[Pnews] Rage, humiliation, testosterone, youth and the politics of liberation - Russell Maroon Shoats/z
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue May 30 10:38:57 EDT 2017
Rage, humiliation, testosterone, youth and the politics of liberation
May 29. 2017
*/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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
/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
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