Image via Youtube

Venida Browder’s Tragic Death Is Another Reminder Of How Mass Incarceration Affects Black Women

I felt my heart sink when Kalief Browder’s name suddenly began trending on Twitter in June of last year. Just a couple years older than I am, Browder ended his life after suffering through three years of being beaten and held in solitary confinement in a Rikers Island prison for a crime he did not commit.

The resulting trauma left him tormented.


#Sayhername: A Black Feminist Guide to the Black Panther Party’s 50th Anniversary Conference and Gala

Authored by Angela D. LeBlanc-Ernest, Tracye A. Matthews, Mary Phillips, and Robyn C. Spencer

This article is a two-part series. Read part 1 here.


The Black Panther Party (BPP) 50th anniversary dovetails with the high tide of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. In the context of a police violence epidemic against Black and Brown communities and headlines that ask “Does Black Lives Matter Pick Up Where The Black Panthers Left Off?” the connection between the past and the present is explicit. Activists reach back to the Black freedom movement for inspiration (“Assata Taught Me”) as well as cautionary tales (“this ain’t your mama’s civil rights movement”). The Intersectional Black Panther Party History Project (IPHP), a collective of four historians who center gender and sexuality in the history of the BPP, analyzed the 50th anniversary program to explore these connections.


Comrade Sister

Women have been present in the BPP since the first woman, Tarika “Matilaba” Lewis, then an Oakland High School student, walked into the BPP office in 1967 with the intention to join. Women’s centrality in the BPP is reflected in their visible representation in the almost three dozen panels, workshops and community events organized by the Panther reunion committee. On Thursday, 10/20 (1pm), Charlotte Hill O’Neal shares her story of African exile and ongoing commitment to community programs. Initially a part of the International Section in Algiers until it disbanded, O’Neal and her Panther husband, Pete O’Neal, went to Tanzania like so many other Black Power activists. There the O’Neals continued the Panther commitment to “serve the people.” Charlotte O’Neal’s presentation reminds us of the continuity of the Panthers’ international presence.

On Friday, 10/21 (11am), “Women of the International Section of the Black Panther Party” features O’Neal, Kathleen Cleaver and Barbara Cox. Cleaver is co-founder of the BPP’s International Chapter in Algiers in 1970, the first woman to serve on the BPP’s Central Committee as the Communication’s Secretary and a central coordinator of the “Free Huey”campaign. Cox was an international activist, organizing against the Vietnam War while in Europe. These three women experienced internationalism while married to powerful men and Cleaver and O’Neal both birthed their children while abroad. Parenthood was a key factor in how Panther men and women experienced international organizing and exile.


Courtesy of Omi Gallery at Impact Hub Oakland. All rights reserved.

Courtesy of Omi Gallery at Impact Hub Oakland. All rights reserved.

Women at the Helm

The “Survival Pending Revolution” exhibit opened Friday, 10/7, with a creative roundtable called “We Be The Key.” Tarika Lewis and Ericka Huggins, both on  the roundtable, represent the longevity of women’s Party work. Lewis participated in the early years, outperforming men on the shooting range to earn respect, and creating revolutionary art for the Party’s newspaper. Huggins, joining in 1969, survived two years as a political prisoner and remained one of the longest serving members until 1981. On October 17th at Omi Gallery, a second panel, “Get in Formation: Women Lead the Party,” showcased Huggins, Lewis, M. Gayle (Asali) Dixon, Cathy Campbell and Carol Rucker, each leaders in their own right in specific BPP programs, as organizational decision-makers and in their current communities.

BPP women often are not credited as strategists and ideologues. Elaine Brown, along with Panther scholar Judson Jeffries, will interrogate Panther ideology on a panel Saturday, 10/22 (1pm and 3pm). Brown helped establish the first Breakfast program in Los Angeles, edited the Panther newspaper, replaced Eldridge Cleaver as Minister of Information and was head of the BPP from 1974-1977. Although this panel highlights Huey Newton’s genius and legacy, Brown was influential in electoral politics, coalition-building and as Party leader (when she elevated several women to formal leadership positions), all experiences that give her authority to reveal how she and party members analyzed, interpreted, implemented and remixed some of Newton’s ideas while he was incarcerated (1967-1970) or in exile (1974-77).

The everyday work of women is critical to the legacy of the BPP. The Panthers hold space in the tradition of Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley on Friday, 10/21( 3pm) with a panel, “Self -Defense Against Police Brutality and Murders of Black and Oppressed People.” This panel centers the experiences of  mothers mourning while organizing against the murder of their beloved relatives. Young women speak out as contemporary organizers in #OPEN (Our People Effecting Neighborhoods program), a panel centered around the group’s work in New Jersey on Saturday, 10/22 (3pm).


