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University of North Carolina Press

VBooks: Dr. Ashley Farmer Reshapes Views of Black Radicals In ’Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed An Era’

Dr. Ashley Farmer sheds light on women in the Black Power movement. 

Supremely admirable, freshly dressed, and organically intellectual MCs, Nas and the late Tupac introduced me to the Black Panther Party (BPP) during my fearless and wildly ignorant teenage years. Both Nas and Pac — whose mother Afeni Shakur was a member of New York City's Panther 21 case — tossed around names like Huey Newton, Geronimo Pratt, and George Jackson, among others throughout their lyrical narratives. As a curious and ridiculously energetic rabble-rousing kid, I greedily fed my spirit of inquiry by finding books about the impressionable activists that Nas and Pac spoke of.

READ:: Remaking Black Power: A New Book on Women and Black Power

Years later, rapper Rah Digga, who is just as lyrically adept as her male contemporaries, released her gracefully, yet in-your-face track titled “Angela Davis,” named after political activist and professor. The New Jersey artist juxtaposed womanly beauty to radical ideals, which introduced me to new ideas and images of Black Power: powerful black women.

Fast-forward to 2018, somewhere there’s a handful of black girls whose minds are churning over thoughts of activism, womanhood and Black Power. With this, Prof. Ashley Farmer, instructor of history and African American Studies at Boston University, recently published a compelling and informative book titled, Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era (University of North Carolina Press).

"Remaking Black Power" follows the brilliant publication of Prof. Robyn Spencer’s The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender and The Black Panther Party in Oakland, as well as the Intersectional Black Panther Party History Project — headed by Spencer, and professors Angela D. LeBlanc-Ernest, Tracye Matthews and Mary Phillips — which is centered around women roles in the Black Power movement.

READ:: Mainstreaming Black Power: A New Book on the Black Power Movement

Capping out at 288 pages, Farmer’s engrossing piece of art examines how black women’s intellectual, political and cultural contributions were integral to the making of Black Power. Farmer’s research peels off decades of masculine images and stereotypes associated with the Black Power movement.

When asked whether or not she understood that Remaking Black Power, for many young girls, would likely be their first introduction into Black Power—similar to how Nas and Pac educated me — Farmer expressed humbleness and held fast to hope.

“This would be dope!” Prof. Farmer says to VIBE. “I hope that if a young woman were to read this book years from now she would see that it was far from being male-led and violent. Black Power was the product and realization of black women’s freedom dreams. I also hope that she would see that black women were central to the movement’s development, popularity, sustainability, and legacy.”

READ:: The Black Panther Party of the South: An Interview with Larry Little

This isn’t a far-fetched idea. Farmer, who holds a master’s and a Ph.D. from Harvard University, experienced a similar path while on her academic journey. Her research interests were the result of frustrations with reading books that reduced black women to helpers of black men. Delving deeper into her research interests—women’s history, gender history and black feminism — at Harvard, Farmer became interested in the Third World Womens Alliance (TWWA). Formed in New York City in 1968 by Frances Beal, then known as the Black Women’s Liberation Committee, Farmer’s study of the TWWA is largely responsible for Remaking Black Power.

“My conversations with activists who were members of groups like the Black Panther Party and the Third World Women’s Alliance inspired a lot of this book,” Farmer says. “I learned three really important lessons from these interviews.”

Farmer continues:

“First, that black women’s interest in and influence on Black Power’s was much more extensive than scholarly and popular communities acknowledge. In speaking about their activism and networks, the organizers that I interviewed opened my eyes to a long history of black women thinkers and ideas. Second, to not let my ideas of sexism and patriarchy over determine my understanding of this era. To be sure, there was sexism. Neither they nor I are suggesting that there wasn’t. However, it doesn’t mean that it was so all-encompassing that black women couldn’t organize or that black women activists had the same ideas about it as we do today. Third, that black women interpreted the meaning of Black Power in broad, women-specific, and generative ways. This led me to want to write a history of Black women in the Black Power era that reflected this rich history by exploring the antecedents and legacy of black women’s Black Power activism, focusing on their ideas and political writings, and celebrating the diversity of their activism.”

READ:: State Repression, Gender, and the Black Panthers

Born in Nashville, Tenn., to a family of doctors, Farmer’s dissertation examined TWWA, which also addressed sterilization abuse, infant mortality and welfare rights, among others. Through researching TWWA, Farmer discovered women activists like Gwendolyn Patton as well as Mae Mallory. Mallory, who practiced self-defense as a teenager, even “flirted with [the] Communist Party and joined black nationalists organizations,” according to Farmer’s article on the academic website "Black Perspectives."

Remaking Black Power examines women inside the Communist Party (CP). Speaking to other notable scholarly work in the CP such as Dr. Robin D.G. Kelley’s Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression, Farmer’s work speaks to Kelley’s text by documenting notable women who “laid down the groundwork for the rise of the BPP,” she says.

