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By the time of the publication of Black Power, many younger Black activists had grown weary of the gradualist

strategy of the older biracial civil rights organizations. These activists found that racism was far more

deeply entrenched in America society

 

 

On the Fourth World

Black Power, Black Panthers, and White Allies

By Amin Sharif 

 

The only way that we’re going to be free is to wipe out once and for all the oppressive structure of America. We realize we can’t do this without a popular struggle, without many alliances and coalitions, and this is the reason that we’re moving in the direction that we are to get as many alliances as possible of people that are equally dissatisfied with the system. —Huey P. Newton, Minister of Defense, Black Panther Party

 

Perhaps the most interesting chapter found in Kwame Ture and Charles Hamilton’s groundbreaking book, Black Power, is entitled “The Myths of Coalition.” Here, Ture and Hamilton argue why coalitions between whites and Blacks during the time of the Black Power Movement were deemed impractical. But the time of Black Power has long since passed into history. The question that must be raised today is whether coalitions between whites and Blacks—indeed between the entire Fourth World and whites—are in order.

First, let me say that I do not presume to speak for the entire Fourth World. The oppressed minorities of the United States, Canada, and Europe can speak for themselves. Whatever coalitions they choose to make and with whom they choose to make them are, in the strictest sense, their own affair. This article will be restricted to whether Black people in America—the most advanced sector of the Fourth World—should consider alliances with whites in America.

Whether other Fourth World peoples or even other Black people accept or reject the arguments that are made here is not as important as the presentation of the subject. For whatever errors or erroneous assumptions that are contained within these few pages can easily be corrected through a process of serious criticism.

Having prefaced my remarks in this fashion, I would begin by saying that the rejection of white allies during the Black Power Movement, though understandable, may have been one of the gravest errors made by Black Power activists in America. This is not to say that the many concerns that Black Power advocates expressed about the reactionary and racist nature of whites were unfounded.

Still what was essentially a political decision about our need as black people for unity has now been turned into a perpetual indictment of all white peoples, at all times. Not only are such sentiments counter-progressive but it flies in the face of common sense. For, at its essence, this assertion does not take into account the dynamic nature of the political situation in America. As Huey P. Newton suggests in the above quotation, an anti-white alliance stance isolates the black community and black organizations from potential allies—even non-white ones such as Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans.

Central to the question of whether blacks in America should consider alliances with whites is whether they alone have the power to transform American society. Most serious political thinkers would assert that it is a given that blacks do not possess such power. If true then it is incumbent on progressive forces within the Black Community to say so and begin to move away from the political baggage connected to the time-dated philosophies of Black Power and Black Nationalism. If we are to transform American society, we must employ strategies and tactics that can give us some chance to complete our mission.  

Rather than making a blanket condemnation of all white peoples, at all times, Black Power activists would have perhaps been better off limiting their assertions to the immediate period in which their struggle took place. For all political consciousness is the product of a particular time and place. In every instance, it is subject to limiting factors that must sooner or later be acknowledged and transcended by those who inherit it.

As things stand today, too many Black activists have appropriated the political rhetoric of Black Power without relevant analysis. They have taken the assertions made by some Black Power advocates in regard to whites and projected them onto the current political and social environment. The result has been that no real consideration has been given to the question of whether blacks should under the present circumstances have coalitions with non-blacks. Indeed, it might even be argued that the subject of such coalitions has become taboo within the Black radical political community.

Yet, for the authors of Black Power, the question of political alliances with whites was of paramount importance. Whether they concluded rightly or wrongly to exclude whites from the Black Power Movement is not so much the issue here as is the strength of their argument. Ture and Hamilton show brilliant political thinking within the pages of Black Power, not so much because of flawless arguments about the political questions of their time but because in the first place they had the courage to face these questions. In light of the political timidness that now characterizes black political discourse, Ture and Hamilton stand as giants in a land of dwarfs.  

