[Pnews] Rage, humiliation, testosterone, youth and the politics of liberation - Russell Maroon Shoats/z

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue May 30 10:38:57 EDT 2017


http://sfbayview.com/2017/05/russell-maroon-shoatz-rage-humiliation-testosterone-youth-and-the-politics-of-liberation/ 



  Rage, humiliation, testosterone, youth and the politics of liberation

May 29. 2017
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*/by Russell Maroon Shoats/z /*

Steve Bloom, a comrade and veteran activist, asked me several questions 
regarding my contribution to “Look for Me in the Whirlwind.” The 
questions delve into aspects of our political struggle against 
oppression back in the 1960s and ‘70s and are still pressing concerns.

*Steve*: Today, looking back almost 50 years, what do you think of the 
idea that in the 1960s “revolution had come” and it was “time to pick up 
the gun?” What is your present-day assessment of the choice by a wing of 
the Panthers and the BLA (Black Liberation Army) to engage in an armed 
offensive against the established state power in the USA, starting in 
the last half of the 1960s? What were the consequences? What was 
achieved? What failures or setbacks were suffered as a result? What 
balance sheet would you draw for us today?

What would you say to me today about the manner in which the Oakland 
Panthers chose to announce that decision to the world?

*Maroon*: From my vantage point as an individual who joined what Malcolm 
X defined as the struggle for human rights, 50 years ago, in 1967, I 
co-founded Philadelphia’s Black Unity Council, an organization that 
merged with Philly’s Panthers in 1969. That led to me being forced 
underground for a year and a half in the ranks of the BLA. Captured in 
1972, I have subsequently been a political prisoner, serving multiple 
“natural life” death-by-incarceration sentences due to my political 
activities.

My expressions here are of a deeply felt personal nature, but time, 
reflection and study has allowed me to recognize how our politics of the 
struggle for human rights, more often than not, is intertwined with 
rage, humiliation, testosterone (amongst males) and a youthful lack of 
clarity.

In my case, from the age of 5 until I was 34, I was consumed with a 
smoldering sense of rage, fed by feelings of humiliation.

I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1943 – my parents, my 
siblings and I in a mostly Black working class neighborhood known as 
“The Black Bottom.” Tiny row houses, treeless and narrow streets and 
trash clogged empty lots is what I most remember about my early years.

All symbols of power and authority there were white: white corner store 
owners, bill collectors, cops and later school teachers.

The only white family I knew of was the Pfifers, with their little girl 
who would beg for bread and their “crazy” son Paul.

At the same time, at 5 years of age, I had never heard anyone discuss 
anything in racial terms, or how white skin privilege operated to form 
my world.


      In my case, from the age of 5 until I was 34, I was consumed with
      a smoldering sense of rage, fed by feelings of humiliation.

Seared in my memory is an event that twisted my personality into knots 
for decades. Something I witnessed at the age of 5. My father and I were 
gazing out our tiny living room window, watching two white cops brutally 
beat and drag a Black man to their parked patrol car, directly across 
the narrow street from where we stood.

At that age, I had never witnessed such violence – not in our home or my 
small world of vacant, trash filled lots, alleyways or on the one lane 
streets that I was allowed to play on.

My emotions revolved around wide-eyed unasked questions that can be 
summed up in one word: Why? Though everything came back to that one 
word, my young mind really wanted to know why were those cops beating 
and using such loud, forceful sounding words against that guy?

Why was my father standing so still, while I peered up to see his 
reactions to what we were witnessing with my questioning eyes – that 
never caught his attention? Why were the neighbors, who I could see 
across the narrow street, all watching from their own doorways and 
windows and themselves as well seemingly frozen in their movements and 
not even talking loud enough to be heard through our open summer evening 
window?

I felt no fear, but my young mind could sense fear in my father and the 
neighbors. I just wanted someone to tell me why?!


      My emotions revolved around wide-eyed unasked questions that can
      be summed up in one word: Why?

