April 30, 2013

When I Joined the Black Panther Party....

An Untold Chapter in Black History

by Safiya Bukhari

This piece first appeared on the Monthly Review site.

I was nineteen when I joined the Black Panther Party and was introduced to the realities of life in inner-city Black America.

From the security of the college campus and the cocoon of the great American Dream Machine, I was suddenly stripped of my rose-colored glasses by a foray into Harlem and indecent housing, police brutality, hungry children needing to be fed, elderly people eating out of garbage cans, and hopelessness and despair everywhere. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I would never have believed that this was America. It looked and sounded like one of those undeveloped Third World countries.

Between 1966 and 1975, eager to be part of the fight for the freedom and liberation of black people in America from their oppressive conditions, thousands of young black men and women from all walks of life and backgrounds joined the ranks of the Black Panther Party. They were met with all the counterforce and might of the United States war machine.

Not unlike the young men who went off to fight in the Vietnam War, believing they were going to save the Vietnamese from the ravages of “communism,” the brothers and sisters who joined the ranks of the Black Panther Party, with all the romanticism of youth, believed that the rightness and justness of their cause guaranteed victory. We were learning the contradiction between what America said and what it did. We were shown examples of the government’s duplicity, and we became victims of its Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), an all out, multiphasic war designed to stifle dissent in America in general, and in the black community in particular.

We came into the struggle believing that we would prevail. Because our struggle was right and just, we said, “We shall win without a doubt!” All we had to do was present an organized and disciplined united front and be determined to gain our freedom by any means necessary, and our victory would be assured.

We theorized about what we were up against. We marched, sang, and rhetoricized about the implications of being “in the belly of the beast.” We dissociated ourselves from anything or anyone that had been close to us and regurgitated the bravado about the struggle being primary—that, in order to win, we must be willing to sacrifice mother, father, sister, or brother. We embraced all of this in much the same manner that the drill sergeant in the Marine Corps psyched up the recruits to fight in Vietnam.

Read the entire article here.

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