Beasts We Are, Beasts We Are Not

This week, hordes of people of the African diaspora–and many who love us–are hustling into movie theaters around the globe to watch Black Panther, a movie that promises to showcase the first black superhero, and a slew of the finest black actors in Hollywood today, as well as a black director and at least one black writer… 😛 Regardless of any flaws in conception or execution, the release of this film is a much-needed occasion for black celebration and glory.

So. The character wasn’t conceived of by black or African people, but by two white men. They chose the character’s name before the far left political group was so named, but it seems they may have stolen the metaphor…? Hard to know.

But in 1965, Alabama was heavy on the conscience of America. That state had been the front line for the Civil Rights Movement for several years; it was the site of some of the movement’s greatest triumphs, and more than a few atrocities. The Montgomery Bus Boycott. Bull Connor turning fire hoses and dogs on protestors. The state outlawing the NAACP. KKK bombing the house of Fred L. Shuttlesworth, leader of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Freedom Rides. The Klan attack of the Trailways station. The sit-ins and protests that launched the SCLC’s renown. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The Children’s Crusade. Jeff Sessions. The murder of four little black girls playing in a church. Alabama was where the movement took a stand and said they would not be moved. They would rather die.

Those struggles brought about the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, but there was still work to be done; activists had to ensure the new federal laws were actually implemented. One Alabama county’s population of 15,000 was 4/5 black, but before March 1, 1965, not one black resident was registered to vote. The statistics spoke for themselves: 86 white families owned 90% of the land, and controlled the government. The backlash against Reconstruction had been brutal; over the past hundred years, 14 people had been lynched

(on the record), for reasons as petty as disapproving of the lynching of others. Fear had its fangs deep in the black community; their suffering gave their home its ominous nickname: “Bloody Lowndes.”

It seems odd now, maybe, at a time when so many of us, Trump and Bernie voters included, feel the futility of voting, at least on a national level. Given the corrupt actions of the DNC, who pushed Clinton’s nomination through against the people’s will, the fuckery of Russian trolls, the condescension of the electoral college, and the greedmongering buffoonery of the RNC, of course we hate our system. But the fight for local power in the Deep South was and is still of tremendous importance.

In 1965, a group called the Lowndes County Freedom Organization took on the task of registering and educating black voters. In the middle of the mix was SNCC’s Stoakley Carmichael, who already had years of experience in the movement. Guess what the LCFO’s symbol was. No? You forgot the beginning of the post already? Their icon was the black panther.

Since the eyes of the nation were on Alabama, I could see Marvel’s tryna-be-woke guys getting the idea of doing a kind of tribute, right, with a brilliant African prince leading the charge.

Except when the Panthers emerged and began announcing their powerful platform, they tried to change their black nationalist hero’s name to “Black Leopard” to avoid associations with the notorious freedom fighters. Weak sauce. WEAK SAUCE, I say!

A lot of people don’t know the history of COINTELPRO, even though it’s all declassified now. Many still associate the Panthers with violence; but they came into being exactly like Black Lives Matter. They carried weapons, rightfully as it turned out, to defend themselves against the white supremacist state. Read on it. Black people with guns terrify the shit out of people whose well-being and livelihood are wedded to white supremacy. Recently, a black professor named Tommy Curry was encouraged to resign, let’s say, because he dares ask if black people are allowed the same second amendment rights as whites. Dangerous stuff.

The truth is, we’re still seen as violent savages. But when it comes to savagery, white Americans have an excellent claim to the title. Ask our Attorney General.

Anyway. There’s much to be done, still. This new movie is great for us (includes whypipo) on the most superficial level, in that positive representation is essential to undo all the terrible stories we’re told about black people. Getting Coates, Harvey, and Gay to write for BP comics is amazing, too. This shouldn’t be novel, it should be daily. We still don’t have enough power to tell our own stories, and one film won’t fix that. But enjoy the movie, friends. Anything that helps you through a little happier and a little stronger.

Tell it like it is.

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