Once the cops got the Black guy in their car, one of them turned and 
blurted: “Any of you other niggers want some of this?” And I saw our 
neighbors begin to shut their doors and withdraw from their windows, 
while my father took my hand and pulled me away from our window as well.

Right then, at the age of 5, I determined that what had occurred was 
wrong. And I also immediately passed judgment on my father and those 
neighbors: They were afraid to do anything about that wrong, and that 
caused me to lose respect for all of them.

Entering elementary school the following year marks another experience 
that added to the warping of my character.

During one of my first classes, I failed to follow a white female 
teacher’s instructions on some forgotten matter, and that caused her to 
sharply smack me across my face, and then force me into the cramped well 
beneath her desk, and I had to remain there for quite some time.

I had never been slapped or otherwise beaten. My parents did not believe 
in or practice beating their children, nor had I ever witnessed any 
fighting between the two of them. In fact, aside from the two cops 
beating of the Black guy the year before, the only violence I ever saw 
was during a rare trip to the movies; and our family, relatives or 
neighbors had no TVs to watch such things.

Thus, the slap stunned and confused me, causing me to start crying. Not 
from the pain, but from the frustrating realization that the teacher had 
displayed – like the two cops – that she also had the ability to 
exercise a power that was hard to resist.

My tears that day were from a powerless rage that even as a 6-year-old I 
knew was based in a deep feeling that something in the universe had to 
be out of place in order for me to be experiencing such emotions. A rage 
that I would harbor for decades to come, fed by a seemingly unending 
cavalcade of examples that I would face, or become aware that even my 
untutored mind had no problem in determining were simply wrong and 
unjust. A rage that for many years was misdirected.

In time, adding to my rage was my witnessing or learning of many other 
Black people suffering abuse in many ways. And my inability or efforts 
to resist such things caused me to expand the loss of respect for my 
father and neighbors into feelings of humiliation about myself and Black 
people in general.

And it is important to point out that once my family and neighbors began 
to rent, share and buy TVs in the early 1950s, the demeaning ways Blacks 
were depicted on the small screen: “Mammies,” buffoons and characters 
whose roles were designed to debase Blacks and afford whites a sense of 
inflated self-worth left me feeling more humiliated.


      In time, adding to my rage was my witnessing or learning of many
      other Black people suffering abuse in many ways.

Rage and humiliation fed on each other.

In my mind, Blacks were essentially cowards. I did not place myself in 
that category, but it subsequently provoked a decades-long quest to 
prove to myself and the entire world that I was justified in not placing 
myself amongst such cowards.

Along the way I ran into the gang culture of the middle 1950s. And from 
13 to 20 years of age, the gangs of Philly were my instrument and stage 
that facilitated my search for a form of recognition and a level of 
respect that could not be denied by anyone.

The young males who were in my gang and our counterparts in rival gangs 
were undoubtedly harboring similar feelings of rage and humiliation, 
though the fratricide amongst us left little time to reflect on such 
things. Our male dominated gangs were as testosterone driven as ancient 
gladiator arenas.

Unlike youth groups in better-off communities, our Black gangs never had 
any real adult guidance or supervision. We had our “old heads,” who were 
always older former gang members, but they too held firmly to the gang 
culture, and that never elevated beyond placing a premium on the search 
for recognition and respect – even after the old heads began devoting 
more time and energy to marriage and children.


      The young males who were in my gang and our counterparts in rival
      gangs were undoubtedly harboring similar feelings of rage and
      humiliation, though the fratricide amongst us left little time to
      reflect on such things.

In Philly, the young Black women of that era generally displayed less of 
a desire to try to keep up with the testosterone driven competition, 
though some did participate as a means to wrestle with their own 
feelings of rage and their humiliation that was compounded by the 
overarching cultural practices that were more oppressive and abusive 
towards women.

Malcolm’s “By any means necessary!” approach to the human rights 
struggle changed everything.

