Inner Michael » Part 6 of 8 Black or White: Short film the Black Panthers

Part 6 of 8 Black or White: Short film the Black Panthers

An aura that is difficult to describe permeated the nineteen sixties; it was a “spirit” that was very tangible and constituted a movement that was very much one of those evolutionary leaps that pushes the race (human) forward and enlightens a culture. While the leap is similar to the one we are experiencing now, the feel of it was a little different—more bold and more emphatic somehow. And a lot more militant with greater civil disobedience.

There was a window of time that began in 1966 and was actually called “The Spirit of 66.” Those who were graduating from high school and making their way out into the world in 1966 did not face a very bright future. They had already been traumatized by the assassination of their president when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot down in Dallas in 1963; the war in Southeast Asia was in full swing with an additional 8,000 troops sent that January for a total of half a million troops in Viet Nam.

Male graduates were facing the draft with notices to report for boot camp with later shipment to the front in Viet Nam. Two years later this generation would face yet another Kennedy assassination—Robert F. Kennedy and the murder of Martin Luther King. The Beatles were the hottest musical group, along with the Beach Boys and Rolling Stones.  Simon and Garfunkel would release an anthem song in 1966—“Sound of Silence” whose lyrics are reminiscent to me, of a blueprint for the set design of the later produced Billie Jean video. That same year China launched the Cultural Revolution and began to purge intellectuals, Ronald Reagan became Governor of California, the Berlin Wall which was still standing saw 4 people tunnel underneath to escape East Germany, and race riots erupted in Atlanta in an America still very much divided and plagued by tensions in race relations.

“Black Power” was born in 1966 and became the mantra and political cry of Black Americans who grew weary and angry at being deprived of their civil rights. And in that same time period, the Black Panther Party was formed and for the first time black, impoverished and disenfranchised urban America gained a voice. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the party in Oakland, California and its’ message “Power to the People” echoed across a nation ushering in a new epoch whose theme was to unite a battered and confused people in an extremely tumultuous time. It became the most powerful cultural reform movement since the Revolution of 1776.

The Black Panther Party was the only organization in the history of the struggle of black people against slavery and oppression in the United States and was the last great thrust toward racial equality, justice and freedom. It was considered militant by the establishment and was criticized and viewed as so threatening and controversial that FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover called it the “greatest threat to the internal security of the United States.”

There was a “code” or certain signals that indicated solidarity for the black power movement– the most visible were the clenched fist and the “Afro” hairstyle. The Afro, popular in the late sixties through the seventies was considered “hip” or trendy by blacks and was even adopted by whites. It was more than a fashion statement; it was a political statement and a kind of badge that identified the individual as someone sympathetic with the movement toward integreation and racial equality.  The Jackson Five all adopted the Afro hairstyle which signaled their solidarity with Black pride. The clenched fist was a signal for “Black Power” or power to the people. It could be interpreted as solidarity with racial equity but at times was seen as a threat or insult. During the 1968 Olympics, two medal- winning athletes gave the Black Power salute and were expelled from the games, ostracized by peers and criticized by the press. The backlash was severe and immediate. It wasn’t until 40 years later that the courage of the athletes, including their white sympathizer colleague would be recognized and eventually revered in a scultpure.

Michael was a boy in those days but spent time in the company of older brothers who were also immersed in the racial equality battle– growing up in the middle of it. The  undercurrent at that time really was one of urban guerilla warfare with the FBI doing everything to undermine and disband the Black Panther organization that was founded on the philosophy of Malcolm X, a Muslim Minister who preached black pride and self reliance. The FBI set out to dismantle the party and all similar organizations with surgical assassinations where the homes of prominent leaders are raided and members shot dead by agents. In one case, a young boy of 17, Bobby Hutton was killed by a spray of bullets when he ran out of his home with his hands up after his house was set on fire. There are those who have chronicled the influx of illegal drugs in the black neighborhoods and attribute its spread and the devastating effects to the handiwork of the FBI and CIA. It was urban warfare at its’ ugliest and nobody was immune. The establishment meant to decapitate and dismember any power structures associated with African Americans. The history of those years is not pretty and is a smear on the face of the history of America. Much of it has been purged from the record and downplayed because no officials or police officers were convicted and America’s courtrooms seemingly took a vacation from justice for members of the Black Panther party.

