The danger of depoliticising Black Power activism - Bryan Knight
"Black Power!" was an utterance popularised by radical Black activists in the 1960s and 1970s.
Although often ignored ideologically, the iconography of Black Power continues to be circulated in popular culture - without a thorough engagement with the politics that led to its creation.
The glamorisation of Black Power imagery is a phenomenon that stretches as far back as the 1960s. However, with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is time that we move beyond our obsession with revolutionary aesthetics and engage with its politics.
In recent weeks, artists Ciara and Teyana Taylor have posted images of themselves on Instagram wearing Black Power-inspired costumes, replicating a 1968 photograph of Black Panther Party (BPP) co-founder Huey P Newton that showed him sitting on a wicker chair wearing the party's outfit. Both artists were dressed in all-black leather with black sunglasses to match - the only difference being Taylor's beret and rifle. Despite Ciara and Taylor using their images as symbols of Black pride, they failed to recognise or critically engage with the history and ideology of Black Power.
A post shared by Teyanataylor_ (@teyanataylor.fp) onAug 2, 2020 at 7:20pm PDT
Formed in 1966, by Newton and Bobby Seale, the BPP was a revolutionary self-defence organisation formed to safeguard the Black community from police brutality and America's ubiquitous racism. Members of the party quickly assumed a uniform, which included black leather jackets, black trousers, black berets and black sunglasses. This outfit was adopted due to its militant appearance and its similarity to those worn by revolutionaries such as Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.
As frequently expressed in its organisational newspaper, Black Panther, the BPP believed in Black self-defence, self-reliance and self-determination. The organisation placed itself in opposition to white imperial capitalism, which it saw as the cause of societal inequality and racial brutality. Despite communicating their objectives through traditional political avenues such as demonstrations and manifestos, the Panthers were aware of the political uses of imagery and fashion.
The iconic black uniform served as a visual representation of the organisation's objectives and principles, as it not only presented the BPP as militant, powerful and revolutionary, but it also gave them visibility at a time when the Black community often felt ignored. Such clothing also served as cultural capital within Black radical circles as it affirmed one's refusal to assimilate within the dominant white culture. Party members, identifiable by their distinct outfits, were frightening to many white Americans, as the authorities deceptively began presenting Black Power advocates as dangerous and violent extremists.
Black Panther Party members demonstrate outside the New York City court on April 11, 1969 [Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images]
Black Power iconography was not only about clothing but also the natural afro hairstyle. The afro became a symbol of the 1960s' "Black is beautiful" cultural movement. It expressed pride in one's African features and challenged social norms which largely pressured Black women to conform to Western beauty standards by straightening their hair. During this era, young men and women began wearing their afro despite pushback from those in mainstream society and even some conservative members of the Black community.
Black American radical Angela Davis became the embodiment of Black Power after the FBI issued a search warrant for her, falsely charging her with conspiracy to murder. While hiding from the authorities, Davis became a recognisable figure as a mugshot of her wearing her afro was broadcast not only in the US but internationally. In the eyes of the state, Davis represented violent radicalism, but for many in the Black community, she became a heroine and a representation of Black Power in action.
In the aftermath of her acquittal, Davis became a revolutionary style icon and, consequently, her image was reproduced as a fashion symbol within radical and mainstream circles. This, as Davis criticised in a 1994 essay, was a disturbing exploitation of her image which erased her radical politics from popular discourse. She noted that there was a "danger that this historical memory may become ahistorical and apolitical".
An FBI 'Wanted' poster for Angela Davis [Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images]
Despite, her protestations in the 1990s, images of Davis and her afro continue to be co-opted and manipulated today, with fashion label Prada producing a $500 t-shirt, in 2018, with an illustration of Davis shouting "Right On!". Similarly, the British government chose to use images of Davis in their controversial counter-radicalisation campaign, Prevent.
The irony of an anti-capitalist and communist being selected on both these occasions appears to have been lost on the organisations.
Glamorising Black Power images not only erases the radical politics of the movement, but also leads to a sanitised and inaccurate retelling of the past. Romanticising Black Power icons and their aesthetics without critically engaging with the reality of this history often results in a narrative that only recognises the successes of the movement and overlooks the lasting pain and trauma of that generation of Black radicals.