Adding a new approach to the heroic civil rights struggle that was based 
in the South, a primarily nonviolent effort that caused me to reexamine 
my belief about Blacks being cowards. Still, nonviolence held little 
appeal for many who saw Malcolm’s teachings as more suited to serving to 
rid us of our humiliation and redirect our rage away from our 
Black-on-Black violence: seeking both our humanity and ­political, 
economic and social changes.

Some said revolutionary change was needed. Followers of that doctrine 
emerged to form the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California – albeit 
earlier Black Panther formations were already in motion in the South, 
amongst the urban based Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and 
elsewhere. RAM, in particular, was heavily influenced by Robert F. 
Williams and his North Carolina NAACP chapter, who had practiced armed 
self-defense extensively in the 1950s and early 1960s.


      Malcolm’s “By any means necessary!” approach to the human rights
      struggle changed everything.

The coming together of the “any means necessary” doctrine and an ever 
increasingly political strata of young Black men, who were full of rage 
and feelings of humiliation, proved to be a powerful formula for 
recruiting Black youth who remained unmoved by the nonviolent methods of 
the early civil rights struggles.

It is very important to recognize that Black women also harbored 
feelings of rage and humiliation. Given the history of the USA, Black 
women had to be experiencing even more rage and humiliation than most 
Black men! And the already mentioned heroic civil rights struggles that 
had been taking place in the South propelled to the world’s attention 
the now iconic Rosa Parks, Gloria Richardson, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou 
Hamer and quite a larger number. And in the urban areas, untold numbers 
of lesser known women would populate and distinguish themselves, not 
only amongst the Black Panthers, but amongst the ranks and leadership of 
hundreds of forgotten formations.


      It is very important to recognize that Black women also harbored
      feelings of rage and humiliation.

Still, the testosterone-fueled men usually smothered or pushed to the 
background those female contributions, especially in the urban areas, 
which were essentially youth movements that allowed, encouraged and 
elevated the mystique of “the bad motherfucker.” At the same time, the 
women, who did more than their share to establish and sustain all these 
groups, placed more value on working to solve the mountain of problems 
and difficulties being given voice to.

The women’s closer connections to the children left them with little 
appetite for the usual “king of the mountain, last man standing” 
syndrome that the raging, testosterone “drunk” men were practicing. And 
unlike the Southern civil rights struggles, the urban youth in question 
lacked a mass of older people who they trusted, who could afford them 
with a wealth of learned experiences the leading urban youth could weigh 
while making important decisions.

Even on matters concerning armed self-defense, only practiced on the 
margins of the usual nonviolent Southern struggle, people like Robert F. 
Williams and the Deep South’s Deacons for Defense and some lesser known 
local formations had quite a number of professionally trained military 
veterans, who went forward to use their training to organize and lead 
the defense of the civil rights struggle against both the police and Ku 
Klux Klan. The urban formations only sporadically produced such 
effective armed self-defense.

After the Southern civil rights struggle succeeded in winning major 
reforms in voting rights, public accommodations etc., that arena of our 
struggle became preoccupied with consolidating those gains, while 
Malcolm’s human rights struggle evolved into the Black Power/Black 
Liberation struggle – revolutionary doctrines and political, economic 
and social programs that were almost always led by youthful Black urban men.

When I joined that urban struggle in 1967, rage, humiliation, 
testosterone, youth and politics had all come together, and I found a 
movement dominated by kindred spirits. Our philosophies, ideologies, 
doctrines, programs, strategies, tactics and practice were always 
overshadowed by those elements.


      When I joined that urban struggle in 1967, rage, humiliation,
      testosterone, youth and politics had all come together, and I
      found a movement dominated by kindred spirits.

We idolized Che Guevara, the Tupamaro urban guerrilla group of Uruguay; 
we doggedly held on to Mao Tse Tung’s quote, “Political power grows from 
a barrel of a gun.” We trained and practiced armed self-defense against 
the police, FBI and any others we believed were enemies. “The Mini 
Manual of Urban Guerrilla Warfare” and Panther Field Marshal Don Cox 
instructed on “Forming Self Defense Forces.” Later his urban guerrilla 
writings in his “For the Liberation of America” reached us from exile.

