Sorting out the legacy of the Black Panthers
Black against Empire:
The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party (George Gund Foundation Imprint in African American Studies)
by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr.
University of California Press
$34.95 List Price
For years it’s been said in circles both polite and impolite, and in ways both delicate and indelicate, that America’s blacks should learn to live more like America’s Jews. Writing in the Jewish Journal in 2006, the black former New York Times reporter Eric Copage said he once asked himself “if there were things Jews do that blacks should adopt to become more prosperous.” “My answer,” he continued, “an emphatic yes.”
Unpacking what it means to “act Jewish” is certainly a task to which entire volumes—to say nothing of countless Woody Allen bits—have been devoted. But in general, when people say that blacks need to act more Jewish, one gets the sense that what they’re saying is that blacks need to adopt a sense of clannishness and dogged self-reliance. American blacks and Jews share a history of oppression and—at least up to the creation of Israel—a certain statelessness. But the Jewish community has, broadly speaking, folded into itself in a way that many black Americans, some of whom fought and died to integrate with white America, have not. To wit, in a July 2012 obituary for former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, Times of Israel writer Matti Friedman fondly recalled Shamir’s utter lack of faith in everyone but other Jews. “Jews, he believed, could rely only on themselves,” writes Friedman, “and especially on their ability and willingness to use force in their own defense.”
If there is one reason for us to read Waldo E. Martin Jr. and Joshua Bloom’s new book, Black Against Empire—and there is a good deal more than one reason—it should be this: The book reminds us
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