“Most don’t realize that black women activists both transformed and were transformed by the Communist Party--particularly in the 1930s and 1940s,” Prof. Farmer says. “During this period, the Party championed interracial organizing, black self-determination, and the black working-class. As a result, many black women found it to be an organization through which they could develop their understandings of black oppression and advocate for black liberation, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and decolonization. Building on the groundbreaking works of historians like Carol Boyce Davies, Erik S. McDuffie, and Mary Helen Washington, my book shows how black women activists, such as Alice Childress and Claudia Jones used the Party as a way to encourage black women to become radical, class-conscious, nationalist organizers.”

READ:: Herstories: Writing Black Panther Women’s History

Claudia Jones, a Trinidad-born journalist and activist, moved to Harlem as a young girl. While living Uptown, Jones began writing for the Harlem Journal. She later joined the editorial staff at the Communist Party’s Daily Worker. And as an editor of the Weekly Review, Jones wrote on behalf of the Scottsboro Boys--nine black men falsely accused of raping two white women in Alabama.

“In her political writings, Claudia Jones often claimed that if black domestic workers were to adopt and organize around ideas of the Black Belt Thesis, black nationalism, and self-determination they would be a vital force in black liberation,” says Prof. Farmer. “She also foregrounded examples of black working-class women fighting for self-determination everyday. Her body of writing challenged popular perceptions of black domestic workers as downtrodden, apolitical, and marginalized by framing them as radical activists on the front lines of black liberation.”

Jones’ editorial contributions were effective, too. She was able to convey rather complex messages to broad audiences.

READ:: The Black Panther Party and the Free Breakfast for Children Program

“Jones was one of the foremost theorists of the Communist Party in the 1930s and 1940s. She published weekly columns and political essays that connected communist principles to black and women’s liberation,” says Farmer. "Jones championed the Communist Party’s endorsement of what is now called the ‘Black Belt Thesis,’ or the claim that black Americans constituted a nation set apart from other Americans by their shared cultural heritage, and political exclusion and that they had the right to self-determination and form a separate nation. She also argued that black domestic workers were the most exploited segment of American society.”

Just as writing, protests, and community programs were all instrumental to the Black Power movement, artists were also influential in spreading messages and images of Black Power. Black Panther Party member Emory Douglas, minister of culture, led the charge of creating images of the BPP with his many drawings that appeared in the Party’s newspaper, The Panther. In addition to Douglas, Tarika Lewis, who scholars credit as being the first “Revolutionary Artist” for the BPP, also had a deep interest in art.

“Art is an essential part of any movement. It has the power to capture attention, transfer knowledge and ideas, build a sense of community and solidarity, and politicize and incite viewers to take action,” Farmer says. “Many are now recognizing the central role art played in the Black Power era--especially the work of Black Panther Party artist Emory Douglas. Artists like Tarika Lewis, Gayle Dickson, and others used art to visually incorporate black women into the public’s ideas of Black Power and empowerment. They also used it to demonstrate their political ideals and values and challenge male-centered notions of revolution. My goal in the book is to not only show how black women challenged the misogyny of the movement through art, ideology, and activism, but also how this changed their male counterparts ideas about gender roles and black liberation.”

As many know, the BPP was a very complex organization. Former Party leader Elaine Brown, in her autobiography Taste of Power, detailed her encounters with domestic abuse by a Party member, who is the father of her daughter. However, Party co-founder Huey Newton worked to improve conditions for women.

“Huey Newton is an example of someone whose thinking on issues of gender and sexuality evolved over time,” says Farmer. "By the early 1970s, he publicly endorsed gay rights and women’s rights and asserted that one could not be for black liberation but be content to oppress others within and outside of the black community. This was an important stance to take within the Black Power community. However, it was met with uneven responses. While some applauded this position, others refuted it. Nevertheless, it generated open conversation about the intersection of these liberation struggles.”

When asked whether or not the the current flood of women sharing their stories of sexual assault shifts the narrative, or power, of women, Prof. Farmer says it has the potential to start important conversations.

“I think recent events shift the narrative in favor of privileging the voices, stories, and experiences of women. It also has the potential to start conversations about the interconnectedness of sexual assault, sexism, racism, and capitalism, as well as the long traditions of organizing around these issues that has taken place within the black community. However, I still think we must constantly work to highlight the specific ways in which black women endure this kind of harassment and violence and their pioneering role in bringing these conversations to the public.”

While Remaking Black Power tremendously adds to the growing body of research on the Black Power movement, Farmer says that more research is needed.

“It would be great to see more biographies of individual women activists who were key figures in the movement,” Prof. Farmer says. “I also look forward to seeing future scholars further explore the international connections and networks that many Black Power activists developed.”

Purchase “Remaking Black Power” here.