By 1971, not only the Panthers, but scores of other “bad motherfuckers” 
across the U.S. had taken on the police and FBI in defense of their 
offices, homes and persons. They robbed banks to fund the struggle, 
highjacked planes to seek exile in foreign countries, staged retaliatory 
attacks against the police drug suppression measures, escaped after 
capture, and developed an extensive and effective underground system 
that may never be properly exposed because of actions that could still 
endanger the freedom of many.

Malcolm X had been assassinated by then, but our actions paid homage to 
him for teaching us how to channel our rage and humiliation against 
those who were oppressing us.

The youthful male testosterone was stoked in other ways. Elaine Brown, 
who would become the only female to lead the Black Panther Party, made a 
record album where she crooned, “Believe it, my friend, for this silence 
to end, we’ll just have to get guns and be men.”

Before the Los Angeles Panther head Bunchy Carter was assassinated, he 
wrote a powerful poem for his mother that we reworked into an oath for 
new recruits: “If I should fall, weapon in hand, you’ll be free, and I a 
man. For a slave of natural death who dies cannot balance two dead 
flies. If I should fail to follow our goal, may burning cancer torment 
my soul.”

Those of us who went underground wound up on a “run and gun” mission, 
and that, coupled with our rage and humiliation, further distanced us 
from the political programs that kept us connected to the Black 
community. And since that community was not ready to join or adequately 
support our urban guerrilla activities, and our youthful minds could not 
find any way forward except more of what we were doing. Our fate was 
death, injury, prison or exile, and those who suffered those fates have 
still not been determined.

Freedom ain’t free!


      Those of us who went underground wound up on a “run and gun”
      mission, and that, coupled with our rage and humiliation, further
      distanced us from the political programs that kept us connected to
      the Black community.

We raged on. Every blow struck lessened our burden of suffering 
humiliation in silence. And those of us who survived found time to read 
“The Wretched of the Earth,” where the author and veteran of the 
Algerian war of national liberation in the 1950s and early 1960s, who 
was a psychiatrist who had a chance to study both sides of the conflict, 
discovered that often in liberation struggles the overarching political 
goals are sidetracked by the powerful needs of many amongst the 
oppressed to lash out against their oppressors in order to simply regain 
their feelings of being human.

In my case, I distinctly remember the exact moment that occurred with me 
– when I again started feeling fully human since suffering the trauma of 
a confused, defenseless 5-year-old, watching my father and our neighbors 
all being forced to stand by while the two white cops beat and arrested 
the Black guy, then hurl humiliating threats our way on departure.

After my 1972 capture, by 1976 I had been transferred to the state 
prison at Huntingdon due to unsuccessful escape attempts from two other 
prisons. Huntingdon at that time was known as the “breakin’ camp” 
because of its brutality. It was there in 1977 that four comrades and I 
took over a cell block, held the guards hostage, and then were able to 
escape into the surrounding mountains and forest of Central Pennsylvania.

To make a long story short, one comrade got trapped inside, another was 
killed on a mountainside, two others were captured that night, while I 
was chased through the mountains and woods for a month before being 
recaptured.

Once returned to the prison, I was viciously beaten and, since I had 
been beaten by guards previously and that was what they would do to try 
to break prisoners’ spirits “normally,” I expected as much.

Within a couple days I was taken outside the prison to a court hearing, 
and the police presence was so large, I suspected the different agencies 
and departments that had obviously come together after our initial 
escape and during the month long hunt were all trying to get in on “the 
picture,” as it were. And the press did show up in large numbers – 
reporters with their microphones, notebooks and cameras.

The court was a long way from Philly or Pittsburgh, where most of my 
family and supporters lived. Still I could see five of them surrounded 
by a lot of the cops and prison guards.

