Gun Rights and the Black Panther Party: A Talk on February 21, 2014

UPDATE 2/15/2014: The talk has been rescheduled to Friday, February 21, 2014 at noon. It will still take place in Bryan Hall Faculty Lounge, Room 229.

In my Ph.D. program, each fifth-year student gives a formal, hour-long presentation of research from the dissertation. It’s a wonderful tradition and I’m excited to be giving my “diss talk” soon. You are invited. The talk will take place February 14 21, 2014 at noon in the Bryan Hall Faculty Lounge at the University of Virginia.

Here’s the abstract:

Defensible Selves: The Black Panther Party and the Right to Bear Arms

In the last half century, the Second Amendment has transformed from a “revolutionary” tool of leftist minority groups to a rallying cry for white supremacists and the far right. This paper examines the Second Amendment’s volatile racial politics by looking to some discredited or ignored narratives of arms bearing that appear in minority performance and discourse. Homing in on the emergence of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in 1966, the paper analyzes the early Panthers’ theatrical armed protests, including “police patrols” aimed at protecting black neighborhoods from police brutality and an iconic open-carry demonstration at the California State Capitol. Broadcast images of organized, legally armed African Americans provoked public fear and outrage, leading to a drastic new gun control measure nicknamed the “Panther Bill.” This swift legislative response laid bare the extent to which the Constitution’s ideal arms bearer is popularly imagined as a white, male property owner defending colonized space—not a politically active African American with life and liberty to protect. The Panthers’ embodied political speech drew from and recast familiar narratives of self-defense, tyranny, revolution, peoplehood, and individual self-determination. By reconfiguring popular Second Amendment myths, they perhaps offer a way to reframe present-day gun debates. The right to bear arms, more than a question of domestic policy, is fundamentally tied to how we imagine the nation—and how we imagine the horizon of violence that keeps the nation whole.


2 Comments on “Gun Rights and the Black Panther Party: A Talk on February 21, 2014”

  1. William Tell says:

    Sounds really interesting, Mai-Linh. I also recall from seeing the documentary BERKELEY IN THE SIXTIES the great footage of the Black Panthers walking the state capitol with their shotguns. They actually bought their shotguns by selling copies of the “Little Red Book” by Mao Tse Tung on the UC Berkeley campus. They’d heard it was filled with leftist revolutionary insight and it sold like hotcakes among the students. And it course lent a sense that the the Panthers were motivated by revolutionary idology. The Panthers though admitted they’d been selling the books for months without ever sitting down to read it!

    • Thanks for reading, Will. Bobby Seale also has a very funny account in his book Seize the Time of when the Panthers sold LRBs to Berkeley students. I think they had a good sense of irony about the whole thing–how they saw the opportunity and even bargained with their supplier so they could increase their profits on a communist handbook!


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