Nico Slate. Black Power beyond Borders: The Global Dimensions of the Black Power Movement. Contemporary Black History Series. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. viii + 214 pp. $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-137-28505-8; $30.00 (paper), ISBN 978-1-137-28506-5.
Reviewed by Dara Walker (Rutgers University)
Published on H-Nationalism (January, 2014)
Commissioned by Paul Quigley (University of Edinburgh)
Black Power beyond Borders is a transnational history that examines Black Power’s various meanings abroad. In this well-written collection of essays, the authors challenge traditional notions of the chronological and geographical boundaries of the Black Power movement as well as the ideas that informed its development. The final result is a rich story about the exchange of ideas, contradictions, complexities, and conceptions of Black Power. The transnational approach reveals how understandings of Black Power changed over time in the United States and throughout the postcolonial world. The authors convincingly argue that Black Power advocates from abroad crafted the movement’s diverse meanings to fit their particular circumstances, sometimes without giving much thought to black Americans as major Black Power thinkers and actors.
The book has three parts. Carol Anderson, Yevette Richards, and Donna Murch locate the transnational dimensions of Black Power in the early twentieth century in part 1: “The Roots of Black Power.” While Anderson’s “Rethinking Radicalism: African Americans and the Liberation Struggles in Somalia, Libya, and Eritrea, 1945-1949” and Richards’s “The Activism of George McCray: Confluence and Conflict of Pan-Africanism and Transnational Labor Solidarity” explore uncharted territory, Murch’s “When the Panther Travels: Race and the Southern Diaspora in the History of the BPP, 1964-1972” complicates the familiar. Anderson uses a transnational approach to challenge conceptions of radical and conservative politics in the postwar black freedom movement. Such a perspective reveals that the politically cautious National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)--and not the leftist Council on African Affairs--issued the most scathing indictments of the United States’ and the Soviet Union’s scramble for Africa. Richards’s focus shifts from organizational political commitments to the experiences of individual actors as she explores black American activist George McCray’s political organizing abroad. Richards uses McCray’s work to understand the “early history of transnational links between antiracism and anticapitalism so prominent in the heyday of Black Power” (p. 6). Unfortunately, the author leaves the reader to connect this early transnational link to the ideological commitments of Black Power groups of the late 1960s. Murch’s essay bridges the early postwar years and the 1960s. Her essay focuses on diaspora as a theoretical framework. This conceptual paradigm reveals a process of politicization that is informed by movement from the “homeland to the host land”--in the case of the Black Panther Party (BPP), from the South to the West (p. 61). It is the author’s contention that the BPP’s southern rural origins energized their attraction to the agrarian politics that Chinese revolutionaries espoused. As this section on postwar liberation movements and migrations demonstrates, the roots of Black Power’s transnational dimensions matured much earlier than the 1960s.
Part 2, “The Panthers Abroad,” explores the global influence of the BPP to understand the transnational history of Black Power. Oz Frankel’s “The Black Panthers of Israel and the Politics of the Radical Analogy” surveys the similarities and differences between the BPP and the Israeli Panthers. While the Israeli Panthers looked to the BPP’s use of “the color line as a designator of disparities among the Jews of Israel” (p. 82), they did not embrace armed self-defense like their American counterparts because local conditions did not warrant such tactics. Unlike American officers, Israeli law enforcement never used firearms in confrontations with the group. As Frankel argues, studies that conflate all global events under the “Sixties” paradigm fail to grasp such local complexities. “The Polynesian Panthers and the Black Power Gang: Surviving Racism and Colonialism in Aotearoa New Zealand” by Robbie Shilliam adds to the international study of the BPP in its attention to the Polynesian Panthers and the Black Power Gang. Like the Israeli Panthers, the Polynesian Panthers redefined Black Power to fit their particular circumstances. While Huey P. Newton’s conception of revolutionary intercommunalism collapsed difference between distinct communities, the Polynesian Panthers’ variation celebrated “unity through diversification” as they organized non-Polynesian Australians (p. 116). Nico Slate’s “The Dalit Panthers: Race, Caste, and Black Power in India” shifts our focus from New Zealand to India in his discussion of the Dalit Panthers. Slate’s transnational approach shows that Black Power in India sometimes meant collaboration with decolonized groups, and not simply separation from whites as was true in the United States. While the author offers an important reconsideration of Black Power’s influence in India, readers are left to wonder how Indians in America viewed Dalit Panthers.
The final section, “The Power in Black Power,” details “the meanings of power, violence, and nonviolence for Black Power activists” (p. 7). Yohuru Williams’s essay, “‘They’ve lynched our savior, Lumumba in the old fashion Southern style’: The Conscious Internationalism of Black Nationalism,” explores the migration of Black Power to Vietnam. For American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War, their conceptions of power took the form of a cultural nationalist aesthetic. Williams reveals how Black Power militancy, and the threat of violence that arose from it, “created new avenues for resistance” (p. 147). Scott Kurashige brings readers back to the familiar in “From Black Power to a Revolution of Values: Grace Lee Boggs and the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.” Kurashige compares the philosophies and activism of King and the Chinese American Marxist theoretician Grace Lee Boggs to interrogate the meaning of power in Black Power. For Boggs and King, the power to overcome racial oppression and the growing military industrial complex would come from a “revolution in values.” In the final chapter, “Music Is a World: Stevie Wonder and the Sound of Black Power,” Kevin Gaines points to the power of the Black Power movement’s sonic culture. The movement gained global recognition not only because of its visual vibrancy, but because of its aural power as well. Because black Americans had more control over their music and recordings, “the sonic culture of blackness was often mediated by indigenous cultural institutions and produced by and for a primary audience of African American members” (p. 194).
Black Power beyond Borders reveals how the transnational dimensions of Black Power were contingent on the needs and circumstances of its advocates. But readers will likely ponder one important question: was there any conflict when American Black Power advocates encountered postcolonial Black Power thinkers who conceptualized Black Power in ways that contradicted its diverse notions in America? Despite this void, this collection offers a refreshingly complex take on Black Power and its global dimensions.
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