That hearing didn’t last long, and I was not allowed to say anything to 
my people, but was besieged by the press and gawking cops, while my 
handlers were frantically trying to force a way through the crowd to the 
waiting cars.

The reporters were firing questions my way, while I rummaged through my 
brain for something that would make an impact. My capture had forced me 
out of my run-and-gun posture, back into the political arena where words 
are weapons.

When the cops got to the cars, before they could get me secured inside, 
I turned and blurted as loud as I could: “Tell everybody the slave got 
caught and is going back to the plantation.” That caused the cops to 
slam me against the car they were forcing me into. Apparently, they were 
embarrassed by my continuing defiance, even after the epic, month-long 
chase through the mountains and words they no doubt hunted in. They 
thought a “nigger” from the city would head for the first fast food 
place to try to rob someone, get a burger, fries and coke, then head for 
the city, not come within a day or two of the “hunters” throwing in the 
towel.


      When the cops got to the cars, before they could get me secured
      inside, I turned and blurted as loud as I could: “Tell everybody
      the slave got caught and is going back to the plantation.”

Once back in the prison isolation cell, I began to ponder what had 
happened before, during and after my escape: my refusal to accept the 
natural life (death-by-incarceration) sentence, my earlier unsuccessful 
escape attempts, my growing awareness of how massive the search for me 
had been, and just how shook-up the angry cops and prison guards remained.

That’s when it happened! The humiliation I had been suffering all those 
years seemed to lift from my shoulders and land directly on that 
faceless mass of oppressors and authorities who were represented by the 
cops who packed my hearing, and who all had been out of their minds by 
how much it took to capture a single implacable rebel!

I stood up, out of earshot of anyone, and as loud as I could shouted: 
“That’s right. I’m a bad motherfucker!” Then I gently laughed to myself 
and lay down on my bunk with a “knowing” smile on my face.

The rage and humiliation simply disappeared. I had forced the world to 
recognize me as a human being; and I knew it.

Since then I have again felt rage at injustices and due to personal 
wrongs I’ve suffered. But the burning, overpowering rage never again 
returned.

I have also been forced into degrading and humiliating situations during 
decades of imprisonment since that time, but nothing has been able to 
take away the dignity I discovered as a human being, now knowing that I 
am as much as anyone, and more than most.


      The rage and humiliation simply disappeared. I had forced the
      world to recognize me as a human being; and I knew it.

I remain committed to the struggle for human rights for all of humanity. 
Since I’m wiser and understand more now, I can better weigh the 
socioeconomic and sociopolitical as well as the historic factors that 
preceded their formations. Absent the rage and not suffering the 
humiliation that once tormented me, I can better help formulate and 
carry out what is decided about the kinds of far reaching changes that 
are needed.

When I recognize rage in younger people, I understand how that can 
dominate their thinking. The same with the humiliation they cannot 
easily escape or avoid, while the testosterone and its ability to cause 
a hard to control exuberance amongst young males, in particular, are 
factors I advise others to always factor in while moving forward.


      I remain committed to the struggle for human rights for all of
      humanity.

My story is closer to what untold numbers of highly motivated 1960s and 
1970s “revolutionaries” usually don’t write about or discuss nowadays. 
And I believe I have answered comrade Steve Bloom’s earlier questions, 
if one sets aside the usual self-congratulatory narratives related to 
how the Black Panther Party, BLA and other related groups and formations 
served the communities, though they did do some of that as well.

Younger activists, and oppressed people in general, can benefit more 
from the veterans of the struggles from earlier generations working even 
closer than when our veterans spend so much time on fine tuning their 
ideological, philosophical positions and worldviews. The looming threats 
that could very well lead to the next 10 or 20 years!

Straight Ahead!

/Copyright © 2017 Pampata. Send our brother some love and light: Russell 
Maroon Shoats/z, AF-3855, SCI Graterford, P.O. Box 246, Rte 29, 
Graterford PA 19426./

-- 
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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