In recent interviews, American former Black Panther Denise Oliver-Velez and her British counterpart Beverley Bryan spoke to me about the harsh realities of the Black Power movement. Bryan spoke candidly about the many young people who became "casualties of the movement" and were subsequently left "broken". Likewise, Oliver-Velez raised awareness of the older "brothers" who are still being incarcerated for their involvement in Black radical politics.
Instead of merely focusing on Black Power visuals or nostalgically fawning over its fashion, people should explore the ideologies that underpinned the movement, such as anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism and pan-African solidarity. Such ideas helped form an international movement and provided radical alternatives to the pre-existing systems. The Panthers succeeded in raising Black consciousness, challenging police racism and bringing Black struggles to the forefront of political discourse.
However, despite these gains, Black communities around the world are faced with similar issues of institutional racism, police brutality and societal marginalisation. Only through serious engagement with the radical politics of Black Power will we be able to draw on our revolutionary predecessors and come up with creative solutions for our current struggles. It is time we focused on politics and not just spectacle.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial stance.
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AKANCopied from the book, Reality as Myth by Onyeji Nnaji. The influence of the
Akan on their content nations lies on their population and commonwealth of
their brother nations. The Akan are one of the largest ethnic groups in West
Africa. Their population is scattered across West Africa and beyond. Among this
huge population of the Akan, the Ghanaians are more popular, perhaps because of
the political influence of the Ashanti Empire in the area. Not much is heard or
known about other Akan settlements like the Akwamu, the Akyem , the Akuapem,
the Denkyira, the Abron, the Aowin, the Ahanta, the Anyi, the Baoule, the
Chokosi, the Fante, the Kwahu, the Sefwi, the Ahafo, the Assin, the Evalue, the
Wassa the Adjukru, the Akye, the Alladian, the Attie,the M'Bato, the Abidji,
the Avikam,the Avatime the Ebrie, the Ehotile, the Nzema, the Abbe, the Aboure,
the Coromantins, the Ndyuka people and other peoples of Côte d'Ivoire. Every Akan nation adopts the image…
from the Book; "Reality as Myth"
by Onyeji Nnaji
of the discovering of the Radar Rivers and their channels is that it disproves
the western hegemonic claim of the Euphrates valley being the position of the
birth of the great river, all the points that opposed their claims
notwithstanding. Even God himself was very perfect in His creation by placing
them in their positions, hierarchically, according to their birth. The first
river that flowed located the Havilah land where there are good quality gold,
bdellium and fine onyx stones. Pison was the oldest of the rivers and it flowed
through the land of the southern Africa. The second river flowed northward to
Ethiopia. It was when Africa had been overtaken by virtue of her proximity to
the Great Water that other parts of the world began to encounter the remaining
river; remarkable with Hiddekel.
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The major problem towards deciphering the original plac…
Copied from the book, Reality as Myths by Onyeji NnajiThe world of the Bantu travellers shows the walls of the
migration that recorded the highest population among the African settlement.
Originating from the largest population among the four races that settled in
the east before time, all Bantu travellers were pygmies; for that was the
nature of the Umudiala, the
generation that gave birth to them. Bantu migration was rated the third
earliest migration of the Negro race from the east. In this regard, all their
movement had involved great population of people compared to the number of
people involved in the two earlier populations that gave birth to Ethiopia,
Nubia and Egypt: the Walker Traveller, and the
Race of Anu. Bantu population as we have identified in the third chapter
above outweighs the rest of the population of the ancient fathers that founded
many of the nations of antiquity mentioned earlier. Discussing them in beat
will pose a little challenge since their migration condi…
My neighbour had vowed never to let any girl
survive as a salesgirl in my shop. This thing has happened for over three
times. Each time we brought a new salesgirl, the girl would stay for two or
three months; and suddenly she would end her contract with us. In all these, my
husband did not know. So, being that the girls usually stole money and other
items, the reason for their departure became genuine, thus: they ran away to
avoid being punished for their actions. But behind this, the underling truth is
that the girls had been embarrassed by my neighbour who would warn them to leave
