When Beyonce and backup dancers blended Black Panthers with Black Lives Matter at the Super Bowl in Santa Clara, they missed their own irony. The NFL in allowing the spectacle on its grandest stage missed, again, its own idiocy.
San Franciscan Mario Woods stabbed a black man before a group of cops, which included African Americans, shot him in December. Oaklander Huey Newton pistol whipped a black tailor, raped black women, shook down black businesses, stole from black schools, and murdered a black prostitute before a black drug dealer killed him in 1989.
Just don’t blame the violent African American men for their violent demises. Blame white racism.
Some ideas strike as so stupid that only inhabitants of the make-believe world of show business could fall for them. Back then, Jane Fonda, Marlon Brando, Leonard Bernstein, and other entertainers bought con artist Huey Newton’s Black Panthers hustle. On Sunday, Beyonce’s backup dancers held up Mario Woods, a man killed by cops after stabbing a black man, as the Black Lives Matter posterchild and donned afro wigs and berets and offered closed-fist salutes in homage to the Black Panthers.
Tom Wolfe once ridiculed the support of insulated showbiz liberals for underclass black criminals as “radical chic.” Strangely, some used the term “chic” approvingly this go around to describe Beyonce’s lionization of the Black Panthers in a dance routine and the social-media shoutouts for “Justice 4 Mario Woods” by her cast of dancers.
Unlike Janet Jackson baring her breast, we’ve seen Beyonce’s halftime act before. The pageantry paying homage to the Bay Area’s most famous criminal gang came across about as edgy as Up with People. There’s something similarly recycled in Black Lives Matter. Before “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” activists shouted “Free Huey.” Before they lifted both hands in the air in a gesture of surrender, they raised a single fist to signify power. Before they made a halo of Trayvon Martin’s hoodie in their iconography of the saints, they put Huey Newton on a poster sitting in a wicker chair holding a rifle and a spear.
Would it be a bit clichéd at this point to invoke George Santayana’s most famous passage?
The NFL allowing a halftime tribute, no matter how oblique, to a group whose leaders brazenly raped women surely ranks at least on par to its mishandling of the Ray Rice domestic-violence assault in its offensiveness. No number of pink flags thrown by referees, or ads touting a “Vikings family” that morphed into an NFL family when one son moved to Cincinnati and had “Bengals babies” and another ate “Roethlis-burgers,” absolves this.
“Rape was an insurrectionary act,” Eldridge Cleaver wrote in Soul on Ice of transitioning from sexual assaults on black women to whites. “It delighted me that I was defying and trampling upon the white man’s law, upon his system of values, and that I was defiling his women—and this point, I believe, was the most satisfying to me because I was very resentful over the historical fact of how the white man has used the black woman.”
Whereas Black Panthers Supreme Servant Newton broke his pistol grips by beating four fractures into the skull of African American tailor Preston Callins in 1973 and killed black prostitute Kathleen Smith by shooting her in the face—both for the crime of calling Huey “baby”— in 1974, Black Panthers Minister of Information Cleaver allegedly murdered a fellow African American activist in exile in Algeria.
When I spoke to Bobby Seale nearly fourteen years ago, he acknowledged that the group he helped found became a criminal operation. Given Cleaver and Newton’s stints in prison for violent crimes predating the founding, this should not have surprised. “I wanted to stop the Black Panther Party,” the group’s co-founder confessed. “I had stumbled on Huey Newton abusing cocaine at the time viciously. I stumbled on him trying to take over the drug trade operation in Oakland, California.”
“I was very, very pissed,” Seale told me. “If I stayed around, I probably would have killed Huey myself.”
Understandably, somebody did. But a worse fate, at least in the eyes of former admirers, befell Cleaver. Unlike Newton, who never renounced the political views that gave cover to his criminal activities, Cleaver endorsed the same Ronald Reagan for president in the 1980s that he vowed to beat to death with a marshmallow during the 1960s. When former admirers asked, “Where did he go wrong?,” they referred to Cleaver, not Newton.
“Now he could be gathered at last into the Garden of Martyrs of the Left,” Peter Collier and David Horowitz wrote of the Supreme Servant’s death in Destructive Generation, “a serene spot where disquieting biographical truth never enters.”
And so it goes. Activists shush the fact that Michael Brown robbed a minority store owner and never raised his hands or pleaded “don’t shoot” to Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, or that Mario Woods stabbed a black man prior to cops shooting him, when discussing the cases. With both the Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter, it became okay, obligatory even, to whitewash lesser truths (murder, rape, kidnapping in the case of the Panthers, strongarm robbery and a stabbing in the cases of Brown and Woods) that proved inconvenient to the greater truth that racist whites oppress blacks. When Cleaver raped women, ambushed Oakland cops, and even murdered a black man in Algeria, he remained in good standing on the Left. When he became a Republican, he went too far.
Why does this matter? Because when people don’t believe cop lives matter, they generally don’t believe black lives matter, either. White Oakland cop John Frey’s life mattered when Huey Newton took it. So did black teenager Kathleen Smith’s. After first killing the white policeman, Newton murdered a black prostitute. And after raping women and ambushing and wounding Oakland police, Eldridge Cleaver, according to former comrades, murdered a black man.
Black lives matter.