Ture and Hamilton begin their chapter on “The Myths of Coalition” and their argument against coalitions with whites thus:

There is a strongly held view in this society that the best—indeed, perhaps the only—way for black people to win their political and economic rights is by forming coalitions with liberal, labor, church and other kinds of sympathetic organizations or forces, including the “liberal left” wing of the Democratic Party. With such allies, they could influence national legislation and national social patterns: racism would thus be ended. This school sees the “Black Power Movement” as basically separatist and unwilling to enter alliances. . .

The ideology of white assistance in movements of black resistance is deeply rooted in American history. Indeed, there were white abolitionists in the anti-slavery movement, not only in America but in Great Britain as well. During Reconstruction, radical (white) Republicans passed legislation that assisted the newly emancipated slave. And as Langston Hughes points out, “The idea of the NAACP really began with a letter written by Mary White Ovington,” a white woman, “a social worker and freelance writer.”

Coalitions have existed more recently between Blacks and the white Communist Party around the trial of Angela Davis and between members of the so-called New Left and the Black Panther Party. White students also staffed the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the organization from which Black Power flowed. In fact, from a historical perspective, nearly all of the political movements of black resistance have been inclusive of whites. The most noted exceptions have been black movements rooted in some form of black nationalism, namely, the Garvey Movement and the Nation of Islam.

The central and legitimate question is not whether these past alliance were effective. But rather, whether such alliances were effective under the conditions that black people found themselves in during the early and mid decades of the twentieth century.

By the time of the publication of Black Power, many younger Black activists had grown weary of the gradualist strategy of the older biracial civil rights organizations. These activists found that racism was far more deeply entrenched in America society—especially in the North—than expected.

Younger black activists wanted to attack more aggressively the problem of black oppression. The first step was to frame the dialogue between blacks and whites in a new and dynamic manner. A new frankness soon characterized the dialogue between blacks and especially white liberals. The style of the dialogue was confrontational. For as Ture and Hamilton put it in the Preface of their work

Anything less than clarity, honesty and forcefulness perpetuates the centuries of sliding over, dressing up, and soothing down the true feelings, hopes and demands of an oppressed black people. Mild demands and hypocritical smiles mislead white America into thinking that all is fine and peaceful. They mislead white America into thinking that the path and pace chosen to deal with racial problems are acceptable to the masses of black Americans. It is far better to speak forcefully and truthfully. Only when one’s true self—white and black—is exposed, can society proceed to deal with the problems from a position of clarity and not from misunderstanding.

This frankness alarmed white liberals as well as the old civil rights establishment. White liberals understandably were comfortable with the older more moderate black leadership. But events on the ground showed clearly that the black masses, especially in the North and West, were growing impatient with the pace of change. Organizations such as SNCC under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael (aka Kwame Ture), was one of the first to re-think its position on coalitions with whites. SNCC, like many other Black Power based organizations, came to the conclusion, as expressed in Black Power, that

The major mistake made by exponents of the coalition theory is that they advocate alliances with groups which never had as their central goal the necessarily total revamping of the society. At bottom, those groups accept the American system and want only—if at all—to make peripheral, marginal reforms in it. Such reforms are inadequate to rid society of racism.

Black Power advocates were not alone in noting a tendency toward moderation among whites in the sphere of political change. In his book, SNCC: The New Abolitionists, Howard Zinn makes the following observation:

. . . there has been a nervousness in high places ever since the Negro revolt began—an anxiety over how far it would go and sporadic moves to contain it before it became dangerous. This does not come out of a conspiratorial plot by hobgoblins of reaction; it springs more or less out of the historic American tendency toward moderation whenever there is a forward thrust of social change. And it comes from liberals as often as from conservatives. The compass needle of the civil rights movement flutters, and every once and a while it settles in a direction which awakens tremors in the pilots themselves.

