Black Panther Party against American Imperialism

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For most people, the word revolt is associated with thoughts of change brought about by violence. However, when spoken about by a revolutionist themselves, the meaning surrounding the word differs. During a 2008 interview, conducted by the LA Sentinel, Bobby Seale stated, “Revolution is about the need to re-evolve political, economic and social justice and power back into the hands of the people, preferably through legislation and policies that make human sense. That's what revolution is about. Revolution is not about shootouts” (Seale XXXX). The point of revolution has always been to bring about change in a sane and correct manner, especially for those that have continuously been oppressed. Unfortunately, violence is often introduced when change is met with resistance by those in power.

This flow of events is evident throughout history’s writings, as the images of most Black Power movements focus on the violence alone, but rarely the resistance that led to it. Founded in 1966 in Oakland, California, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, the Black Panther Party, were an African American revolutionary organization, who at the time fought to address the major issues facing urban Black communities (Duncan XXXX). The Panther’s main goal was to obtain the same rights for the Black community as the rest of society, which included but was not limited to, education, jobs, housing, medical care, and justice. At the time, the Civil Rights Movement, aimed to gain full citizenships rights for Blacks within the U.S., while the Black Panther Party differed, as they rejected the legitimacy of the U.S., government and positioned themselves as part of a global struggle against American imperialism (Bloom, Martin XXX).

The Civil Rights Movement targeted issues based in America alone, while the Black Panther Party focused on minority race-based issues at a much larger, global scale. In an article detailing who the Black Panthers were, the Journal of Negro History states, “The Black Panther Party chose the name because the panther is known to be an animal that never makes an unprovoked attack but will defend itself vehemently when attacked, and this was symbolic of what the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense stood for” (Harris XXXX). For the members of the Black Panther Party, the words black panther stood as a representation of who they were and their methods of activism attested to that. Unlike the Civil Rights Movement which was inspired by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, the Black Panther Party chose to fight fire with fire. ( The strategies employed by the Black Panther Party to bring about change for the Black community involved changes from all aspects, and as their name suggests, violence was introduced only when necessary.) The strategies used when taking a standing or making a change, are crucial in respect to determining the success of the effort altogether.

Some prefer strategies where changes can be made from behind closed doors in a subtle fashion, while others prefer those that place them on the front line with individuals who have the same goal as them. The strategies employed by the Black Panther Party during their revolutionary movement aided in the success of having their demands be heard. They used methods that made their demands clear and acted in ways that left no room mediocrity. Although the opinion of those behind the idea is debatable, the success of the movement as a whole is not. The Black Panthers served as a voice for many and brought the issues surrounding race to the forefront of the communities.  The first strategy that aided in the success of the Black Panther Party was the changing of their presence and appearance within their own communities. Behind the physical changes made by the Panthers, were planned and calculated efforts to redefine the image of the Black body, and to garner attention while doing so. During the formation of the Party, early members decided on a uniform that they thought would demand respect: black pants, black leather jackets and gloves, black berets, and later dark sunglasses.

As a part of a greater plan, their uniform came to represent organization, unity and black consciousness and pride, and as a result, it served as a political and organizing tool (Meister XXX). The Black Panther Party first became active in October 1966, by implementing police monitoring patrols within Black Communities. The movement was started during a period that Huey Newton referred to as Black Invisibility, which when simply put, is the absence of whiteness and its concomitants of full personhood and full ownership of rights and privileges (Meister XXX). Segregation had a heavy influence on societal functioning throughout the sixties’, and in a contradictory fashion, governmental neglect coupled with the targeting of police-sanctioned violence resulted in Black males becoming invisible and hyper-visible at once.

In an attempt to stop the dehumanizing treatment of Blacks by police within their own communities, Panthers would conduct armed police patrols, where they would follow police cars in order to prevent them from harassing community residents in the streets (Meister XXX). During encounters with police, members would often express their knowledge of the law as a means of educating the Black community about their rights as citizens, separate from the police. Eventually, the Panthers began to establish themselves as the community authority in regards to fighting the ill-treatment and oppression of blacks, all while the number of Party members was growing. The decision to employ a uniform that rejected the definitions of beauty defined by those outside of their community represented much more than fashion.

It was a celebration of Black self-love, and when combined with the confidence to stand up to those in power, these strategies made their message clear. The Black Panther Party members fought to set a new standard for the way society viewed those of the Black communities, and this acted as a magnet for support. As their numbers grew, so did the attention they received. The Panthers’ were now established, and this quick response in growth proved that they were addressing the struggles felt by the majority of the people. Following in the path of revolutionary intercommunalism, the second strategy employed by the Black Panther Party, was the implementing of their community service, or survival programs. In late 1968, the Black Panthers established their survival programs, as a means of developing the necessary institutions within their communities, to help individuals meet their basic needs (Meister XXX).

The goal was self-sufficient communities, where they could survive outside of the government systems. Free Breakfast for Schoolchildren, was the best – known program and is only one of nearly 60 programs sponsored by the Black Panther Party (Hilliard XXXX). Other programs included care in regards to schools, adult education, and childcare; medical care, medical research, and ambulance services; cooperative housing; employment assistance; free shoes and clothing; free plumbing, home maintenance, and pest control; and protective escort for the elderly (Pope, Flanigan XXX). As a collective, the goal was to meet the needs of the people, until they were able to change social conditions that made it harder for people to afford necessities and desires. Children quickly became the focus of these survival programs, and by the early seventies’, these programs had become the dominant focus of party activities.

