… Essay, Research Paper
A Taste of Brown: A Black Panther s Movement Critique
And, we sat and we talked
About freedom and things.
And, he told me about what he dreamed.
But I knew of that dream
Long before he had spoke
And a feeling familiarly came around.
Man, where have you been for all these years
Man, where were you when I sought you
Man, do you know me as I know you
Man, am I coming through
-National Black Panther Anthem
The above lyrics signified a certain type of uniformity and camaraderie, characteristic of the legendary Black Panther movement. However, uniformity and camaraderie were soon threatened when Elaine Brown became head of the party. When the former leader Huey Newton went into exile in the late 1970 s, Elaine rose to the position of leadership, drastically changing the internal party structure. Elaine became a female symbol of power, holding an office traditionally held by men.
The Black Panther party came into existence addressing suffering in America. The 1970s were a time of federal troops in the South being employed to repel racist, policeadvocated violence against black children attempting to attend school with white children. It was a time of constant police attacks on blacks seeking voting rights, which became both a social and political issue. Brown discusses the major goals of this organization: to insure blacks essential rights denied through the Jim Crow era by institutional racism and lynching. The right to have food, shelter, health care and education was denied to blacks. Brown recounts an instance that shows the unintended effects of the denial of these rights. She begins,
I mean, we ve got a six-year-old girl whose entire right leg is marred by third-degree burns . Three kids from one family came to us with no shoes only thongs and when we went to their own house, we couldn t find a single toothbrush (393).
As illustrated by the quote, the fundamental human rights had been stripped from the black community prior to the rise of the Black Panthers. To ameliorate the past wrong, this party performed major tasks towards the equalizing of the proverbial playing field.
There were hundreds of thousands of people who benefited from our free-food programs, our free medical clinics and legal-aid programs, our prison programs, our schools and education programs, our service programs for seniors and teens and abused children and battered women and homeless people (16).
One must remember that these observations or conclusions are based on one woman s perspective and should be analyzed in correlation to the facts about the time period. Nonetheless, she presents this view in her text that the major goal of the party was enacted.
Now that the goals of and reasons for the Black Panther party were axiomatic, leadership now played a role. This subject is crossed with the misogynistic undertones of the organization. Brown addresses without hesitance the complications dealing with her new position of power. She notes the level of insanity that Huey had in his eyes upon visiting. His eyes were glazed, and they darted back and forth almost uncontrollably. What he said to me had nothing to do with anything. I tried to hide my bewilderment, my fear (9). Indeed she goes into her own catharsis after taking control of this party:
My heart was beating, but I could not seem to draw a breath. My fingers, those fingers, continued to type. They were not my fingers or hands. I tried to shake off the feeling that made me call out for my mother in my childhood nights. It was full-blown [my emphasis] now, though. I could not force myself back. My mother could not hold me until it want away. It would not go away. I leaped from my seat and rushed into the ladies room I dialed the operator for the number of a mental-health clinic (147).
As one could see, the emotional breakdown that Brown had was synonymous to that of Huey had in jail.
Another complication dealing with individual power was the overwhelming majority of males in the movement. Misogyny was prevalent in the organization and was seen at a glance. Brown describes to her readers that upon given her inaugural speech, she had seen several hundred other members of the Black Panther Party, a sea of predominantly male faces (3). Not only was misogyny widespread but also the ideology that goes along with this belief. The premise that andocentric is a culturally accepted belief in the word spread through the party. Brown gives an example of the application of andocentric.
A woman in the Black Panther movement was considered, at best, irrelevant. A woman asserting herself was a pariah. A woman attempting the role of leadership was, to my proud black Brothers, making an alliance with the counter-revolutionary, man-hating, lesbian, feminist white bitches. It was a violation of some Black Power principle that was left undefined. If a black woman assured a role of leadership, she was said to be eroding black manhood, to be hindering the progress of the black race. She was the enemy of black people (357).
Brown words illustrate the idea that in an ironic sort of manner, the Black Panthers, who were fighting against suppression of the race suppressed women in the party from achieving levels of leadership because of the logic that their rise will be the demise of the black race. In another section, she elaborates,
Sexism was a secondary problem. Capitalism and racism were primary. I had maintained that position even in the face of my exasperation with the chauvinism of Black Power men in general and Black Panther men in particular (367).
The individual versus society debate is internalized in this quote. Brown, having the individual obligation to stand up to sexist attitudes present in the subordinate leaders, must choose and rise from her own personal desire to focus on the desires of the party.
This autobiography has many strengths as well as weaknesses. Upon reading the book, one sees a logical progression of thought. As one reads, one notices the subtle growing awareness Brown has unfolding within the narrative. This is truly a move that only skilled writers can master. She, in essence, establishes a separate ethos for the reader as well as a separate ethos for herself; thus, dividing the feelings of herself from the feelings of the reader. Those who are reading are allowed to make conscious decisions about the narrative without being obliged to choose sides. Another strength is that she establishes a good pathos, portraying herself as a person of sound judgment who is not in the least attempting to slander or libel the Black Panthers. She continues to establish herself as a trustworthy person by being brutally truthful, talking at great length of the most personal incident that could ever happen to her: her chronic insanity spells that she has. The discussion on the psychological strain on her by the events shows that she is attempting not to exploit others but to tell the story in its entirety. In addition, her discussion on her different types of relationships that she has, both black and white men, aids in establishing the life is an open book view that the book takes. Her use of emotive language is kept to a minimum, for language that would like to serve a purpose evoking emotion into the readers heart can lead to a bathos analysis, saying that there is too much use of emotive language that strays away from the subject matter.
The major weakness of the paper is the lack of elaboration. One prime example is seen through the portrayal of Huey Newton. The narrative commences with him being exiled. However, it is evident, seen through what she feels for him, that there was a history prior to this scene. Obviously, Huey Newton was a major part of her life and contributed to her ultimate empowerment. Another weakness is that she in essence promotes the racial and gender hierarchy she so avidly attempted to dismantle. The fact that she attributes her financial success (meaning the party) to a white male, Jay Kennedy, promotes the idea that in order to get ahead into the world, it correlates to that who you know who is in power and who is white. Her presentation of interracialism is damaging to her argument. Like the gender hierarchy she acknowledges as existing, she also shows through example that there is internal animosity towards those who less pigmentation than another. This idea is seen countless times in this novel. One notable time is the rhyme she quotes:
If you white, you right
If you yellow, you mellow
If you brown, stick around
If you black, git [sic] back
Way back! (31)
A final weakness is her portrayal of female male relationships within the party in the novel. There seems to be a recurring theme of ownership and dominance in the novel. One notable instance follows:
Tell [Elaine] here what a Brother has to do to get some from you
First of all, a Brothers got to be righteous. He got to be a Panther . Can t no motherfucker get no pussy from me unless he can get down with the party . A sister has to learn to shoot as well as to cook, and be ready to back up the Brothers . A Sister has to give up the pussy when the Brother is on his job and hold it back when he s not. Cause Sisters got pussy power (189).
This one quote alone would have feminists calling for a rewrite of her story. The issues of gender-role play a significant part of her argument. And it seems that she is falling into the premise that females have their place and advantages. This is a weakness for it is the very thing that she attempts to hold back from saying the entire novel.
A Taste of Power is a wonderful autobiography in which Brown incorporates life experiences and consolidates them into fact. The title serves as a tool of empowerment for the reader. It allows for him to get a glimpse of what it was like to be in the shoes of a woman who held the ultimate power in the most militant civil rights group ever formed.