Black people came to this country in chains, and ever since, any violence we committed was somehow seen as more horrible than the violence from other groups by the dominant society. Conquistadors were working for Royal concerns. Whites were settlers taming a wild land. The Native American was a noble savage fighting with honor. It is important to note that Europeans were actually engaged in genocide and the Native Americans practiced self-defense. When Black people seek freedom or freedom from violence, it’s called revolt, insurrection, riot, etc. Our violence is different.
America was built on violence, maintained by violence, with influence extended by violence. She is even entertained by violence. Somehow, when Black people use violence or the threat of violence, the language becomes foreign. It becomes savage and dark. It’s not self-defense; it’s malevolence. From slave uprisings in the days of Nat Turner, to the response to the Rodney King verdict, to unrest in Baltimore and Ferguson- there is never provocation. State and other actors are never responsible. The laws of cause-and-effect are suddenly suspended when Black people act out. The social and economic violence of centuries is never a factor.
The Black Panther Party was a logical response to this state violence. This is how people always react to systematic oppression. The results may vary. But, there is always a reaction: The French Revolution, American Revolution, Arab Spring, fighting Apartheid and countless other uprisings around the globe, throughout history. Here in America, history and geography are a struggle when it is time to discuss Black people. Especially, when it comes to systematic oppression and our reactions to it.
As we saw recently in Oregon, when White people threaten public officials, they get snacks and gofundme pages. They are framed as heroes and patriots. We correctly inquired about the kid gloves and apparent double standard. We were told to remember Ruby Ridge and Waco. But, when cops bust heads in Ferguson or Baltimore, no one remembers MOVE or Fred Hampton‘s assassination. Our violence is different.
We know that our presence in this country has always been about plunder. We are here to undermine the wage floor of the entire nation. Not because we want to, but because that is the role White policy and practice dictates. Other groups have been brought here over the years after slavery to replace us for this function- Italians, Irish, Chinese, Mexicans, etc. But, nothing is stronger than to have an easily identifiable group that becomes a permanent underclass. Dark skin is the distinguishing feature. Something in the souls of Black folks makes us rightly reject this positioning. We have proven our worth far too many times. The Panthers rose up in the most American fashion.
The backlash was patently American, as well. The Federal government’s strategy was swift, unflinching and systematic. It was meant to send one simple message: Get back in your place or die. Many chose death, incarceration or exile. The fight was defensive, as the historical record has shown. Many still believe otherwise. Our right to defend ourselves is never even acknowledged. Our violence is different.
Non-violence is the course of choice for most in the movement today. There is a whole new batch of leaders. They are unlike the old leaders. Social media has much greater reach than a bullet. Still, many firmly believe in and will practice our right to self-defense, even if our violence triggers America’s selective apprehension.