The Black Panther is an African Cat




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I joined the Omaha, Nebraska chapter of the Black Panther Party in the spring of 1969.  At the time, i thought of myself as "black" but really didn't have a sense of being African.  This was the case with most, if not all, of the Brothers and Sisters in the chapter, and in the Party nationwide.  Like Brothers and Sisters in this country gene­rally, We had been programmed by the nation's schools, religious institutions, commercial media, and so forth to dismiss Africa--to "think" of its history, traditions, etc. as being either irrelevant or worthy of our shame.  We were in the midst of a process where "black­ness," not "Africanness," was at the core of our political and psychic awakening.

As Black Panthers, We identified with "black" people in the U.S. and with oppressed people around the world--especially, African people and other people of color--but didn't have any significant sense of ident­ification with distinctly African values and traditions.  We were anti-capitalist but didn't know of the communalism of traditional African societies; so We weren't able to look to these societies as resources and/or guides for developing an economic, political, and social vision that We could introduce to our communities.  Our ideo­logy seemed at least as much rooted in the analyses and visions of Lenin and Marx as in those of Omowale (Malcolm X) and Franz Fanon.

The Party looked at "racism" as a veritable "child of capitalism" and resisted the notion that there might be something in the collective history and consciousness of Europeans (Caucasians) in particular that had given birth to the doctrine and practice of "white" supremacy/ "racism."  This may have limited our ability to understand the oppres­sion of our people and the motives and mentality of the Europeans who were running these systems of oppression, as well as stood in the way of our developing effective strategies for combating the forces and mechanisms of oppression.

But this didn't stop us from being dedicated to the cause of libera­tion of and for our people; it didn't stop us from being creative or courageous.  The Black Panther Party provided African children and adults with political-education and legal-rights classes, established breakfast-for-children programs, opened free health clinics, patrolled African communities to protect our people from police harassment and abuse and monitor their activities.  As "David Rice," i was proud of being a Panther then and, as "Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa," i am proud now that i was a Panther.

But looking back on those days, i wish We, and i, had known that it was important and crucial for us to get to know our African selves, the history of our people, traditional African cultures and values. Had We been in the knowledge and understanding of these things, We could and would have turned to our own collective historical experi­ence for inspiration and concrete ideas.  I wish We'd understood that the Black Panther was really an African cat.

Sometime in 1968 or '69, i met Pete O'Neal, who at the time, was head of the K.C. chapter of the Black Panther Party.  By the time i saw Pete again, several months later, he and other members of the K.C. chapter had, as i recall, formed an organization called the "Sons of Malcolm."

As We know, Malcolm X visited the Motherland, receiving the name, "Omowale,"(One Who Has Come Home) while in Nigeria.  It was more than appropriate that our brother received this name.  For one thing, the name identified him as what he essentially was--an African.  Also, it came at a time in 0mowale's life when he was moving from mere "black” nationalism to pan-Africanism.

So now, let me return to Pete.  The last time i saw him--somewhere around 34 years later--was on television in 2004.  He and his wife, Charlotte, were the main subjects of a P.B.S. documentary, "A Panther in Africa."  The documentary dealt with, among other things, the poli­tical climate in the U.S. that led to Pete and Charlotte leaving this country and eventually winding up in Tanzania; the cultural and other adjustments they've made; the fact that they've continued the work of community service, which was a vital component of what the Panther was; etc.  We also learn from "A Panther in Africa" that another for­mer Panther, Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt, and his wife arrived in Tanzania and have taken up residence there. 

What all this has to do with the title of this book of my poems, "The Black Panther Is an African Cat," is that, like Pete and Charlotte, i have journeyed to the Motherland.  But being locked up in this Nebra­ska prison, i haven't been able to get to Africa physically.  My modes of transportation have been books and other printed materials, filmed/taped documentaries, conversations, my own contemplations, etc. This has been and continues to be an on-going journey for me.  The poems and raps i selected for this book express what it means to me to be an African and how the meaning of this influences how i see and interpret things.  At the same time, though, i’m an African who was born and brought up in the U.S. and continues to be influenced by its institutions, and i’m an African who’s been locked up for nearly 35 years.  These poems and raps are expressive of and generated by all of this.  

I began writing poems when i was 18, as i recall, and have been locked up since i was 22.  Most of the poems and raps in this collection were written in the past 10 years or so.  "The White Sea" is a poem i wrote in '69 or '70, before the case came down.  It is included because i wrote it while i thought of us as "black," while i was in the Party, and while i was still on the street.  It's also included because it's a poem that wound up, for me, being prophetic.

The 'Critical Aclaim', Lennox Hinds’ introduction, and four new poems [When “All” Doesn’t Mean Everyone, Camouflage, Who’s Fooling Who, and Man From The Village], have been added to this second edition.

These poems and raps, for the most part, require no explanations.  In a few cases though, i've added notes to define or clarify words that either aren't in common use or that are from African languages.  Where it seemed important for poems to be seen in specific historical con­texts, i've added notes as to time periods and/or historical events.  

Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa (formerly, David Rice)