category: Race

The White Panthers

While a group dubbed “The White Panther Party” invokes initial thoughts of a far-right white power answer to the Black Panthers, they were actually exactly the opposite:

The White Panther Party (WPP) of Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan was a radical counterculture group which became a major target for the FBI’s counter-intelligence (or “COINTELPRO”) program between 1968 and 1971. In October of 1970, the FBI referred to the White Panthers as “potentially the largest and most dangerous of revolutionary organizations in the United States.” However, just three years earlier, the group’s leaders hosted a “Love-In” on Detroit’s Belle Isle, presided over by John Sinclair, whom the Detroit News proclaimed “High Priest of the Detroit hippies.”

The formation and name of the group came from an interview given by Black Panther leader at the time, Huey Newton. Newton was asked what white people could do to support the Black Panther Party; he replied that they could start a White Panther Party.

In a later interview, Newton clarified:

MOVEMENT: Your comments about the white prisoners seemed encouraging. Do you see the possibility of organizing a white Panther Party in opposition to the establishment possibly among poor and working whites?

HUEY: Well as I put it before Black Power is people’s power and as far as organizing white people we give white people the privilege of having a mind and we want them to get a body. They can organize themselves. We can tell them what they should do, what their responsibility is if they’re going to claim to be white revolutionaries or white mother country radicals, and that is to arm themselves and support the colonies around the world in their just struggle against imperialism. But anything more than that they will have to do on their own.

The group existed from 1968 through 1975 and spawned rock band MC5. The Panthers lived at 1510 and 1520 Hill St. in Ann Arbor. Their biggest moment came 40 years ago, on December 10th, when they staged a concert/rally that drew 15,000 attendees in support of their jailed leader. Speakers included Allen Ginsberg and Bobby Seale and performers included John and Yoko Ono, Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd, Stevie Wonder, protest singer Phil Ochs, and of course, MC5. YouTube has 70+ minutes of video from the concert, available in two parts.

This weekend, there’s a reunion.

Further reading on the White Panthers and their role in the movement:

The “N” Word and Being Down

Jay Smooth recently linked up an interview he did with Brother Ali a little while back:

Ali notes that when he was nine years old and had mostly black friends, he was fully accepted by them and felt that he was one of them. By this, I presume he means he felt entitled to use the n-word amongst them. But as he grew older, he realized why being down didn’t give him the right, as a white person, to use that word.

I remember struggling with this a bit growing up, too. While I wasn’t in a situation where my friends were mostly black (c’mon – my high school of 2000 people had 10 black students), I do remember feeling that because I was so deeply into hip-hop that I somehow had a pass to use that word in my lyrics. You know, artistically. I only used it once or twice, but looking back, I still feel guilt for ever even letting such a loaded word escape my lips.

A key point in this interview comes where Ali says, “We have to own our relationship to our injustice in the world.” We all are the culmination of the history that proceeded us and as a white person, it’s undeniable that I’m still reaping the benefits of the systemic discrimination of minorities in the years before I was born (and, indeed, in the years since). I can’t help what happened, but accepting it, realizing it, and “own[ing] our relationship” to it is an important step in addressing race honestly.