It was precisely this tendency toward political moderation among whites, especially white liberals, which disturbed Black activists. The Negro civil rights leadership had always been willing to modify its positions to accommodate this moderate tendency among their white supporters. They were then faced with strident calls to take a more confrontational stance in regard to racism in America. These cries no longer were restricted to those forces that stood outside the Civil Rights Movement.

They came principally from SNCC—an organization with impeccable civil rights credentials. An internal debate ensued within the Civil Rights Movement between old guard and new guard forces. Perhaps the most important in Black progressive politics, this debate had ramifications that lasted for decades—indeed to this very day.

Two political schools of thought emerged from this contentious debate. One school of thought was embodied in the old civil rights leadership and organizations. The other school reflected a new militancy among younger civil rights activists. The older civil rights leadership was immensely skilled in navigating the treacherous seas of American politics. They knew when to press forward, when to step back.

They courted white financial aid and sympathy. In fact, they married political activism with shrewd insights that many times led to the successful manipulation of the system. Despite their political skills, systemic racism flourished in America. It was systemic racism that the new school of militant Black activists wanted to attack.

But what exactly did these new Black militants mean by systemic racism, or as they termed it—“institutional racism”? Black Power provides us with an answer on the first page of the first chapter of the book.

What is racism? The word has represented daily reality to millions of black people for centuries, yet it is rarely defined—perhaps just because that reality has been so commonplace. By “racism” we mean the predication of decisions and policies on the consideration of race for the purpose of subordinating a racial group and maintaining control over that group.

Black Power continues

Racism is both overt and covert. It takes two, closely related forms: individual whites acting against individual blacks, and acts by the total white community against the black community.

It is clear that if this definition is accepted that racism is in play on every level of American society. Not only is the American government a tool of white racism, in that it acts to maintain a stagnant social order. But individual whites through their attitudes and behavior also foster white racism. In this context, Ture and Hamilton ask as

Camus and Sartre have asked: Can a man condemn himself? Can whites, particularly liberal whites, condemn themselves? Can they stop blaming blacks and start blaming their own system? Are they capable of the shame which might become a revolutionary emotion? We-black people have found that they usually cannot condemn themselves: therefore black Americans must do it.

The idea of the condemnation of whites emerged as one of the three central themes of Black Power,. The other two principles were Black control of Black organizations and the renunciation of non-violence. The theme of white condemnation led first to the severing of ties with the elder statesmen of the Civil Rights Movement who insisted upon the inclusion of whites within the struggle, along with adherence to non-violence. But more importantly, this theme resulted ultimately in the expulsion of whites from certain black organizations and their entire exclusion from the Black Power Movement.

After the policy of white expulsion was put into place, three things immediately occurred:

  1. It gave moderate and liberal whites whose support of Civil Rights was weakening a chance to exit the Movement.

  2.  It cut radical Black Power advocates off from white funds and resources needed to establish a consolidated, national mass movement to confront racism as the Civil Rights Movement had done. 

  3. It allowed the greater white community, which had been divided into liberal and conservative camps on the issue of race as it had been divided on the issue of slavery, to consolidate and coalesce around an increasingly conservative agenda.

A “silent majority” soon emerged—led by Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and the Republican Party. But it was not just the voices of conservatives that were silent in the face of post-Civil Rights era repression. Millions of white liberals were also silent, too. 

The ruling class forces took this collective silence as a license to disrupt advancing, progressive Civil Rights and Black Power agendas and opened a new political discourse on the role of white liberalism in the governance of America. Indeed, the central cause for the decline of American liberalism and radicalism in the post-Civil Rights era can, in many ways, be traced back to the strategy of white condemnation.

Of course, I speak here with 20-20 hindsight. There was no way for the black radicals of the Black Power era to gauge the impact of the condemnation of whites on the future political environment. In fact, tactically, the Black Power Movement had good cause to question the continued moderate stance of whites toward the ending of racism. Black Power advocates wanted to move the struggle to the next phase.

