Former Black Panther member Elaine Brown has never held her tongue when it comes to her thoughts on today’s version of social activism. Last fall she came down on hashtag activism, saying, “In the 1970s people were actually doing things. When you say activist today, I can’t figure out who these activist are supposed to be. They’re activist because they put something out on Twitter or they’re activist because they wrote a blog post. No, people were actually doing things.” Now she’s heavily criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement, which notable activist Shaun King isn’t here for.
In an interview with Spiked, Brown said:
“The next wave of young people running out here, who are complaining and protesting about the murders of young Black men and women by the police all over the country, they will protest but they will not rise up in an organized fashion, with an agenda, to create revolutionary change…
“We advocated community self-defense organizations to be formed, so that we would not be assaulted by the police, so that we would bear arms and assume our human rights. This to me is a plantation mentality. It smacks of ‘master, if you would just treat me right.’ And it has nothing to do with self-determination, empowerment and a sense of justice, or anything else.”
The differences between Black Lives Matter and the Black Panther Party are stark, but I think that speaks more to the ideology behind each organization versus the intended results. BLM is absolutely seeking justice and attempting to empower everyday citizens to do so as well, but as Brown pointed out, the approach is absolutely more from a request point of view than a demand. And that may be why we’re still being killed by police left and right and asking for the same prison and employment reforms black people have sought for decades.
But there are other reasons BLM isn’t quite as radical as BPP, King says. In a recent broadcast on Democracy Now, he explained:
“If you look at where we are now versus where the Black Panther Party was at the same time, I think we’re doing well. But even some of us look at the dangers of what happened to Black Panther leaders, from targeted assassinations to COINTELPRO, and some of the lessons that we learned from them has caused us to change our methods. … The Black Lives Matter movement is not a carbon copy of what the Black Panther Party did. How we do what we do will be uniquely different. Our time is different …”
Unfortunately the lack of concrete examples of what Black Lives Matter will do has many siding with Brown. And though her criticism may be the harshest that’s been spoken openly, it’s not exactly new. Many have questioned just what Black Lives Matter does, which is unfortunate because at minimum they have given all of us a central focus and they have kept the conversation around the value of Black lives front and center in American society, whether it be after another unfortunate death or during a a Presidential Debate.
Conversely there have been others who have suggested more of a militant approach, like David Banner for example who said in an appearance on the Rock Newman show, “There’s only two things white supremacy respects, it’s the loss of life and the loss of finance.” However the negative response many blacks have had to suggestions like this from Banner and other like-minded individuals shows its not just Black Lives Matter that doesn’t want to mimic the Black Panther Movement. Few African Americans are willing to put their lives on the line in such a way today. I wouldn’t call that a lack of self-determination, I think we’re simply trying to penetrate the system in different ways — through education, political power, etc. — but whether that will lead to the intended outcome is clearly up for debate. What do you think?