I don't say this type of thing much, but here goes: I believe that if you live in the US, this is one of those books you should read.
"The issues are not complex. The objective is seizure of power. Until we seize power, not visible power where a black man looks like he's running things--but real, actual power; everything else is bullshit [...] Peace and order are bullshit; they are meaningless without justice."
I believe we have entered another Civil Rights era, and I have a perhaps naive hope that this one will finally complete the mission that was left incomplete during the time of MLK and Malcom X and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense: full, meaningful equality. Equality that is reflected in housing, in the police force, in education, in integration of society, in self-determination for all.
The Black Panthers believed that such a world could only come through true revolution.
I believe that we must share a common context for what hashappened before we can shape what should happen. We must understand the past in order to shape the future.
And here's the problem: mainstream America still has a woefully inaccurate view of the BPP, even though at this point, it's widely acknowledged that the Black Panther Party was the target of an insidious, targeted, widespread, often illegal onslaught by the U.S. government, including a concerted policy of propaganda and isolation and infiltration and misinformation. And yet despite continuing revelations about the extent of COINTELPRO-BLACK-HATE, Operation CHAOS, and all the rest, the Black Panther Party remains an uncomfortable and often misunderstood political movement. Independent of whether you agree with the stances taken by the BPP in its many iterations, it's crucial to understand their contexts.
It's easy to laud a nonviolent movement, at least once the movement is over. It's safe. Putting nonviolent figures on a pedestal is comfortable. It's probably why my childhood education repeatedly ignored all other aspects of the Civil Rights movement to focus on MLK. Maybe that's why we remember, say, Harriet Tubman as a kindly figure of the Underground Railroad rather than an active supporter of John Brown's raid and a vocal supporter of war against the South. It's even harder to go back and look at revolutions where violence was a relevant factor, particularly when those revolutions were lost. But this battle will be fought again and again until it is won, and I believe that a crucial aspect is for all Americans to try to understand the history and context of the unrest of today.
Black Against Empire is a fact-driven, unemotional examination of the social history and context of the Black Panther Party. Although a little dry at times, the sense of impartiality is one of the most impressive aspects of the book. It's a massive tome because the BPP has a long and fascinating history.
Often, as the rhetoric on each side mounts, it's difficult to read. But it illuminates on aspect that I, at least, was missing before reading this book: the BPP saw itself as a revolutionary force representing a disenfranchised nation occupied by a hostile invading force. The BPP's Ten Point Program even paraphrased the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, and that all men are created equal that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [...] But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, and their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards of their future security.
This aspect alone goes far in explaining the rationale behind armed defense. As George Mason Murray put it in 1968:
The Black Panther Party recognizes the critical position of black people in the United States. We recognize that we are a colony within the imperialist domains of North America and that it is the historic duty of black people in the United States to bring about the complete, absolute and unconditional end of racism and neocolonialism by smashing, shattering, and destroying the imperialist domains of North America.
Wondering if this book is relevant? As the news is awash with warnings of another "Bloody Summer" in Chicago and elsewhere, consider Bobby Seale's words in 1967:
“If one would look closely, and check this three year history, he will find that in damn near every rebellion a racist cop was involved in the starting of that rebellion [...] by inflicting brutality or murdering some black person within the confines of one of our black communities. Black people will defend themselves at all costs. They will learn the correct tactics to use in dealing with the racist cops […] The racist military police force occupies our community just like the foreign American troops in Vietnam. But to inform you dog racists controlling this rotten government and for you to let your pig cops know you ain’t just causing a ‘long hot summer,’ you’re causing a Black Revolution."
TL;DR: if you live in the US, and maybe even if you don't, this is a book worth reading.