Courtesy of Malik Edwards

Courtesy of Malik Edwards

Reading the Silences

Political prisoners, political repression and coalition politics are areas that could be enriched by gender analysis. For example, the FBI’s Counterintellegence Program’s (COINTELPRO) insidious reach cannot be understood solely in terms of large scale arrests and murders of male political leaders. Beyond abusing and arresting women as well, COINTELPRO was also nimble enough to destroy support systems, undermine trust and close lines of communication. Vicious and often deadly political repression from COINTELPRO heightened all fault lines within the organization and exploited internal contradictions regarding gender relations and roles and sexuality.

In the 1990s, some Panther women embarked on a journey of healing in a series of retreats in an effort to begin healing from their traumas. The enduring legacy of some women learning self-care while imprisoned, often in solitary confinement, is reflected in an 11/9 public event Ericka Huggins will facilitate. It is a one hour session, “Meditation: The Revolution Within”, at the Omi Gallery, during which she will publicly display the power of a different kind of silence: “silence and recognition [that] brings us into a greater connection with our great selves. It is from this place that we can serve the people.” Indeed, during the 1970s, the BPP central headquarters attempted to incorporate a form of spirituality into its structure via its Son of Man Temple and via teaching meditation strategies to the youth at the Oakland Community School.

Huggins’ holistic approach resonates with the growing dialogue around self-care that percolates within many #BLM formations. The Panther conference program shows evidence of the impact of this cross-generational influence. The Panthers have set aside a space for community healing, for wellness and “to address collective trauma.” While tensions and unresolved issues likely will simmer under the surface, only visible to those in the know, the presence of these spaces of reflection has the potential to build bridges and stir souls. Panthers who attend likely will skew towards good health, emotional stability and disposable incomes. But the reality is that some are entering the last quarter of their lives as survivors who are scarred–emotionally, physically, financially–from their time on the front lines of America’s Black Power revolution. The idea of healing, self-care, holistic and spiritual health being part of this potential summit between youth and elders is not just heartwarming; it feels like emotional justice, a term popularized by journalist Esther Armah.

Sexuality will likely remain under the shroud of personal politics, although the many interwoven families and the last names retained long after relationships died tell another story. The Panthers were an organization of husbands and wives, same sex lovers, and brothers and sisters. The collective living some Panthers experienced and their relative youth, in the context of the sexual revolution, freed people in ways that scholars may never be able to capture. Although these matters will not have a formal place on the program, it is worth noting that the Panthers did question ideas about monogamy, the meaning of marriage, and the primacy of the nuclear family. The Panthers worked in solidarity with gay and lesbian liberation organizations in the 1960s and 1970s. Given the violence disproportionately faced by Black trans women and the growing challenge to heteronormativity in contemporary Black radical organizing spaces, it is appropriate that the Panthers have set aside a space at the conference for those who are gender non-conforming. The personal was deeply political to Panthers and the alternative institutions they attempted to build to prefigure the world they wanted to live in represent some of the greatest aspects of their legacy.

IPHP believes that reading gender and sexuality into the BPP’s 50th commemorative activities promotes an understanding of Black liberation movement politics that is as necessary to the Black freedom struggle as a study of the BPP’s Marxist ideology, armed self-defense and electoral campaigns. We will continue honoring and celebrating the Panthers’ extraordinary leadership as we challenge ourselves and others to #sayhername.

Angela D. LeBlanc-Ernest, is a Houston, Texas-based historian, independent scholar, filmmaker and former director of the BPP Research Project at Stanford University. Her research, publications and film projects have focused on BPP women, gender and community programs. Current projects include producing and directing a documentary on the OCS and writing a manuscript on BPP women and the community programs. @aleblancernest

Tracye A. Matthews is a historian, curator, and documentary filmmaker. She is currently the associate  director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies and journals and she is currently writing a book on the gender and sexual politics of the BPP.

Mary Phillips is an Assistant Professor in the Africana Studies Department at Lehman College, City University of New York. Her research looks at women and gender in the BPP. She is currently completing a political history on Ericka Huggins. @mfphillips

Robyn C. Spencer  is Associate professor of History at Lehman College, CUNY and currently a fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale. She writes on the history of the Black Power movement and is the author of the forthcoming book The Revolution has Come: Black Power, Gender and the Black Panther Party in Oakland. @racewomanist


Photo credit: Omi Gallery

Donald Trump

Trump’s ‘Locker Room Talk’ Is Precisely Why We Must Get Real About Athletes And Rape Culture

“It’s just locker room talk.”

