Che Guevera, Malcolm X, and Huey Newton are back. They’re images can be found today on all types of paraphernalia. Does the reappearance of red, black and green wristbands, Angela Davis t-shirts, and natural hairstyles mean that the revolution has returned or are the images and thoughts of our early radical leaders being simply exploited by the commercial market?
An orchestra plays as the images of a distorted P.Diddy and Whitney Houston appear on a screen. It’s the Black Panther Suite. Concept composed and created by Asian political activist Fred Ho.
Ho describes the Suite as a ‘revolutionary vision quest that brings legacy missions of the early 60s and 70s. It’s a way forward for all oppressed people’. He created the Black Panther Suite for he felt that the spirit and politics of the movement needed to be correctly conveyed.
The Black Panthers were a political party that was started in California in 1966.The two founders of the party were Huey Newton and Bobby Seale who believed that the efforts of the civil rights movement were not completely successful. The four desires of the party were equality in education, housing, employment and civil rights. As the recognition of the organization grew within the African-American and other historically underrepresented communities so did its notoriety with government factions causing the media to portray the Panthers as heartless haters of the entire white race.
“Recent portrayals of the Black Panthers have been watered down distortions,” said the composer, “Gross distortions like Melvin Van Peebles ‘Panther’ and Spike Lee’s ‘Malcolm X’ were missing the word revolution.”
Ho came of age during a time of fundamental, political and social change, which he believes was key in attempting to eliminate sexism, racism, and capitalism. Ho claims that the same problems exist today but they have gotten worse for the mainstream has actually widened the gap. So if we as people are still struggling today why aren’t there mass sit-ins and protests? Have we become apathetic or complacent?
“The young generation has been seduced by the system. They are the beneficiaries of the struggle that came before them,” stated Ho, “They live in a consumer oriented culture fed on self gratification. Youth need to raise their political consciousness. Many young people do not challenge the system. They just want to get over. The youth don’t know revolutionary history and have culturally been stifled by a bitter society. All they can do now is accept what we have today, the CocaCola, Gap, and McDonald version of revolution.”
Ho feels that today’s generation is apathetic due to the fact that they have ‘pitiful examples to follow’. On television and in magazines they are constantly bombarded by the images of famous people who are concerned with the attainment of more material wealth and not the plight of their fellow people. Artist that we consider ‘socially aware’ like Erykah Badu and Common, Ho views them as being ‘watered down and luke warm’ when it comes to aiding the movement.
“I don’t see them as revolutionaries. True artists, sheroes and heroes like John Coltrane, Josephine Baker, and Duke Ellington never became minstrel shows. Today’s artists are not about trying to raise the consciousness of the people. They just want you to buy, buy, buy, buy, buy.”
Ho points out that even athletes today don’t compare to those like to Muhammed Ali who lost his title when he refused to enter the Vietnam War or the Olympic athletes who raised the black power salute in Mexico City. He deems that ‘consciousless people like Oprah and Michael Jordan don’t really challenge the system. Instead they make people feel that it’s the matter of their attitudes that need adjusting’.
“Becoming bourgeois and upper middle class is not the solution. It doesn’t change any kind of ‘ism’. Oppressed people don’t need more self esteem they need more consciousness,” passionately stated Ho.
In 1989 the New Black Panther Party was created. Today there are over thirty-two chapters around the country. Not everyone’s reaction to the NBPP has been positive. Bobby Seale and Fredicka Newton, Huey Newton’s wife, have actually spoken out against the new organization. On the Dr. Huey Newton Foundation website a statement was released declaring the following: “As guardian of the true history of the Black Panther Party, the Foundation, which includes former leading members of the Party, denounces this group's exploitation of the Party's name and history. Failing to find its own legitimacy in the black community, this band would graft the Party's name upon itself, which we condemn.”
Jamarhl Crawford, Chairman of the Boston chapter of the New Black Panther Party and author of Prophecy: Reflections of Life and Love From a Black Perspective, understands where the founders of the Foundation are coming from but disagrees with their viewpoint. He believes that the definition of revolution is change and that the original Black Panther members must understand that when they started the movement they too were the misunderstood youths of their time.
“The problems have not been solved so why are you chilling?” asks Crawford, “The New Black Panther Party is simply picking up the baton of the revolutionary struggle.”
Some of the problems that exist today are disparities in the education system within communities mostly made up of historically underrepresented people, racial profiling, and the spread of AIDS.
“One white life is worth one hundred black lives on the white scale of justice. Our lives to them don’t mean anything on the grand scheme of things. We need to rediscover ourselves and find self worth within ourselves.”
The media has falsely depicted the Panthers as an organization that hates and is against the white race. Crawford pointed out that black people have spent so much time wondering and worrying about what white people think. He emphasized that his mission is not to ‘save whitey’ because black people have enough of their own struggles and ‘white people can save themselves’.
The appeal of the New Black Panther Party is that it speaks and represents the ‘common man’, the young people and those living in the hood.
“The Panthers are for the people. There are too many groups out there who dance around the issues. How about speaking up on the issue that we’ve got black people in the army fighting for a people who don’t give a s*** about them?”
Crawford agrees with Ho that films made by directors like Spike Lee are ‘more progressive then Master P movies but they’re still not progressive enough’.
“The richer and more powerful people become the more they get bought into the system. The nicer the house they have they become a little less angry. The more beautiful their wife is they become a little less angry. Look at Spike he has made films like “Malcolm X” and “Bamboozled” but between those films were bulls**t like “Girl 6”. Why did Steven Spielberg make Amistad? Why does it take a white man to make a black movie? There is a place for everything but there needs to be a balance. We can have our chitlin circuit type of films and then the Hollywood type too but what about the Nat Turner story? How about films that have to do with moving toward liberation like Harriet Tubman and Ida B. Wells? Now that’s a story.”
Crawford believes that the black and Latino communities are full of resources that simply need to be completely utilized
“We as people need to use what we got to get what we want,” declared Crawford, “We shouldn’t have to wait for anything. We have to get our s*** together. We are not minorities. Lets come together and work towards anything, it doesn’t have to be burning down America. Just something little like spending money in black and Latino communities.”