White liberals balked at more radical actions to end racism called for by Black Power advocates. This disqualified most white liberals from being involved organizationally in this next phase of black struggle. From the Black perspective, the liberal purging from the ranks of the Black Power Movement was at once logical and justified. Yet, by not finding a way to reach out to whites in some fashion, the Black Power Movement gave up an important tactical advantage of dividing the white community into two opposing camps on the issue of race.

Still Ture and Hamilton argued that under the condition they faced in the middle 1960s that alliances with whites held no advantages for Blacks and were in fact based on three false assumptions. They were as follows:

1.      That it is false to assume that “the interests of black people are identical with the interests of certain liberal, labor, and other reform groups.”

2.      That it is false to assume “that a viable coalition can be effected between the politically and economically secure and the politically and economically insecure.”

3.      That it is false to assume “that political coalitions are or can be sustained on a moral, friendly, sentimental basis: by appeals to conscience.”       

These assumptions on their face would seem to negate any possible alliance between blacks and whites. But upon closer examination, these assertions are, like so much of the political rhetoric of the time, mostly based on broad generalizations and only partially substantiated truths.

Today, we can see that Ture and Hamilton were perhaps too myopic in their view of whites. Much of their shortsightedness emerges from the nationalistic rhetoric of the time. Black consciousness arose in opposition to white racism. A natural outcome of this dichotomy was a psychological and physical stepping away from all things white. On the psychological level this was necessary to restore equilibrium within the psyches of black people, which had been undermined by the racial ravages of slavery and segregation. The resolution of this dichotomy on the political plane was the call for self-determination by Black people for black people.

Yet Ture and Hamilton, as students of history, knew better than most black people that whites were capable of struggling in tandem with blacks under the harshest of conditions

They were naturally aware that anti-slavery Quakers ran the Underground Railroad, that a white John Brown was hanged for his belief in the immediate emancipation of black slaves. Ture knew first hand that many white students had been brutalized and even killed during the Civil Rights era.

Indeed, both Ture and Hamilton were aware of a whole history of radicalism from Haymarket to the then emerging Weathermen that showed that whites can see America as, if not racist, at least as racially exploitive. And, that indeed, white “shame” could be converted into a “revolutionary emotion” under certain conditions.

Because such transformations can and do occur within the ranks of whites, the history of American radicalism has been so effectively suppressed.  For, just as knowledge of black history liberated black people from a past linked to slavery, American radicalism if properly understood by the white masses, could also liberate them from a past linked to wage slavery and racism. Though the two sets of oppression are not identical, they are similar enough to allow a common front to form among blacks and whites against a common enemy.

This is not to say that there is no truth in the claims of Ture and Hamilton concerning the fallacies of proposing coalitions with whites. Blacks and whites do not generally share “identical” interests. But, again as students of history, Ture and Hamilton undoubtedly knew  that for whites to share the “identical” interests as blacks, they would have to have undergone an identical historical process, i.e., slavery and segregation.

No segment of the American population has been held in slavery and subjected to segregation in the manner of the blacks. That includes Irish Catholics and Jews, as well as, Latinos and Asians. Ture and Hamilton do not put forth arguments against coalitions with Latinos and Asians, though they do not share “identical” interests with blacks. In any case, it is not identical but rather common interests that form alliances and coalitions. 

Ture and Hamilton were on much firmer ground when they asserted that “viable coalitions can not be effected between the politically and economically secure and the politically and economically insure.” Published in 1967, Black Power was prior to the decline of the American industrial base. Then, there were still good, high paying jobs with substantial benefits and pensions to sustain a middle class or at least an upper working class lifestyle and strong unions to protect the interests of industrial workers.

Today, there is much less economic security for white workers. The industrial base has eroded through globalism and competition with the emerging economies of Japan, India, and China. Wages for all American workers are stagnating or increasing at a rate that barely keeps pace with inflation. Industrial unions no longer negotiate from positions of strength. Instead, they have become partners in their own demise and now negotiate how much of the wages, benefits, and pensions their membership will give back to their bosses.

