"TASTE OF POWER, A" (ELAINE BROWN).
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Critical review of Black Panther Party leader's personal & political autobiography.... More...
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Critical review of Black Panther Party leader's personal & political autobiography.
Elaine Brown's A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story is, one hopes, only one woman's story and not the story of the Black Panther Party as a whole. In this gossipy, self-obsessed, and superficial memoir, Brown appears to be not a serious leader of a vital and important activist group of the 1960s and 1970s, but a Party groupie with little interest in or understanding of the concepts and goals which inspired the Panthers, however naive and romantic most of those concepts and goals might have been. If Brown is truly the woman she seems to be, it does not say much for the Panthers as a group, considering that she did, in fact, become chairman of the group in the absence of her mentor and leader, Huey Newton. Knowing she would remain loyal to him, Newton likely picked Brown in order to prevent a takeover by one of his rivals.
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That good work is not negated by their violence (which wasusually in response to police and FBI violence), nor by their half-bakedcommunism, their sexism, or their internal egoistic bickering. Still, the author's minimal discussion of political, social oreconomic concepts, theories and principles is regrettable. At its height, thePanthers were a global organization: There was the party's history of daring and power, which had given rise to its nationwide and international support. Upon her awakening, she vows to be "themost radical" of "man-hating lesbian, feminist bitches" (368) if that ishow her male "comrades" choose to see her. clinging like a cancer, was a woman with fairy-tale, teenage dreams (258-259). Then they will attack the economic structure in each city. . Knowingshe would remain loyal to him, Newton likely picked Brown in order toprevent a takeover by one of his rivals. Love, she was taught "is a misunderstanding betweentwo fools" (18). However, to hold the Party andits leaders up as an ideal group with ideal leaders, as Brown does for mostof the book, even in the face of contrary evidence, is ludicrous. Brown did find a love and a talent in music and singing,in which she would find solace later in life. Their violence and their hatred areutterly understandable in the circumstances. will rise up . Ifsubsequent groups and leaders are to learn from the mistakes of the past,books such as Brown's are necessary. . Nevertheless, her book serves the purpose of showing activists nowand in the future some successful tactics to be copied, and some seriousshortcomings to be avoided. The Black Panthers taught Brown what it was like to be black, what itwas like to be around strong black men, even what it was like to be aleader among strong black men, but it dud not teach her how to be a grown-up, an adult, a woman who believes that she is worthy of receiving ahealthy love and capable of giving to others a mature and confident love. . Brown's story is important not for the account of her own life whichshe gives, but for the light it sheds on the innerworkings of the BlackPanther Party. Brown also recounts numerous confrontations between the Panthers andthe police and FBI, but even in those cases she maintains a romanticperspective, viewing through rose-colored glasses whatever the Panthers doand never seeming to consider that the members of the group might not havebeen quite as idealistic as she believes. Work CitedBrown, Elaine. Sheconvinces herself somehow that Huey Newton loves her, even though she knowshe is an incurable womanizer (259-26 ). The book is first an autobiography, and second an account, howeverincomplete and sensationalistic, of the rise and fall of the Party throughits ever-turbulent existence. The men in her life as a child were largely non-existent, which left her searching for the father she would never find. She seems not torealize for seven years in the Panthers that she was little more than asexual companion to the male Panthers. . The rare spurts of political philosophy inthe book feel shoehorned in, as if Brown felt that she could not simplypresent a kiss-and-tell book, but was obliged to at least mention thepolitical aspects of her life in the Panthers. Even though she has risen to aplace of power in the Party, she maintains the emotional position of alittle girl still searching for her knight in shining armor, which at leastshe herself recognizes at the same time as she in incapable of changing: I really wanted to be Huey's "woman," in the old sense, the nonrevolutionary, get-married, down-and-dirty street sense, even including the barefoot-and-pregnant sense. Their vow to defend themselves and theirdetermination to help the community with their socioeconomic and politicalprograms are laudable, no matter how effective they actually were. New York: Anchor, 1992.----------------------- 9 Coupled with heremphasis on romantic encounters with Panther leaders, and her accounts ofthe bitter, ego-driven and violent infighting among the leaders andfactions in the Party, this relative lack of political substance reflectspoorly on her own seriousness as a Panther leader as well as on the groupwhich would make her such a leader. and make the revolution (5). Eventually, a time will come--not in our lifetimes, Comrades-- but a time will come when the people will understand their power and the pigs' machinery will be unable to accommodate their demands. Brown's background made her a very likely candidate to be absorbed asshe was into the Black Panthers, mind, heart and soul. The Survival Programs,especially the free food giveaways, seem to be mentioned most by Brown, buther impressive statistics with respect to the numbers of people helped arenot supported by sources, so the reader is on his or her own in assessingthose numbers. Not surprising is the fact that such a woman, thrown into the midstof such men, was willing to put up with contempt and abuse in order toreceive special treatment because of her sexuality. She is constantly treated withdisrespect, as a girl rather than a woman, and at one point is even beatenlike a slave for a minor transgression against Party regulations (275). Brown herself does not interest thisreader much. Hermotivation for political office is as confused as her motivation forjoining the Panthers. With the number one lawenforcement officer making such a declaration, and with the Panthersdetermined to fight back when attacked, it is no surprise to find that theexistence of the Black Panther Party was regularly marked by armed conflictwith the police and FBI in a number of cities in the United States.Therefore, the concentration of such violent episodes in Brown's book