Sympathizers joined, leaders left the country and membership swelled for a time. The FBI is alleged to have instituted a propaganda campaign to flush out leaders and dismantle the power structure of the Black Panthers. Eventually its’ decapitation was successful and without leadership, the party dwindled and died. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was a force to be feared in America and Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Reagan were not friendly or supportive of youth. The “establishment” which was the mature, settled, and pacifist generation was appalled at the youth who were tired of the apathy, complacency and puritanical beliefs of their elders. The youth were ready for revolution. Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” was a subliminal billboard for that revolution.

Michael Jackson’s reference to and inclusion of a black panther in “Black or White” is no accident. His merging with the animal is not just a statement of solidarity but merging with one’s power animal in the way of the shaman, amplifies the power of the animal, its’ spirit and its’ characteristics. Shaman learned to merge with their animals by dancing the animal into their bones and that is precisely what Michael Jackson does in this video—he dances the panther, shamanically merges with the cat, becomes the feline and demonstrates its characteristics and its’ power.

Shaman Michael takes on the animal’s “primitive and animalistic” characteristics and also merges simultaneously with the spirit of the Black Panther Party. Genius! He embodies and demonstrates the silent rage imprisoned in many black people because of how the Black Panther movement went and the deliberate violent handling of the movement by the government.

Black or White was released simultaneously all over the globe—appearing in 27 countries to 500 million viewers. Adult viewers were shocked and the last four minutes of the panther dance were censored and cut. Michael later would apologize and give interviews saying that he didn’t mean to incite violence. He would explain it all away including the intentional challenge to the establishment and its puritanical attitude toward expose` and sensuality. He would later add racial slurs to the glass of the automobile and shop windows to justify the violence to a general audience.

Michael performs auto-erotic dance steps, lands in water which is archetypal-speak for sexuality, and would show a suggestive close-up of his groin and hand and he would stop and deliberately and ceremoniously zip his fly. That is a direct message of power- black sexuality, procreation and black power. It is a statement against the characterization of black men, a protest against castration and lynching of black males, a reference to black power and the panthers. In one single gesture he said it all and he communicated to youth around the world and to those who could crack the code in his message.

The stodgy, puritanical and racist establishment would immediately come after him and declare his video shocking, violent and inappropriate and deserving of censorship. By that time it was too late. The message had been delivered around the world—to every corner of the globe. And tongues were wagging. “Michael Jackson,” “Black or White’” was on everybody’s lips; the whole world was talking about it because they were shocked, surprised or delighted. He would say later in his apology that he didn’t mean to offend anyone he only meant to interpret for his audience, the animalistic nature of the panther.

I don’t believe him.

Next: The Panther Dance


  1. Joslyn said . . .

    I had never read any of those things in the Black or White video. But I’m like you about the apology. ;D I don’t believe him either.

    Posted April 29, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Permalink
  2. Heidi said . . .

    RULE # 1: FIRST, GET THEIR ATTENTION. Everything Michael said and did was multi-leveled, multidimensional. If you wanted to just be entertained, great. If the message moved you to action, better still. And if you had “ears to hear” and you finally WOKE UP, THAT was the point. I thank him.

    Posted April 29, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Permalink
  3. Robbie M said . . .

    I suspect he always knew he would have only one chance to get his message out there before the establishment censors moved in on him. The man was a genius, pure and simple! Black pride and black power delivered with grace and elegance. Enough said.

    Posted April 30, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Permalink
  4. Sue Springer said . . .