The relative security of the white worker in the middle decades of the twentieth century has now been replaced by the insecurity of an American economic system on the verge of crisis. So, even if Ture and Hamilton were correct in their assessment of the relative security of white workers in 1967, this assessment no longer holds any validity.

Because the white middle and working classes are under pressure, the question of alliances between blacks and whites rises to the fore once again. If the American economic system can no longer buy the allegiance of the white middle and working classes, might these workers regain class consciousness and stand with other working class people in order to transform American society? If so, then it is sound strategy for black radical forces to engage in a common front against the economic rape of all working classes.

Here, we are arguing for a limited coalition between whites and blacks primarily because while the economic interests of black and white workers might coincide, their social interests could still be different. For no manner of economic pressure by itself will immediately remove the personal prejudices and racism of the white working classes. 

Feelings that blacks are inferior are deeply rooted within white communities. These attitudes can only be eradicated through intense personal struggles, in which whites move toward viewing blacks not only as their class allies but also as full human beings. It is only by engaging and struggling with whites that blacks can defeat both institutional and individual racism. 

Ture and Hamilton’s suggestion concerning the futility of alliances with whites found fertile ground within the revolutionary and cultural nationalist sectors of the Black Power Movement.  However, there was one notable black organization that took exception to this strategy. The Black Panther Party was perhaps the most unique organization of resistance ever to exist within the black community.

Intensely militant, fearless, and charismatic, the Black Panther Party organized around three central themes: Armed Self-Defense, Service to the Black Community, and Self-Determination for Black People. The Black Panther Party stood in direct opposition to the narrowness of cultural and revolutionary black nationalism, and held according to Charles E. Jones in The Black Panther Party Reconsidered a broad

. . . commitment to the virtue and dignity of individuals regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. Unlike many of the Black Power organizations of the period, the BPP demonstrated a willingness to enter into functional alliances with White Leftist groups. . . . In short, the BPP represented a model for genuine multiculturalism.”

Huey P. Newton, the BPP’s leading theorist, had from the very beginning sought out alliances with white leftists. Chairman Bobby Seale reinforced on various occasions the anti-racist stand of the Black Panther Party. The BPP, he said

. . . is not a Black racist organization, not a racist organization at all. We understand where racism comes from. Our Minister of Defense has taught us to understand that we have to oppose all kinds of racism.

In many ways the theory of the Black Panther Party was more advanced than that of the Black Nationalist forces. Newton had constantly sought to advance the Party’s theory and practice from Black Nationalism to Revolutionary Nationalism and then to an eclectic form of Marxism-Leninism that he called "Intercommunalism." But, even in its embryonic stage, the BPP recognized the necessity to organize a broad united front against racism and capitalism.

When the Party sent forth the slogan: All Power to the People! It was making a call for Brown, Red, Yellow and White to follow its example and opposed a common enemy. In making this all-inclusive call, especially to minority populations of America, the Black Panther Party became in theory and practice the first proto-Fourth World organization.

Charles E. Jones states in The Black Panther Party Reconsidered that

The first Panther biracial alliance occurred with the Peace and Freedom Party (PFP). On December 22, 1967, the BPP formed a coalition with the PFP. Under the terms of the alliance, the Panthers agreed to assist the PFP in collecting the necessary signatures to allow PFP candidates to be placed on the ballot for the 1968 elections. In return, the Party gained use of PFP’s sound equipment, which was needed to mobilize support for the exoneration of Huey P. Newton.

The Black Panther Party made alliances with not only the white Peace and Freedom Party but also with the white Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the White Panther Party and the Patriot Party—“a revolutionary party of poor and working class Whites based in Chicago.”

