This semester, I have been teaching an independent study on African philosophy with two young women. And I have experienced some painful and joyful emotional growth in the process.
This was our anthology, which I highly recommend.
They have taught me so much. We finished our independent study the other day by watching the movie Judas and the Black Messiah*. It is about the Black Panthers and the assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton by Chicago law enforcement. It’s really interesting.
And it is really distressing.
Content Warning: The following paragraph as well as some other paragraphs in the post have some brief descriptions of violence against People of Color. Judas and the Black Messiah* ends with an historically accurate depiction of brutality by law enforcement again People of Color while they are sleeping. The police fired over one hundred bullets at sleeping Black Panther party members. Ballistics experts determined that the members of the Black Panther party only fired one bullet, if that.
Fred Hampton was 21 when he died. His wife was about to give birth to their first child, Fred Hampton, Jr.
To be honest, I sometimes struggle with the Black Panthers as an organization. On the one hand, they did awesome things. For example, Fred Hampton (a key leader in the party) formed a Rainbow Coalition that banded people of all difference races and ethnicities (white, Latinx, and black) together to battle poverty and hunger.
The Black Panthers also worked to protect black neighborhoods and their inhabitants against the brutality of the police and people motivated by racial hatred.
Fred Hampton’s family was friends with Emmett Till. Till was a fourteen year old black boy who was brutally lynched and murdered for supposedly offending a white woman. (You can read more about this here. Please prepare yourself if you do because Till’s death, as well as its surrounding circumstances, is horrifying.)
Horrifying incidences such as this were all too common for Fred Hampton and other members of the black community. It is no wonder they felt like they had to form a party to protect themselves. I definitely understand this.
Nevertheless, sometimes certain members of the Black Panthers resorted to violent rhetoric and actions that are hard for me, a Quaker and a pacifist, to understand. But I need to struggle with these issues. This is a post I wrote recently on a related issue:
What I do understand, however, from listening to my black friends and students is that the issues of racism and police police brutality are very real to them.
They experience the trauma of these issues, whether personally or proximally, daily. And I have decided that if I truly want to love them, I need to understand these issues and the history of them.
I can’t pretend that I know more about these issues or that I somehow have easy answers. Because I am white, I have a different embodied experience than they do. So, I need to listen, empathize, and hear their experience.