Saunders

Panthers right on, finally

Staff WriterMay 2, 2006 

Those were definitely not your father's Black Panthers at Duke University on Monday.

Sure, they looked like the Panthers we romanticized as folk heroes in the 1960s for taking on "The Man." They had the same unsmiling visages, the black clothes with berets broke down to the side, the same impenetrably dark sunglasses.

Much of the rhetoric, unfortunately, was also from the 1960s.

At least at first. For much of the speech by New Black Panther Party leader Malik Shabazz, he assailed white men who "raped black women and were never tried. ... This legacy continues of white men being able to have their way with black women."

Shabazz and his New Black Panther Party were in Durham, almost at Duke's door, to declare "guilty" the white Duke lacrosse players accused of raping a black dancer hired from an escort service.

I dug Shabazz's mantra of "respect for black women" but was disappointed by his failure to acknowledge that, in many instances, "The Man" doing the disrespecting is now black.

How, I asked, can you criticize anyone else without holding black men accountable for their part in the tawdriness-for-hire, the raunchy videos, the demeaning song lyrics?

I said this to myself, you understand, since the New Panthers didn't look like anyone whose ire I wanted to incite.

Depending upon your view, the new incarnation is better -- or worse -- than the original Panthers. The Panthers founded in 1966 in Oakland never backed down from armed confrontation and were labeled by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover the "most dangerous group in America" during the 1960s.

Yet even survivors of that once-feared militant group have disavowed the New Black Panthers, whose fiery rhetoric has caused many to call them racist and anti-Semitic.

I didn't hear any racism, and the New Panthers were respectful, even amiable, toward Durham cops. One, who was packing heat, complied when an officer -- trained to spot the telltale bulge -- asked him to return his gun to his car.

I was fixing to return to my car and dismiss Monday's gathering and speechifying as a mere media event when Shabazz redeemed himself.

After leading a march from Duke to the house where the alleged assault took place, he urged his listeners to "shut down anything that makes an object" of black women's sexuality. He named, among others, the Black Entertainment Television network -- BET, which essentially stands for "Booties Every Time" you turn it on.

I applauded inwardly his comments, but Inez Aguilar, standing beside me, applauded outwardly and enthusiastically.

"I'm in agreement with everything he said about that," Aguilar said. "The way they parade women around [on TV] is just ridiculous. ... That's why I brought my son out, so he can hear that it is not all right to disrespect women."

Right on. My marching days are pretty much over, but if the new or old Panthers ever march on the offices of BET, I'll be right there with them.

If they need someone to hold down BET founder Bob Johnson and make him watch the "Rumpshaker" video for 48 hours in a row, I'll volunteer.

Power to the people, indeed.

Call Barry at 836-2811 or send him e-mail at barrys@newsobserver.com.

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