“No, it’s not locker room talk at all.”

“But what about Beyoncé’s lyrics?”

Over the past week (though it feels much, much longer) the American public has been bombarded with a series of mediocre justifications for a presidential candidate’s boastful comments about sexually harassing and assaulting women, none more agitating than the Trump campaign’s insistence that his comments were commonplace among men, and therefore undeserving of widespread attention. The quickness and ease with which his surrogates settled on the ‘locker room talk’ excuse was truly fascinating to see; there is no doubt in my mind that his supporters think his remarks are justifiable within certain spaces.

And though their overarching point is indefensible, the thinking that led them to that conclusion is not wrong.


North Carolina GOP Office Firebombed, Trump Blames Clinton Campaign

On Sunday, the North Carolina GOP reported vandalism and firebombing at its Hillsborough office. Apparently, an unknown individual or group of individuals caused fire damage to the inside of the building and spray painted a swastika symbol and the words “Nazi Republicans Get Out of Town Or Else ” on the side of the office.

Thankfully, no one was harmed; however, the rhetoric from the Trump campaign is undoubtedly the motivation for this attack. As this horrible incident shows, the American people are the ones who will ultimately be hurt by Trump’s vitriolic campaign.

The Birth Of A Nation

‘The Birth Of A Nation’ Has Its Problems But It’s Still Worth Seeing

By: Imani J. Jackson

Deciding whether to support or sit out The Birth of a Nation has inspired an internal tug-o-war for many people, myself included.

On one hand, I respect and understand the outrage directed at Nate Parker. Parker wrote, directed and starred in a rebellion story, which includes rape scenes, and hit the big screen about 17 years after a woman accused Parker and Birth co-writer Jean Celestin of sexual assault in college. On the other hand, a jury of Parker’s peers found him not guilty and Celestin’s conviction was later overturned. These results – coupled with a desire not to penalize the brilliant black actresses who helped bring this story to light –  urged me from solidarity by omission (through boycotting) and toward supporting a multifaceted cast whose work tells an important story.

President Barack Obama casts his ballot during early voting at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Chicago, Ill., Oct. 25, 2012.   (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

Not voting is not a ‘privilege’

I hate the term “privilege”. Its flatness allows it to facilitate spurious claims masquerading as the work of liberation, which is why it’s so overused in neoliberal social justice spaces. It promotes dangerous assertions lacking any sort of nuance whatsoever, like “third-party voting is the height of white privilege” or “refusing to vote for Clinton & risking a Trump presidency is a privileged choice.”

“Privilege” is often code for “something that someone with more (perceived) social capital than me does and I do not like, so will therefore disregard.” The charge is self-satisfying and cannot be argued against. At the same time, it ignores that there are many practices people with “privilege” partake in that they have not initiated, and many causes they adopt for which they are not remotely sole representatives.

Gabrielle Union

Gabrielle Union Sues BET For $3M Over ‘Being Mary Jane’ Contract

While fans mostly only get to see the finished product once it airs on our televisions, laptops and tablets, a lot of work goes into making TV shows work. There’s often tension on set between departments, multiple plot directions to choose from and even your occasional contract dispute.

Gabrielle Union, star of BET’s Being Mary Jane filed a lawsuit against the television network this past Tuesday with claims that they’re attempting to maneuver their way out of paying her what was established in her contract.

screenshot from The 13th official trailer

Review of ‘The 13th’: When Art Imitates Life, We Have to Ask “What’s Next?”

Regardless of where you are in your political education, Ava DuVernay’s documentary The 13th was pretty well done.

Weaving the staggering numbers of rising incarceration rates with the insights of prominent activists, journalists, and academics coupled with a soundtrack that highlights the connectedness of mass incarceration to Black realities, it is a signature piece of art imitating life. The 13th brought many conversations around systematic racism that usually happen in select circles to a potentially larger audience, but I’m not sure if anyone besides the usual “woke” circle sat in on this one, and if they did – what now?


This dope video shows the history of social dance in 25 moves

Your dance of choice might be the Bop or the Milly Rock or the Running Man but, no matter what your favorite dance move is, you can relate to the Black cultural and community-based nature of ways to make your body rock. Now, you can watch a short film about the ways that social dance has evolved from our long history of using rhythm to communicate and connect with our kinfolk. It is pure magic.