I’m starting off 2022 with a brief review of the last book I read in 2021, Kekla Magoon‘s award winning Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People.
It’s written as a young adult book, so of course it belongs on the shelf of your youth, but it is precisely the book that the entire family — from the youth to the elders — need to collectively engage with.
The book is a history of the Black Panther Party from its founding in 1966 through 1982 when it had essentially ceased to operate. Truly the Black Panther Party was the most effective political organization created within the united states.
It is a brilliant book. The language is clear and engaging, clear to the young reader as it is to the adult. The illustrations and photography are amazing and you’ll find yourself gazing into the determined faces of the youth (the median age of Black Panther members was 19) time and time and time again. Magoon’s use of the original art of the Panthers is genius and her use of inserts to deliver deeper points is an exemplar of effective presentation.
For me there are two important points to highlight about the book. First, it is a much needed tool for cross generational political engagement. We’re living in a time where the elders involved in the Black Liberation movements of the 1960s through 1980s are leaving us. Think of all the human treasures who have joined the ancestors this year. As Magoon makes so clear in her writing, the Panthers made brilliant strides, adapted their strategies as they made mistakes. This is the kind of generational knowledge that will be useful as we seek to expand upon their gains. Now is the time for dialog between today’s and tomorrow’s movement builders and those who were witness to history.
The second point perhaps is a natural evaluation of the first. It is how youth — the people from 12 to 24 — are perfectly capable of identifying the change that has to happen, building the intellectual capacity to plan those changes, and carrying out with bravery, dedication, and revolutionary love the actions needed to bring about revolution. I say revolution in the broadest sense of the word. If you can introduce the word “racist” to the world and define in plain language what it means, that is a revolution. If you can introduce the idea that Black children deserve the basics of food and access to healthcare, and then build those programs and run them so effectively that the us president who is trying to destroy you copies the programs — well that is revolution. If you can stake your platform on police abolition and still have the power structure melting down over the very idea 50 years later, that is revolution. If you can demonstrate to the world that an organization really becomes effective when Black women are leading it, then that is revolution.
Coming to terms with the legacy of the Panthers means addressing the movements failings. The toxic masculinity and misogynoir that permeated the organization (because it was and still is pervasive in the society from which the Panthers arose) was a source of disunity that the FBI used effectively to destroy the party time and time again. Solidarity with the Black LGBTQIA+ community was nonexistent during the operating years of the Black Panther Party. The work of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Elaine Brown, and Mariame Kaba continues to offer revolutionary visions for transcending cisheteropatriarchy boundaries. Yes, we still have a major Black patriarchy problem.
Yes, the us surveillance state continues to erect barriers to any Black liberation movement, most recently in its assault on Black Lives Matter as “identity extremists”. Yes, capitalism, always racialized, is still striving to uphold systemic racism. Yes, innocent, unarmed Black and Brown people continue to be killed by the police. But the legacy of movement building and struggle left by the Panthers continues to provide way of resisting and ultimately abolishing and rebuilding a system bent on planetary destruction.
After reading Magoon’s book I can’t help but view the Black Panthers as part of a 500 year legacy of struggle against this particular empire — from the struggles of many of our ancestors in West and Central Africa to the slave trade to that of today’s Abolition movement. There is truly Revolution in Our Time.
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