isnot unexpected. She was raised inpoverty, fear, filth, despair, rats and roaches, hunger, and violence in aPhiladelphia ghetto. urban centers, especially Los Angeles, New York and Chicago,cities where the Party developed effective outreach programs to feed andeducate blacks, and where major and bloody confrontations with local andfederal police agencies left many Panther leaders dead. . Seeing the Party in its worst light, however, as Brown often portraysit, it consisted primarily of immature, violent, ego-driven men who behavedno better, and with no higher principles than the racist society andgovernment the Party sought to transform. Elaine Brown's A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story is, one hopes,only one woman's story and not the story of the Black Panther Party as awhole. Under the leadership of such men as Huey Newton, EarlAnthony, Bobby Seale, George Jackson, Eldridge Cleaver, and Fred Hampton,the Panthers evolved to a point where it boasted chapters in a number ofmajor U.S. . Edgar Hoover declared a subversive group.Hoover said that "The Black Panther Party is the single greatest threat tothe internal security of the United States" (156). Taking the Party in its most ideal light, it was a group ofblacks who refused to surrender to or accept the white racism of thesociety in which they lived. Primarily, however, with respect to her role in the Panthers, Brownlearned lessons in life which would leave her with little self-esteem butwith a burning desire for acceptance at any cost: "I became a biddablelittle wretch. The Party's ideology was, inBrown's portrait, little more than communist platitudes masking a simpledesire to destroy those racist people and institutions which Party leadersheld responsible for their oppression. If Brown is truly the woman she seems to be, it does not say much forthe Panthers as a group, considering that she did, in fact, become chairmanof the group in the absence of her mentor and leader, Huey Newton. If anything drives her, it is the same longing forapproval and acceptance from others that marked her childhood years. . She is not an original thinker, has little political acumen,and does not even tell her own painful story with much verve, insight orstyle. To be as fair as possible, the Black Panther Party owed its emergenceand existence to the oppression and repression visited upon blacks by thevarious local and national law enforcement agencies. . The historical recordhas revealed that the police and especially the FBI went to any length,including cold-blooded murder of top Panther leaders, in an effort todestroy what FBI Director J. The"revolutionary example" of the Party from its founding in Oakland aimed atinspiring the people to take control of their local political machinery. The beating then is followed byher resumption of her campaign for City Councilperson of Oakland. A Taste of Power. She seemsfar more interested in the romantic aspects of her associations with theprominent leaders in the Party. . Her mother treated her well physically, but inculcatedin her a fear of life. There were the hundreds of thousands of people, black people and Latino people and Asian people and white people, who participated in or benefitted from our free-food programs, our free medical clinics and legal-aid programs, our prison programs, our school and education programs, our service programs for seniors and teens and abused children and battered women and homeless people (16). This is not to judge those men, but to simplynote that they were the products of a social, economic and political systemwhich did not value them, which oppressed them, and which left them angry,violent, and, apparently, incapable o relating to one another or to womenin a mature, emotionally healthy way. Brown does find some enlightenment finally, although for all thoseyears she believes that "sexism was a secondary problem" while "capitalismand racism were primary" (367). The Black Panthers provided Brown not with love, but certainly withmuch sex, which to her was the closest thing to love she had experienced.The leaders of the Black Panthers were fueled not by wisdom, compassion, orlove, but by rage and ego. ThePanthers were certainly a more responsive force for good in many ways thanwas the local or federal government. She is a leader in a Party whichprofesses to be fighting for the freedom and dignity of every oppressedhuman being, but that Party treats her like a sex object and a second-classcitizen. ThePanthers, as Brown shows, did not honor their ideals in their own Party,treating women as second-class citizens to be used primarily as sexobjects. Aside from these efforts to benefit the community on a social andeconomic basis, the Panthers also sought radical political change. Bit by bit, city by city, they will whittle away at the capitalist foundation. In addition, the Panthers set up programs for Vietnam veterans andworkers, and established a weekly newspaper. Immediately after her feminist awakening,she oversees the merciless beating of a male Panther who dares to"countermand" one of her orders (368-37 ). Under my revolutionary facade, . . The Black Panther Party did much good work, settingan example to follow in their programs for healing, feeding and educatingthe community. Although Brown's work definitely "clouds the image of the BlackPanthers," every "image" needs clouding so that one can see the realityinstead of the image. I did anything to belong among them, those white childrenand white teachers" (3 ). In this gossipy, self-obsessed, and superficial memoir, Brownappears to be not a serious leader of a vital and important activist groupof the 196 s and 197 s, but a Party groupie with little interest in orunderstanding of the concepts and goals which inspired the Panthers,however naive and romantic most of those concepts and goals might havebeen. This awakening, however, leadsnot to wisdom, compassion or love, but to becoming herself an ego-drivenaggressor against the helpless. Thewomen in her life taught her to fear and hate life and herself. . . Theyvowed to fight back when attacked, were well-armed, and based that aspectof their policy on the right of self-defense and self-protection. Again, she does realize the stunted life she is leading as aplaything and "comrade" of men who are far more concerned with fighting the"pigs" and one another for Party supremacy than with loving her in any way,revolutionary or nonrevolutionary. The Black Panther Party was born in 1966/67 in Oakland, California,as a black self-defense organization with programs designed to help theblack community. She freely admits to havingno interest in or knowledge of politics before her sudden introduction tothe Panthers, and it seems that her political interest after thatintroduction was minimal, despite her rise to power in the group. that is when the people .
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