Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Africana Womanism in the Black Panther Party: A Personal Story

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Africana Womanism in the Black Panther Party: A Personal Story

Article excerpt

In Africana Womanism: Reclaiming Ourselves, Clenora Hudson-Weems creates an eighteen step theoretical frame that explains Black female behavior worldwide. The theory of Africana womanism differs from Feminist theory because Africana Womanism emerges out of the African woman's historical and cultural experience. Feminism is a theoretical paradigm that addresses the observations of middle-class White women, a group whose main target is sexism. Hudson-Weems argues that unlike the feminist, the Africana womanist

... realizes the critical need to prioritize the antagonistic forces as racism, classism, and sexism, respectively. In the final analysis, Africana womanism is connected to the tradition of being self-reliant and autonomous, working toward participation in `africana liberation ("Cultural and Agenda Conflicts in Academia" 187).

When I reflect on why I joined the Black Panther Party, issues of race, not gender, surface most prominently. I saw racism as the number one assault on Black people. Although the Panthers had a predominantly male membership, I felt not the least excluded. For one, Kathleen Neal Cleaver was promoted as Communications Secretary of the Party, and her image appeared in posters along with those of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. As Hudson-Weems puts it, slavery had equalized oppression for Black men and women (47). Hence, I had always witnessed men and women working together throughout my community and I carried this understanding into this largely male organization. Personally, I had been cruelly victimized by racism, and I had witnessed the police violate the humanity of Black men and women. So, when I stood up for my rights back in the late 1960s, I stood up for my entire race, not solely for myself as a woman. When I fought sexism in the Party, I still retained my deep concern for Black males, for they never became my antagonists forever, as I painfully tried to redirect their thoughts and energies. It is for these reasons that Africana womanism highlights my behavior when I examine my experiences with White America and the Black Panther Party.

Hudson-Weems puts my ethos and behavior in context, arguing a concept that Garvey once articulated as "race first." She writes:

Africana Womanism is an ideology created and designed for all women of African descent. It is grounded in African culture, and therefore, it necessarily focuses on the unique experiences, struggles, needs, and desires of Africana women. (24)

When I became interested in the Black Panther Party at sixteen, I knew racism and police brutality intimately, and I had no knowledge or understanding of sexism. I was raised, as most Black women of the 1950s and 1960s, to accept male dominance and to consider myself a helpmate to men. I joined the Black Panther Party because I wanted to help smash American racism. And the Panthers were the only obvious organization confronting White America forthrightly without begging or carrying signs for equality and justice. Respecting and admiring their image of bravery and courage, I was ready to put my life on the line with this organization. Growing up in an all Black and poor neighborhood (although I never thought we were economically disadvantaged) I had witnessed inexplicable police brutality. As a result, when the Panthers emerged, they answered the whispers of a long lost prayer. In this article, I intend to revisit the circumstances that encouraged me to join the Black Panther Party and the double standard for women that I found there. However, this is not a sorrow song of a victimized woman but rather my attempt to point out the tragic flaws or incorrect behavior of the men in the Party. I somehow knew that they were practicing a form of oppression rooted in their own centuries of powerlessness. Hence, when I met sexism, I tried to lift the bedroom out of their minds. Some in leadership positions were sexist, and this unchecked problem weakened the foundation of the Black Panther Party, which compels me to write to alert young activist brothers and sisters to their history. …

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