The Black Panthers were a criminal gang of the 1960s and 1970s that originated in the Bay Area. They committed sadistic murders along with countless other crimes. The Panthers were almost universally despised, and rightly so; but, for reasons that are of interest mainly to psychologists, they garnered support in some liberal precincts.
Now they are being celebrated on the London stage in a new show called Tongues on Fire:
The far-reaching influence of Panther style and thinking – immortalised by writer Tom Wolfe in his satirical essay “Radical Chic” – can be traced directly to the election of Barack Obama as president. On Saturday at London’s Barbican centre, in a fascinating mixture of music, art and film, some of the most influential figures in American music will bring the Black Panther Party and that pivotal period in world politics back to life. …
[T]he version of the Panthers depicted by the waspish, white-suited [Tom] Wolfe from his Park Avenue vantage point – which also highlights their anti-semitism and less than coherent Maoist leanings – could not be more different to the one that Tongues on Fire presents. As the unit put together by David Murray rehearsed last month in a studio just off Times Square in New York, the series of original lyrics and soul-jazz compositions that they ran through celebrated the Panthers as heroic figures, prepared to risk their lives to organise and motivate the millions of black people in America living in poverty.
“A lot of things that we take for granted were started by the Panther movement,” says Ahmir Thompson, who was born in 1970. “I was a living result of some of the changes they made in cities. The Panthers organised after-school programmes, art programmes, sports stuff – anything to build the community. Their goal was that we wouldn’t run idle and get into gang warfare. They’d run block clean-ups, an all-day thing where you’d sweep the neighbourhood. They’d have festivals, where they’d have poets come down and speak.”
“They had a strong presentation,” says Thompson. “But to me it was not about how they looked, it was about what they stood for. They took the best of Malcolm X and the best of Martin Luther King. It’s important to understand that they were less about protest, because protest was about asking for something. They were about organising – empowerment and getting things done the right way.
“That’s how Obama won.”
Thus is history rewritten; not, as is so commonly alleged, by its winners, but rather on behalf of its losers. It is a disgusting phenomenon, but let’s be fair: whatever President Obama’s faults may be, has has absolutely nothing in common with the sociopathic Black Panthers.