Sunday, March 20, 2016

THAT'S JUST THE WAY IT WAS BACK THEN: ON BLACK PANTHER WOMEN


Continued from
BLACK WOMEN, A TASTE OF POWER
http://thankherforsurviving.blogspot.com/2016/03/black-panther-women-taste-of-power.html


Elaine Brown's Autobiography, "A Taste Of Power: A Black Woman's Story, starts out by spending quite some time describing Elaine growing up in a more obviously "color struck" black world, a fatherless, light-skinned daughter of a success seeking, respectability politics seeking mother who sends her away from poor black girl peers to predominantly white schools.

At first I didn't know why we were reading so much about her childhood. But her brave reveal goes a long way toward explaining Brown's wanting to be white for a time; her affairs with white Hollywood elite that turn out to be a source of Panther money;  and her almost addictive behavior toward sex and men in the Black Panther Party, including Eldridge Cleaver (who's book "Soul On Ice" provides much funding for the BPP) and Huey Newton. 


Brown doesn't meet Huey until half way through they book yet still manages to be the center of absolutely everything in her world once she meets this man-made God. Somehow the book seems fairly light on covering actual his speeches and ideas. Then again, maybe this should have been expected as this book was truly limited to Brown's personal experience.

Every time Brown related the details of Newton paying attention to her, by "patting her on her fanny" or deigning to sleep with her after he'd moved onto someone else,  I found myself reminded, again and again, of that white woman who was recently in the news, the one whose biggest claim to fame was losing her virginity to David Bowie when she was 15.  It made me wonder if Brown and  almost-white-Marsha, who was also 15 when she explained what Panther womanhood is, tells similar stories of Black Panthers to this day.

Eldrige's Photo of Huey Newton
Newton reportedly hated it.///I did too

SEX
Brown was bad about mentioning dates in her autobiography. As near as I can tell Elaine Brown was Huey Newton's exclusive girlfriend for 2 months or 2 years before he replaced her with Gwen, a softer, non-panther-like woman. According to an obviously envious Brown, Gwen would cook, clean, and sex Netwon then get out of the way quietly when Newton wanted to have sex with someone else --even when that someone else was his ex-Queen, Elaine.

I tried to go back and find out if there was some sort of free love thing going on that I'd missed. I must have missed something because Brown slept with Ericka Huggins husband too.  John Huggins seduced Brown into the Black Panthers in the first place, and while his wife was pregnant. Yet there's no mention of Brown feeling awkward or guilty when she and Ericka spend time together.  Brown even names her daughter "Ericka" after Ericka Huggins.  

But it was Huey that Elaine mainly hung onto romantically speaking once she meets him. It seems like every waking moment was about what he wanted or didn't want-- even when he was losing his mind.  I can't even tell if her drooling over him was entirely romantic.  As I currently read David Hilliard’s book, "This Side Of Glory," his love, the intensity of his worship(?) of Huey Newton was no less for it being non-sexual. 


 PHYSICAL ABUSE

Brown would eventually be beat up for "hours" by one of her Panther “comrades,” Steve, before a crucial meeting with Motown’s Suzanne De Passe (who would later become Brown’s first female friend) Huey wouldn’t call this beating a violation of panther regulations between “equal” comrades which would require Steve’s “discipline,” according to Panther rules, because Huey deemed it “personal” and "not Panther business." 


Prior to Brown's rise to power, Bobby Seale would eventually order Elaine to be disciplined. As a result she was beaten with a whip, across her back, for an infraction. She takes it. But she also tells Huey she’ll never endure it again.  Not long after this, Huey has Bobby Seale and Elaine run for political office in Oakland together.

Huey eventually beats Bobby Seale with a whip for failing to defend Huey’s name in a way a coke and cognac soaked Huey thought was appropriate. Rockstar Activist Huey, now calling himself “The Servant,” then kicks Bobby Seale out of the Panthers.

David Hilliard, another childhood friend of Huey's and original Panther, is kicked out.

Brown is slapped by Huey too at one point. But, once more, she doesn't leave him or The Panthers.

ELAINE BROWN IN CHARGE VIA ENFORCER

When Huey fled to Cuba to avoid being arrested for beating up his tailor and also a separate murder, he left Elaine in charge -- probably because she was the only left at the top that knew anything.


Because the Panthers are sexist and misogynistic, Huey makes Larry Henson her chief of staff and essentially tells him to be an enforcer for Elaine. And Elaine secures Larry's instructions by giving him fine clothes, fine wines, and by sleeping with Larry.

One of the first things Brown does for the Black Panther Party is to start filling empty positions up again, by merit. She seems to say she filled up to half of the empty positions with women which, according to her, would have started a much louder black male rebellion if it weren’t for Larry cracking heads for her on the regular --one of those heads being Steve’s, the man who beat her up.

