Term Paper: Elaine Brown, a Taste

Pages: 3 (1432 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Sports - Women  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] What disturbed him was the damage that had been done to his father, whose self-hatred and hatred of whites was that of the son of a presumed rapist" (255). It is worth unpacking the logic here: Huey Newton's own father was prejudicially assumed to be the child of a rape (by being light-skinned), although Brown acknowledges that the liaison could easily have been consensual (presumably because later experience showed that Jews were fairly central in civil rights campaigns). In Newton's logic and Brown's what is important is not the sexual coercion so much as the presumption that it occurred. She does, however, attribute her own grandmother's self-hatred to "a white man's rape" (20). Somehow this family history does not prevent her from being turned on by reading Eldridge Cleaver.

Brown is aware that her commitment to revolutionary struggle raises uncomfortable questions about the status of women, not only in African-American communities but universally. Nonetheless, she makes excuses for the sexism, believing feminism to be "a white girl's thing":

We knew Brothers dragged their old habits into the party. We all did. The party's role, however, was not limited to external revolution but incorporated the revolutionizing of its ranks. If however the very leadership of a male-dominated organization was bent on clinging to old habits about women, we had a problem. We would have to fight for the right for freedom. Like most of the black women of the time, we considered the notion of women's liberation to be a "white girl's thing." Unlike the new feminists, we were not going to take a position against men. Our men did not have to "change or die," as the most radical of the feminists were saying. Black men were our Brothers in the struggle for black liberation. We had no intention, however, of allowing Panther men to assign us an inferior role in our revolution. (191-2)

The remarkable thing here is that Brown characterizes the nascent feminist movement in 1969 in precisely the same words that a male chauvinist would use, and does so in precisely the manner that the white mainstream liberal would use to stigmatize the Panthers: "unlike the new feminists, we were not going to take a position against men." Presumably by "new feminists" Brown means the emergence of a radical wing of the feminist movement: certainly nobody in 1969 would have described Simone de Beauvoir or even Betty Friedan as "against men" (or even "new").

By the end of her account, though, Brown seems to have come to a certain level of feminist awareness, even as she makes excuses for the patriarchal power structure that continued to hold force in the Panthers even under her leadership:

The Black Panther Party provided a voice and hope for thousands of black inmates. Many of them, however, had used our political line to justify their personal crimes on the street -- rape and mindless killings -- and to excuse the capriciousness of their prison violence. When Huey denounced Eldridge's long-distance proposals for terrorism and expelled him from the party, a vociferous number of black prisoners were shocked. The party's political clarification of revolutionary violence had, at best, confused men who basically lived by the sword. (316)

Surely this is disingenuous at best. The simple fact is that Elaine Brown had begun her radical career essentially by reading the work of an African-American man who spent nine years in prison for raping white women. If anyone had "used our political line to justify their personal crimes on the street," Cleaver had done so, post facto. But the fact is that Brown, remarkably, began her career by justifying Cleaver's personal crimes on the street, seemingly offering a tacit approval of his rape as justified by the prior rape of black women by white men. In this context it is useful to recall the great maxim of the late African-American lesbian feminist poet Audre Lorde, who declared that "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." Elaine Brown had to learn that the hard way, and A Taste of Power demonstrates the hard truth of Audre Lorde's observation as it demonstrates Brown's… [END OF PREVIEW]

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