    Rev. B, thank you for this series. I have learned so much more about shamanism — on a deeper level than I have explored before, which is wonderful. I agree with you on the apology, but would take it a bit further. Consider that the apology itself was also another message — a message about the mere need for the apology and the large segment of the establishment that demanded it — the message being the awareness that bigotry was not limited to only a few power mongers, but to a great segment of society, that it was pervasive and often exhibited by people who would not otherwise have believed it of themselves. Michael was not only teaching us of the bigotry that existed, but teaching us to broaden our perspectives, that discrimination is not always overt, but often insidiously veiled in perceptions of stereotypical beliefs. He knew there would be controversy, and I firmly believe he had the response planned. This bringer of light was a master of metaphor, but for those of us who cannot see — if you cannot understand that subtle, metaphorical approach — he made it clearer, by telling us he was not interested in offending anyone, but he would now clearly title the things that we should all be interested in destroying — the false and sterotypical and hateful labels we give each other based on race and religion, etc., and naming on the windows he destoyed in the film the things that need to be faced in each one of us — bigotry, hatred, greed and unchecked power. Sheer genius. Again, thank you. Love and peace, sue.

    Posted April 30, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Permalink
  5. gertrude said . . .

    I believe he meant to awaken more than offend, and he SURE DID interpret the ANIMA-listic nature of the panther. I quote you Barbara: “The panther is a powerful ally. It is a yin [ANIMA] figure or divine feminine having to do with procreation, gestation, life, death and rebirth. The panther represents a wild unleashed force that is mysterious, lunar, magical and heroic. When a man embraces and incorporates his feminine side (yin/anima) he becomes less polarized and more whole and thus, more powerful.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. I couldn’t have said it at all of course, because until you wrote this I didn’t know it. You two geniuses really make me smile. I believe Michael was clearly a target of attacks just like the Panthers you speak of above. How terrified the forces of evil, as Tom Mesereau calls them, must have been that one of the most beloved people on the planet was this BLACK messenger. Was Michael too powerful an ally, too powerful a Panther, for us to be allowed to keep him?

    Posted May 1, 2011 at 2:04 am | Permalink
  6. sam said . . .

    Having been a child of the 60’s-70’s era I read much about the Black Panthers in the news. I hate to admit it took sometime for me to make that conection to the Black or White video. Iit starts out kind of as a comedy with great singing and dancing… then you start to pay attention to the words… then to end with the panther. Michael, I’m guessing, was in his early 20’s. To be able to send a message so cleverly hidden in plain site is beyond amazing. I’m sure many of a certain age and especially black people made the connection but this is the first time I have seen this in print from anyone.

    Posted May 11, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Permalink
  7. Kim said . . .

    I’m still reading through the series, but I’ll just say…”Brilliant and Bravo Michael.” Thank you Rev. Barbara for teaching us once again.

    Posted May 25, 2011 at 1:57 am | Permalink
  8. IVAN said . . .

    los admiro

    Posted October 12, 2011 at 6:18 am | Permalink
  9. pierre crawford said . . .

    black power

    Posted October 11, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink
  10. Veronique said . . .

    Barbra, I’ve seen MJ make the bald fist several times like in the trial picture you have up of him. Does the bald fist mean ‘black power’?

    Posted November 4, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink
  11. B. Kaufmann said . . .

    Hello V. The raised fist has always been “the power fist.” It is an icon and considered iconic in graphic art. It is the symbol for “solidarity” and “resistance” and is a non-verbal “recruitment” or “call to action” or “call for solidarity.” It has been used by unions, by feminists (with a cross- female gender symbol), but in the sixties and seventies, it absolutely came to mean “black power.” It was a symbol for the Black Panthers. In 1968, two winning Olympic athletes gave the raised fist “black power salute” through the national anthem as they took their places and were recognized for their achievements. It was the first and “loudest” political statement by an Olympic athlete. They were criticized for it and even received death threats when returning home.

    Michael had a variation on it though- he rarely “raised” his fist in a full black power salute. He often held the fist sideways and perpendicular to the ground. So in that respect, I think he disguised it a little so as not to inflame or incite violence but to attempt to broaden the symbol to mean “human rights. But yes, I believe that is part of and exactly what he meant. Michael Jackson was very aware of his ethnic history.

    Here’s an article about its history that shows some variations: :

    Posted November 4, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

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