Stokely Carmichael on Black Power

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Stokely Carmichael on Black Power
The concept of “black power” is not a recent or isolated phenomenon: It has grown out of the ferment of agitation and activity by different people and organizations in many black communities over the years. Our last year of work in Alabama added a new concrete possibility. In Lowndes County, for example, black power will mean that if a Negro is elected sheriff, he can end police brutality. If a black man is elected tax assessor, he can collect and channel funds for the building of better roads and schools serving black people – thus advancing the move from political power into the economic arena. In such areas as Lowndes, where black men have a majority, they will attempt to use it to exercise control. This is what they seek: control. Where Negroes lack a majority, black power means proper representation and sharing of control. It means the creation of power bases from which black people can work to change statewide or nationwide patterns of oppression through pressure from strength – instead of weakness…
Ultimately, the economic foundations of this country must be shaken if black people are to control their lives. Black people in the United States have a colonial relationship to the larger society… Politically, decisions which affect black lives, have always been made by white people… [Economically], exploiters come into the ghetto from outside, bleed it dry, and leave it economically dependent on the larger society… [T]hese exploiters frequently come as the “friend of the Negro,” pretending to offer worthwhile goods and services, when their basic motivation is personal profit… The colonies of the United States – and this includes the black ghettoes within its borders, north and south – must be liberated... This pattern must be broken. As its grip loosens here and there around the world, the hopes of black Americans become more realistic. For racism to die, a totally different America must be born.1
White America will not face the problem of color, the reality of it. The well-intended say: “We’re all human, everybody is really decent, we must forget color.” But color cannot be “forgotten” until its weight is recognized and dealt with. White America will not acknowledge that the ways in which this country sees itself are contradicted by being black – and always have been… When the Lowndes County Freedom Organization chose the black panther as its symbol, it was christened by the press “the Black Panther Party” – but the Alabama Democratic Party, whose symbol is a rooster, has never been called the White Cock Party. No one ever talked about “white power” because power in this country is white. All this adds up to more than merely identifying a group phenomenon by some catchy name or adjective… The furor over “black power” reveals how deep racism runs and the great the fear which is attached to it. I have said that most liberal whites react to “black power” with the question, What about me?, rather than saying: Tell me what you want me to do and I’ll see if I can do it… One of the most disturbing things about all white supporters of the movement has been that they are afraid to go into their own communities – which is where the racism exists – and work to get rid of it. They want to run from Berkeley to tell us what to do in Mississippi; let them look instead at Berkeley. They admonish blacks to be nonviolent; let them preach nonviolence in the white community…
But our vision is not merely of a society in which all black men have enough to buy the good things of life. When we urge that black money go into black pockets, we mean the communal pocket. We want to see money go back into the community and used to benefit it. We want to see the cooperative concept applied in business and banking. We want to see black ghetto residents demand that an exploiting store keeper sell them, at minimal cost, a building or a shop that they will own and improve cooperatively; they can back their demand with a rent strike, or a boycott, and a community so unified behind them that no one else will move into the building or buy at the store. The society we seek to build among black people, then is not a capitalist one. It is a society in which the spirit of community and humanistic love prevail…

  • Stokely Carmichael, “What We Want,” September 22, 1966

Now several people have been upset because we’ve said that integration was irrelevant when initiated by blacks and that in fact it was a subterfuge, an insidious subterfuge for the maintenance of white supremacy. We maintain that in the past six years or so this country has been feeding us a thalidomide drug of integration, and that some Negroes have been walking down a dream street talking about sitting next to white people, and that that does not begin to solve the problem… When we went to Mississippi, …we went to get [white supremacists] out of our way, and people ought to understand that. We were never fighting for the right to integrate, we were fighting against white supremacy… According to [the advocates of integration], social justice will be accomplished by “integrating the Negro into the mainstream institutions of the society from which he has been traditionally excluded.” This concept is based on the assumption that there is nothing of value in the black community… The thing to do is siphon off the “acceptable” black people into the surrounding middle-class white community. The goals of integrationists are middle-class goals, articulated primarily by a small group of Negroes with middle class aspirations… Such people will state that they would prefer to be treated “only as individuals, not as Negroes”; that they “are not and should not be preoccupied with race.” This is a totally unrealistic position… [B]lack people have not suffered as individuals but as members of a group; therefore, their liberation lies in group action… [T]he concept of Black Power affirms that helping individual black people to solve their problems on an individual basis does little to alleviate the mass of black people.2

We are not gonna wait for white people to sanction black power. We’re tired of waiting. Every time black people move in this country, they’re forced to defend their position before they move. It’s time that the people who’re supposed to be defending their position do that. That’s white people. They ought to start defending themselves, as to why they have oppressed and exploited us… In order for America to really live on a basic principle of human relationships, a new society must be born. Racism must die, and the economic exploitation of this country, of non-white people around the world, must also die.
We’ve been saying that we cannot have white people working in the black community and we’ve based it on psychological grounds. The fact is that all black people often question whether or not they are equal to whites because every time they start to do something white people are around showing them how to do it. If we are going to eliminate that for the generations that come after us, then black people must be seen in positions of power doing and articulating for themselves… We have taken all the myths of this country and we’ve found them to be nothing but downright lies. This country told us that if we worked hard we would succeed, and if that were true we would own this country lock, stock and barrel. It is we who have picked the cotton for nothing; it is we who are the maids in the kitchens of liberal white people; …it is we who sweep up your college floors; yes, it is we who are the hardest working and the lowest paid… Black people are economically insecure. White liberals are economically secure. Can you begin an economic coalition? Are the liberals willing to share their salaries with the economically insecure black people who they so much love? Then if you’re not, are you willing to start building new institutions that will provide economic security for black people? That’s the question we want to deal with…
We are never going to get caught up with questions about power. This country knows what power is and knows it very well. And knows what black power is because it’s deprived black people of it for 400 years. So it knows what black power is. But the question is, why do white people in this country associate black power with violence? Because of their own inability to deal with blackness. If we had said Negro power, nobody would get scared. Everybody would support it. And if we said power for colored people, everybody would be for that. But it is the word “black,” it is the word “black” that bothers people in this country, and that’s their problem, not mine…
It is ironic to talk about civilization in this country. This country is uncivilized. It needs to be civilized. We must begin to raise those questions of civilization. What it is, and we’ll do it… We are on the move for our liberation. We have been tired of trying to prove things to white people. We are tired of trying to explain to white people that we’re not going to hurt them. We are concerned with getting the things we want, the things that we have to have to be able to function. The question is, can white people allow for that in this country? The question is, will white people overcome their racism and allow for that to happen in this country? If that does not happen, brothers and sisters, we have no choice, but to say very clearly, move on over, or we’re going to move on over you.

- Stokely Carmichael, “Black Power” speech at Berkeley, November 19, 1966

1 For clarification purposes, portions of this paragraph are quoted from: Carmichael, S. & Hamilton, C. V. (1967). Black power; the politics of liberation in America. New York,: Random House.

2 For clarification purposes, portions of this paragraph are quoted from: Carmichael, S. & Hamilton, C. V. (1967). Black power; the politics of liberation in America. New York,: Random House.

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