Steve, a hoodlum’s hoodlum, got beat up so bad he wasn’t seen again after Larry's BPP “disciplinary” session was over.

Eventually Brown is accused by a young male panther of being a "man-hating lesbian." Brown realizes that this is code for “feminist,” frequently used whenever a man wants to knock a woman off her feet in that era. It is at this point (in the last quarter of the book) that she finally realizes that sexism is as real and as important as racism.

Elaine gets money flowing into the BPP and the survival programs back on track, especially the panther created Oakland School. She stops the panthers from brutalizing each other with whips (ala Slavery that 'we're following Che-Guevara self-delusion be damned)  Eventually, she does some political maneuvering in California so that Huey can come home without going to jail.


HUEY RETURNS

When Newton gets back he says he won’t interfere but partner with Brown.

But then two things happen:

1) A Newton friend, "Big Bob" breaks the rules in defiance of Brown. When he is arrested, Brown wants to leave him there for a few days as punishment. Newton insists on no punishment for him at all and demands Brown release funds to get him out of jail immediately. She does it.

2) A few pages later, a panther named Regina Davis reprimands one of the male panthers for not completing a task that she assigned him at The Oakland School. Words are exchanged. Brown finds out that day(?) that Newton authorized Davis’ discipline without a word to her as his "partner" in leadership. 


Davis discipline resulted in her being beaten so badly, by three or four male “comrades” that her jaw was broken.

When Elaine objects and objects and objects to this as "discipline," Huey will not stand up to the black men who beat Davis.  Instead Newton finally says he'll bring it up before the mostly male Black Panther Central Committee – that she was only ever able to control by using Larry the enforcer, who had gotten so full himself that he'd started threatening Brown himself  (over her refusal to pick up his clothes behind him and “contradicting him” in front of others.) Upon Newton’s return, Larry moved back to being Huey’s right hand man.



Regina Davis and other black women will eventually leave the Black Panthers after this event.  And this was no small loss. According to the documentary, "The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution" the Black Panthers was up to 60% female at  one point.



ELAINE'S FINAL DAY

Surprisingly enough, Elaine who still seems in love and in awe of Newton, leaves the Black Panther Party before the meeting over the beating of Regina Davis takes place.  And this is where she ends her association with the Black Panthers and her story.



CONCLUDING QUESTIONS:  

If Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, David Hilliard, and Eldridge Cleaver in Oakland were the root of “The Black Panthers” how is it possible the entire tree wasn’t poisoned by the sexism and misogyny aimed at black women?

If half the voices were pretty much silenced, doesn’t that mean the Black Panthers were always operating at half strength? And doesn’t this also mean COINTELPRO can only take half, maybe even a quarter of the credit for the destruction of The Black Panthers?

If the Panther leadership hadn’t been formed around the macho, formed around who’s the toughest man, would one or some of the Black Panthers (the Central Committee) gotten together to reduce Newton’s role or remove him once he became unstable enough to destabilize the entire Black Panther Party?
Elaine Brown seems like she only had eyes for men that were stripping her naked with their eyes And she nearly admits as much in the book. And I have to assume that this is why the picture of what was happening to other Black Panther women is so skimpy in this book. Even so, if this book represents Brown experience only, and she was relatively protected due to being so closely associated with Newton and other higher ranked Panthers, don’t we have to worry about what was happening to the rank-and-file Panther women? Most of us know Kathleen Cleaver was being beaten by her husband, Eldridge. Brown slept with Newton again and again AFTER he said Steve’s beating her was a personal problem.

So what was happening to other Black Panther Women? (That PBS documentary mentioning male panther’s thinking of black female panthers as sex object is almost a joke as far as that documentary showing any concern for what really happened to women in the Black Panther party.



Was Angela Davis, who was in and then out of the Panthers with a quickness, one of the few female panthers in California who had an adequate sense of self-worth?

How much am I supposed to excuse all this in the name of “That’s just the way it was back then?”


And if I do decide to believe in “That’s just the way it was back then” for The Black Panthers, don’t I have to believe in “That’s just the way it was back then” for white people too?”






P.S. 
I'm still reading Hilliard's book with a special eye to everything that happens to black women. I'm more than two-thirds of the way done.

So far, 
I wish I'd read David Hilliard's book on the Panther's first to get an overview of the Black Panthers. 

Elaine's view is very, very centered on herself and her own personal experiences. Hilliard's is too and he's clearly very sexists in his viewpoint as well. And he isn't any less biased(?) about Huey so far. But he does describe some of the known highlights of the Panther Party in more detail, complete with dates.

And he was there when the Panther's formed.


I'll let you know it turns out.