Hayley Serpa/Staff Writer
Every February during Black History Month, the United States claims to celebrate and remember the parts of its history that have been written by its Black citizens. Even though the U.S. government has established a month-long holiday to recognize the contributions of Black people to the country, this in no way corrects the erasure of Black history and liberation movements seen consistently in the twentieth century, as well as completely ignores the systemic racism inherent in our system. Much like with Hispanic Heritage Month and LGBTQ+ History Month, the U.S. government takes a hypocritical and harmful stance when it decides to celebrate Black History Month without correcting its past and current treatment of Black Americans.
The suppression of the onward movement of Black history and liberation in the United States is best seen in the case of the Black Panther Party (BPP). Established in 1966, the BPP’s platform would center around a Marxist-Leninist analysis of Black history and suffering in the U.S. Members believed that the only solution to end this suffering was through the use of revolutionary violence that can destroy the state apparatus responsible.
Very relevant to the current pandemic of police brutality seen worldwide today, the BPP would be initially founded to ensure that police were not abusing their power against Black members of society. The BPP was also the first organization to start a free breakfast program for schoolchildren, which would later be emulated by the federal free breakfast program.
In response, the FBI would create the COINTELPRO program to target groups described as being “Black Nationalist Hate Groups,” of which the BPP, according to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, was “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” The FBI would hunt down members of the Black Panthers and in 1969 they would brutally murder BPP Chicago Chairman Fred Hampton next to his pregnant wife after drugging him with barbituates and breaking into his home in Chicago. As of 2018, nineteen Black members of the BPP and of Assata Shakur’s Black Liberation Army are still incarcerated for their fight for Black liberation from the oppressive U.S. government.
While the Black Panther Party is the most well-known of the Black liberation organizations, it is only one party amongst the wider Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Other groups active at the same time as the BPP were the Nation of Islam (NOI), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Black Arts Movement and the Women in Black Power. Of these, the NOI was one of the most popular partially due to its famous leaders like Malcolm X, who broke from the organization in 1964, and champion boxer Muhammed Ali. Malcolm X would be assassinated in 1965 allegedly by members of the NOI, but the existence of the COINTELPRO program targeting him for his radical messages and an FBI memo taking credit for his murder has led many to believe that the FBI was responsible for his martyrization for the Black cause.
The NOI would later continue its work in the U.S. and would organize the 1995 Million Man March to promote Black unity and family values in Washington D.C. New NOI leader Minister Louis Farrakhan would play an important role in increasing the amount of first-time Black registered voters in his effort to “build black political power.” It resulted in over 1.5 million Black men registering to vote.
Even though one of the original messages of the NOI had been one of Black racial superiority, the organization would in the late 1970s begin to reject this thesis and instead start to fight for the equality of Black U.S. citizens. This doctrinal development within the party can be attributed to the Jim Crow period in which the Black racial superiority thesis was initially formed. Gradually, as the quality of life for African-Americans began to slowly improve, the need for a radical doctrine to combat the plight of the Black person in the States was diminished and thus this argument was dropped by the organization.
Sadly, the efforts of these two groups and others in the Black Power Movement would, due to the constant interference of the U.S. and it’s COINTELPRO program, not be able to fully change the material conditions of the Black American. The systemic racism that still exists within the U.S. is seen best when one looks at the persistent and widening racial wealth gap.
As recent as 2019, the median net worth for African-Americans was only about 10% of the median net worth for a white American. They are also less likely to be homeowners, mostly due to the redlining and discriminatory housing policies of neighborhoods in the early to mid-twentieth century. Disparities like these were what was being attacked by the BPP, NOI, and the other Black Power movements of the mid to late twentieth century.
As with most other holidays in the U.S., Black History Month is the country’s lame attempt to ignore its own past and ongoing actions by instead offering an empty month devoid of any real material change to the lives of African-Americans. You might not listen to me as a white girl who does not and will never fully understand the fight for Black liberation but the works of Black revolutionaries and intellectuals like Fred Hampton, Huey P. Newton, Assata Shakur, James Baldwin, James Forman, Angela Davis and Malcolm X are sure to truly inspire you this Black History Month. I hope that this Black History Month you let them do so.
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