The alliances that the Black Panther Party made with whites and other oppressed minorities allowed it to organize the United Front Against Fascism (1969) and the Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Conventions (1970). More importantly, these alliances allowed the Panther to fuse the revolutionary politics of the Black ghetto with the anti-war protests of the white suburbs.

When these two forces descended on Chicago in 1968 during the Democratic National Convention, the result was the infamous uprising known as the “Days of Rage.” It was during the “Days of Rage” that Chicago police turned their brutality on young whites and enraged America. This fusion of black revolutionary politics with anti-war movement was further advanced when as Jones points out,

On November 15, 1969, David Hillard , the Chief of Staff, delivered a speech at the San Francisco Moratorium Demonstration, one of the largest rallies of the anti-war movement.

Clearly, the evidence presented here puts to rest the notion that alliances with whites are not useful to blacks. For it was exactly at the time of the alliance between the Party and its white allies that modern-day radicalism reached its height.

In the end, the questions of alliances with whites must be considered in light of whether black radical forces are committed to the transformation of American society or not. Blacks cannot make this transformation alone.  Many black radicals, particularly the Pan-Africanists and Black Nationalists, have not made up their mind exactly where they stand in regard to the question of the transformation of a predominately white society.

Indeed, many of these forces believe that it is impossible to transform white America—that racism is so deeply entrenched in the hearts and minds of most white Americans that nothing can make them ever join Blacks or other oppressed people in a united front against a common enemy.

We, who embrace the concept of the Fourth World, have chosen to step beyond the narrow nationalism of our times and are willing to reach out to whites in order to form a common front against racial and class oppression. For us it is unthinkable to demand that others recognize our humanity as Black, Brown, Yellow or Red peoples while we ourselves fail to recognize the humanity of white people. 

But we do not wish to have alliances with just any white individual or organization. The whites we seek an alliance with must be committed fully to the radical transformation of America. They must be willing to accept the principle of Fourth World self-determination—that is, only Fourth World peoples can determine what is best for them in regard to the general transformation of society. This may mean that whites still might not be able to join any emerging Fourth World organization.

It will mean nevertheless that we must seek ways to work together to build a mass united front organization where all progressive forces are welcome. By definition, the Fourth World already is inclusive of all other non-white minorities that inhabit the First World of Europe, Canada, and America. It is a given that the Black sector of the Fourth World seeks an active alliance with Latino, Asian, and Native Americans. We look back to the Black Panther Party as the proto-type of what can be done when “common” and not “identical” interests are taken into consideration in an effort to transform America.

We have no intent of abandoning potential alliances and coalitions with black nationalists and Pan-Africanists. Our persuasion will be by argument as well as example. Certainly, if we are willing to struggle with whites around their racism, we can struggle with these groups around principled ideological similarities. For, in the end, whether Fourth World, Pan-Africanist, Black Nationalist, Marxist or Anarchist—what each wants is to build a better world free from economic exploitation and racial oppression. 

With this view in common, we all move forward together.

posted 3 March 2006

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Fourth World Essays

Afro-America & The Fourth World 

The Black Middle Class & a Political Party of the Poor  (essay)

Dark Child of the Fourth World  

The Fourth World and the Marxists

The Fourth World: In the Belly of the Beast

New Orleans: The American Nightmare

On the Fourth World: Black Power, Black Panthers, and White Allies

Why I Support the Latino Demonstrators

 

Other Fourth World Essays

African America A Fourth World  (Waldron H. Giles)

Dark Child of the Fourth World Reaches Out   (Dennis Leroy Moore)

Fourth World Introduction (M.P. Parameswaran)

 Fourth World: Marxist, Gandhian, Environmentalist  (M.P. Parameswaran)

The Fourth World Multiculturalism (Rose Ure Mezu)

Fourth World Programme M.P. Parameswaran)

Neo-Liberalism Dictatorship of the Market  M.P. Parameswaran)

The Rise and Fall of the Socialist World  M.P. Parameswaran)

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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 3 July 2008  

 

 

 

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