her loosed husband. Recently, the woman threatened to f…
The name Nkalaha is a
coinage which stands for a people occupying a geographical land and regional
setting in the eastern part of Nigeria. It is a coinage which attempts to
explain the direction of movement and adventure of the men who founded the
community in the 15th century AD. According to oral sources and some
documentation about this community, some of these men were believed to have
traveled from Ida, old Benue state of Nigeria to inhabit the land. These men
had traveled on different days to locate the place. Onojah who originally
founded the land was said to have been in a deep search for a place of safety
as he was besieged by a fate that appeared to make him somewhat incompatible
with his own people. Nkalaha
is one of the communities that make up Ishielu Local Government Area of Ebonyi
State. Nkalaha occupied the northern part of Ishielu Local Government Area. She
is located through the zip 135.031.000. The community sits on 923.768km2. She shares boundaries with neighbourin…
The Mystery of
Number, “Five” in the Igbo Cosmology.From: Aspects
of the Ancient African Metaphysics;Chapter: Seven;Topic: Igbo
Geometries and the Metaphysics of Numbers.Author: Onyeji
Nnaji. In the Igbo
cosmology, the word Isee is a definite symbolic word as revealed through
the Igbo language and culture. A human being has five fingers, five toes. The
hands and feet are fundamentals to the survival in life as they are necessary
in ensuring that man moves to places where he gets food and grapples on the
food to sustain his life. To this view, the rhetoric that binds vocatives in
the form of incantation (anchoring on the heart-lock: four) and the
concomitant reprisal in the manner of affirmation that holds the human life
bind to his original spiritual person, therefore defining existence and
essences are unified by the corresponding echo: Isee!!!!! Therefore
it stands that anytime a prayer is said in the Igbo land, the attendants who would
want the fulfillment of the prayer unanimously …
INTRODUCTION One thing that made Udi remarkable is the indubitable
legacy adopted in commemoration of the legendry fighter, Uto at Nsude. It was one
of the greatest contributions of the descendants of Agbaja to the survival of
Nsukka civilization of memory. Uto held from Oshie. Uto dies of small pox after
a mercenary battle he was hired to fight in the ancient Benin. His body was buried
in the evil forest as the tradition demanded. Although he lived no longer, the
stepped pyramids above were adopted to commemorate the lasting peace he brought
to the entire Oshie and Udi nation of people. Another remarkable thing about Udi is the
fertility of the land. This has contributed widely in sustaining the
inhabitants and provided a name for the inhabitants in the manner of Abakaliki,
Umudike, Ogbaru, Igboariam, Ohaji, Uzouwani, etc., especially in Amofia-Agu,
Affa. Udi is a land of great rivers and springs: Adaada, Ajali, Oji, Aria,
Nvenu, Ngene Evu, Iyi Ububo, etc. as was the situation every…
There are four generations…, and the fourth generation, which is the most exalted, is kingless and perfect. These people will enter the holy place of their Father and they will reside in rest … They are kings. They are the immortal within the mortal (The Nag Hammadi, 219)
Also read Nsukka Civilization: The Peopling of Ancient Nsukka One of the African homes that colonialism has completely deformed beyond certain level of recognition is Nsukka. Colonialism apart, the most affecting factor to the survival of the meaning which the rich cultural enclave, Nsukka, carries will best be blamed on postcolonial political structure. The biggest harm all these have against Nsukka as a people is that they rubbed her of the meaning of her name; their place of origin; how their fathers managed to come into their present abodes and who their ancestors were. A profound understanding of the excerpt above will open the door towards deciphering the meaning and origin of the people called Nsukka. Geographica…
by Onyeji Nnaji Eha-Amufu
road newly constructed by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu state in 2019 Apart from the strategic location of the
Federal College of Education, one central reason remarkable about Eha-Amufu is
her central position and her boundary situation. Eha-Amufu stands at the centre
of many communities; as a result she has served as the gateway to different
communities. She is bounded to Nkalaha, Agala, Ikem, Umuero and other
communities, including Obeagu (pronounced Ubegu). Aside from that, Eha-Amufu embodies
the route that traces the way to the northern part of Nigeria for travellers
travelling from Ebonyi axis. Eha-Amufu also forms the remarkable boundary
community between Enugu State and Ebonyi State. This situation makes Eha-Amufu
very strategic in the discussion of the road and rivers across Ebonyi and
In the era when transportation on rail was
the order of the day, the most popular then ‘Express Train and later Diesel
Train’ and also the ‘local goods train’…