The Panther’s believed that children were the future of the revolution, and by focusing on them, the Panthers were able to sensationalize the issues surrounding poor and malnutrition, hunger, and lack of health care within Black communities. Similarly, by focusing on the children, they were able to successfully shine light onto the continuous cycle of poverty caused by institutional racism. Namely, children who grow up on welfare, ill-clothed and malnourished, receive poor educations and are therefore exempt from successful jobs, keeping them dependent upon welfare. When taken together, the Panthers’ survival programs were all strategically used as an effort to expose the ills of society. Each survival program, respective to itself, successfully focused attention on the injustices against Blacks in every aspect of society. At the time, every daily practice of a functioning society aimed to uphold white power while simultaneously revealing the lesser quality of humanity assigned to Blacks. Because of this, the Panthers were able to finally put the idea of white supremacy into perspective, which provided them the justification to make a moral claim for change. The need to revolutionize American society was necessary.

By exposing the faults and inadequacy of society, the Panthers were able to present themselves in a new light, while proving to their own that they were also able to provide. The last strategy used by the Black Panther Party that ought to be discussed, was the act of aggravation. As previously confirmed by Newton, the Panthers’ through their labeling, actions, and rhetoric, put forth a deliberate effort to provoke the government’s response, in hopes that it would publicly delegitimize itself (Meister XXX). By provoking the government and its forces, the Panthers’ had hoped to expose their true traits. The Panthers believed that that the daily functioning of the government was not only systemically racist but that it also displayed violence in an unjustifiable manner that should question the legitimacy of the government itself. With this, came the notion that violence backed by racism also threatened the existence of Blacks, and thus, could only be met by violence in the name of revolution for the people.

For the Panthers’ violence was not an act of aggression, but more so an act of self-defense. As expected, this defense was aimed at those that acted in violence against Blacks, who at the time happened to be the police. Self-defense often meant provocation, and this was now evident during earlier mentioned armed police patrols. The limits of this strategy became evident only when Newton was left injured and a policeman, dead, after a nightly encounter where there was no witness (Meister XXX). After that incident, the Party often staged armed confrontations for the purpose of provoking violent responses from the police, while ensuring public attention. As the conflict between the Party and the police grew, it became clear that the violence against them was more so a result of their rhetoric rather than aggression on their part.

Although not directly provoked, most instances of violence were initiated by police due to non – aggressive activities and made it evident that the violence aimed towards the Party was due solely to them exposing the systemic racism. The best – known example of this escalation, is the image of Bobby Seale, chained to a chair and gagged in a courtroom, as a result of his determination to defend himself before a judge. In hindsight, the ultimate goal was always to provoke the government as a means of exposing them. By exaggerating the threat against nonwhites worldwide, the Panthers were able to gather enough support to submit an appeal for the charge of genocide to the United Nations, against the U.S. government. However, in true Panther fashion, the charge of genocide was also an exaggerated catchphrase, as their main goal was solely to petition for the placement of sanctions against the United States (Meister XXX).

Similarly, to previous strategies, by exposing the violence against minorities associated with the U.S. government, the Panthers were able to draw attention and support on a global scale while successfully proving the government to be unfit to rule over a minority based society. Although many saw this as their most productive strategy, it was this strategy that eventually led to, the FBI deeming the Black Panthers as a communist organization and an enemy of the U.S. government (Duncan). Because of this, many new and existing law enforcement agencies began the process of discrediting all persons and activities involved with the Black Panther Party, and any other organization whom they considered to be against the US government. This along with many other actions of the FBI, including infiltrations, eventually led to the party’s demise. However, that does not negate the success of the movement as a whole.

The Black Panthers’ were one of the largest revolutionary movements of their time. Although the writings of history appear to present violence as their only achievement, a review of their strategies makes their success evident. When the movement formed, the ultimate goal of the Panthers was to obtain the same rights for Blacks as the rest of society, and time alone may be the only reason that they were unable to achieve that. Unfortunately, most central problems outlived them and the fact that we still need to make it known today, that Black lives matter shows this. On a smaller scale, and during their active time of protest, the Panthers followed a calculated plan that was set to establish Blacks in a different light, while exposing the true violence and racism associated with the U.S., societies. The Panthers were able to successfully change the image surrounding Blacks, shine a light on the police brutality targeted towards Blacks, create self – sustaining communities that were separate from the state, and most importantly, expose and prove the U.S. government as the unfit and violent racists that they were.

The Panthers recognized the need for a long-term solution on many issues and thus, helped organize and move the Civil Rights Movement forward to accomplish many different things. The Black Panther Party stood for many on a global scale, who were either too afraid or unable to speak for themselves, while simultaneously setting the stage for most movements that followed. Debatably, success as a whole is often seen as a matter of opinion, and in the case of the Black Panther Party, it is the unpopular opinion to associate their success with anything other than violence. However, regardless of ones’ opinion, if the success of the movement is based solely on things they were able to achieve, it is hard to believe that with time, the movement’s ultimate goal couldn’t have been met.

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Black Panther Party Against American Imperialism. (2022, May 27). Retrieved April 13, 2024 , from

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