Aside from the overt displays of misogyny within the Black Panther, I have to admire the work they did, especially in Oakland. In Soul on Ice, Eldridge Cleaver said that ”rape was an insurrectionary act,” acknowledging the serial rapes of Black and White women. This raises the point that nationalism- subaltern forms or not– is gendered male. Patriotism or in-group cohesion is couched in terms of “battle” “struggle” “war” and “fight.” Masculine displays of power and solidarity like the above attest to the masculinity of Black Power- in this instance. Even in the NAACP, in Robert Williams’ branch, the movement was framed in terms of the right of men to protect their wives and families. Even in the Nation of Islam- Malcolm X referred to the protection of women within the Nation as a standard right in his 1962 speech “Who Taught You to Hate Yourself?”
Problematic. What I need to expound on is what exactly is problematic. When historical narratives are centered around male leadership, often the role of women is diminished or forgotten. Women served in auxiliary roles as nurturers, social workers, community volunteers, other-mothers and community organizers. While men may have been the face of the organization, women were the arms and legs- reaching out and going into the communities they in which they lived and served.
What isn’t problematic is Malcolm X or even Robert William’s formulation of masculinity in relation to the duty of a man to protect the women and children in his community. This is very biblical. Thousands of times in the Bible, men are called to protect the poor, widowed, fatherless and alien- all marginalized, all beloved of God. Of course, I recognize that not all Black Panthers were men, and not all believed that it was their right to rape. I just find it troubling that there is a convenient sort of amnesia in history on this topic.
I need to write about women’s auxiliary groups tandem to the Black Panthers tha arose from the need for a safe space for women in the struggle. Black women fought on both fronts: in their own homes with the men they loved and cared for, and in the streets against systemic inequalities and de facto segregation.