats him up inside. A rival publicly accuses his father of being a traitor to their entire race and, though Worf, his brother and Captain Picard all know this to be false, because of the politics of the Klingon High Council, they are all placed in a position of having to allow this lie to flourish to preserve the integrity and future of the Klingon homeland all at the expense of Worf’s bloodline. I display my Trekkie fandom not to digress from the original topic at hand, but to illustrate an important parallel. Eventually, Worf is exonerated as the lie is exposed, his honor is restored and the ostracization by his people ceases. So, last night when, for the first time, an honest accounting of The Black Panther Party was broadcasted on national television for the world to see, it felt as if a similarly heavy burden was finally lifted.

A protest at a Black Panther rally. (Courtesy of Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch)

See, for years, there has been a long-held and widely believed misperception by too many Americans that the Black Panthers were domestic terrorists hellbent on destroying communities and themselves. This misinformation was systematically woven into the retelling of any history regarding the Black Panthers when not summarily erased entirely from American history books. There’s no question that the U.S. government had a hand in this fiction as it was a direct function of the counterintelligence programs managed at the time, by the FBI and local law enforcement departments, to discredit this movement of black empowerment and liberation.

This decades long continuum of lies and specific erasure of one of the most substantive movements in U.S. history birthed a veil of dishonor to cast over those who organized with and supported the Black Panthers and their revolutionary social justice activities. This preconceived veil of dishonor was also slung over the Black Lives Matter movement as we echo visions of the past in this generation’s version of righteous militancy, community organizing, and defiant protest against police brutality and overzealous policing and a perpetually dubious criminal justice system that fails to acknowledge, respect and treat black bodies fairly or even equally in comparison to white counterparts. I don’t need to recount the many disparaging remarks by political elites and others about Black Lives Matter because you’ve probably heard them, just as the elders whom were active with the Black Panthers also received their own slander.

Oakland, California (PC: CNN)
New York, New York (PC: CNN)
Seattle, Washington (PC: AP)

History repeats itself. From Oakland to Brooklyn, the slayings of civilians by those in authority continue today as do the challenges to them, but what is propagated today is negativity towards those whom have the audacity to raise up their hands in self-defense against their oppressors. I say, “No more.” This veil of dishonor is not ours, it is theirs. The dishonor is in a culture and system of domestic policing that finds its normalcy in the destruction of over a thousand American lives every year, routinely imagines and employs foundationally racist police tactics which ignore the rights, privileges and benefits afforded to all citizens by the U.S. Constitution, the supreme law of the land, allows children to starve, bars every day people from participating in democracy, and the list goes on and on. These are the types of issues sociopolitical organizations, such as The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and Black Lives Matter, advocate and that we must continue to stand tall for. Even if these organizations and movements fall apart, we can carry the spirit of them within ourselves. We owe it to our ancestors of the past and we owe it to our children of the future. We are not any more dangerous than our oppressors. We are not animals. We deserve freedom, justice, and peace.

“We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, peace.”
— Phyllis J. Jackson, Former Black Panther Party member, reciting the 10 Point Program

We must not allow our stories to be perverted and warped any longer and to do that we must win our battles for justice, equality and freedom as the old adage warns, “History is written by the victors.”

Watch the documentary online until March 18, 2016 on PBS.

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