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Take Five: DJ Khaled Talks ‘Father of Asahd’ And #Summergram Partnership

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VIBE: What are your thoughts about your new partnership with Pepsi's Summergram? DJ Khaled: This seems like the perfect fit. I am excited to work with Pepsi – they are always spreading positive vibes and the Pepsi #Summergram collection is a lot of fun to play around with. You know I’m always posting to Instagram and these new AR filters help bring my content to the next level. Look out for more Pepsi #Summergram filters from me all summer long.

It seems like you’ve been intentional with this album rollout even more so than your past projects. What can you tell me about your strategy for this rollout? I decided we can’t do anything dinosaur anymore. For this album, everything had to be big. From the music to the rollout, everything had to be big! And watching it all come together is just beautiful. And I love to see the excitement from my fans! At the end of the day, it’s all for my fans.

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Courtesy of Think BIG

How CJ Wallace Turned His Connection To Notorious B.I.G. Into A Cannabis Brand

Christopher Jordan “CJ” Wallace was exposed to the music industry at an early age. As the son of Notorious B.I.G. and Faith Evans, the 22-year-old recalls growing up with countless musicians stopping by his family’s home studio. “We had a studio in our house when we lived in Atlanta. This is around the time [of] Bad Boy South,” he tells VIBE during a visit to our Times Square office. “Any given Tuesday, Usher might come over. It would be crazy.”

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Wallace went on to found Think BIG, alongside Willie Mack and Russaw. Think BIG, he explains, is a brand and social movement encouraging society to embrace the cannabis industry and realize its potential to heal and stimulate creativity. In its first plan of action, the brand launched its first product: The Frank White Blend, named after one of B.I.G’s many aliases.

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“As a kid, watching [how] the AIDS crisis ravaged the world and seeing the LGBT community fighting for cannabis to help them with nausea during AZT [antiretroviral medication used to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS] was my first indication of [thinking] cannabis was a drug, but people are actually using it to try to stay alive,” Mack said, noting that he had several family members who were dealing with HIV/AIDS.

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Creatively speaking, Wallace and Mack consider cannabis to be the “ultimate ghostwriter.” It’s no secret B.I.G. was an advocate. From numerous consultations with his family members, he learned his dad often smoked while recording. (Mack also notes famous smokers like Johnny Cash, Louis Armstrong, and Bob Marley.) Just about every corner of the music industry has dabbled in recreational smoking, but no genre has been hit as hard as hip-hop. While fans love to watch Snoop Dogg smoke on Instagram Live or share a spliff with Kid Cudi during a concert set, the hip-hop community as a whole is met with backlash and often times targeted by police due to cannabis.

“I feel like anything associated with black men is just immediately going to be deemed bad or evil,” Wallace says, referencing the negative connotation rappers receive. It’s Wallace’s mission, however, to adjust that perspective. “I feel like it’s really up to us to change that narrative. That’s why I try so hard to stop saying words like ‘weed.’ Cannabis, it’s actually a plant," he continues. Both Wallace and Mack noted the terms "weed" and "marijuana" hold negative connotations and are commonly used in connection with minorities. "We were lied to for so long. If we were given proper knowledge from the start, I feel like the entire hip-hop community and the entire way we talked about it would’ve changed.”

Beyond educating consumers with their message and products, Think BIG also seeks to improve the criminal justice system as well as launch charitable projects. According to “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” on average, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. Such racial disparities reportedly exist in all regions, states, and counties around the United States and largely contribute to today's mass incarceration crisis.

In recent years, the U.S. government has made significant strides to correct this injustice. California, Nevada, and Maine are among the first states to legalize cannabis; states such as New York have already begun the process of exonerating offenders convicted of nonviolent charges and marijuana possession. Despite the steps forward, Wallace and Mack say there is a long road ahead.

Not only is it difficult to eradicate a vicious cycle that has left many black and brown people behind bars, but it is also hard to forge spaces for them to succeed in a rapidly changing industry. “Being able to understand how to navigate the industry that’s constantly changing and to do it without a bank account or full funnel of money, makes it that much harder,” Mack says. “Then on top of that, you got people sitting in jail who should be out of jail for nonviolent possession of cannabis. So, we’re faced with having to work four times as hard to make half as much because of the color of our skin. It’s a constant fight and we look at it as how can we set an example, share our knowledge, [and] show more information?”

It takes a group effort, Mac says. While Think BIG is setting a place at the table for black businesses in the cannabis industry as well as shifting the conversation around the plant, Mack suggests other ways to get involved that ultimately uplift the black community. “It’s much easier to enter into the market based on something you already know,” Mack insists, pointing out the opportunities for design firms, packaging, and communication firms to join the movement.

Wallace and Mack know the journey ahead is going to be a roller-coaster ride fit with many twists and turns, but they’re ready. “You got to dream big, as your dad said, and think big,” Mack says. “Everyone else in this industry is thinking about global billion-dollar companies, why shouldn’t we?” As for Wallace, he understands how difficult the process is and will be, “but, it wasn’t more emotional than the first 21 years of my life.”

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