Black Power and Rock n Roll: Black History for Dangerous Americans

History is fucking boring in this country and sadly, Black history is far from the exception that proves the rule. According to the straight white corporate guardians of Black History Month Incorporated, It’s all pacifism and peanut butter. The entirety of 500 years of anti-colonialist struggle has been lumped into a 28-day infomercial for the resilience of the American experiment. We are all led to believe that when not engaged in providing their masters with mind-blowing new sandwich spreads, Black people or rather African Americans spent the lion’s share of their free time sitting on their hands and singing “We Shall Overcome” until the police state, in all of its benevolent wisdom, grew tired of clubbing these patient bible thumpers over the head and finally awarded them with the consolation prize of civil rights, chief among them being the right to freely engage in what the slave trade declared democracy.

Is it really any wonder that kids are so fucking bored. Just writing that last paragraph makes me want to erase myself with whippets and Benadryl. This is no mistake. History wasn’t written by the victors. It’s written by rich assholes who are heavily invested in convincing poor people that they’ve already won. If people in this nation knew the first thing about its real history not only would they be excited, they would be downright pissed off. The people who run this country are the most disgusting, lazy, pigfucking pond scum that has ever accumulated on Satan’s balls, and they always have been. George Washington was a coward, Thomas Jefferson was a rapist and Abraham Lincoln could have cared less about freeing the slaves. Assholes, one and all. The real heroes are the unruly renegades who they needed to build entire armies to kill, and an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of those fine renegades were people of color with attitude.

Black history is chock full of uppity negroes and negras who kicked their master’s pale ass until it was blacker than theirs before giving their indentured wives the first real orgasm of their miserable lives. Black history has to be rendered boring as fuck because otherwise, people might actually take enough time to figure out that it is a history defined by an ongoing populist revolt against the mind-numbing conformity of WASP supremacy and that what it has to teach us applies to every shade of pissed-off lower class scum. Lenin once observed that if America is to ever have a revolutionary class, it will be the negro. He wasn’t wrong, but as usual, that asshole was a day late and a ruble short.

Black folk have always been America’s most revolutionary class because no class has ever done so much fucking damage with so little ammunition. Black history, real fucking Black history, is a gift to everyone who has ever been fucked over in this country, by this country, and the greatest and naturally least understood gifts of real fucking Black history are Black Power and Rock n Roll. Two ingredients when properly applied provide the collective fucked-over class with everything we need to build a bomb big enough to bring this prison state to the ground where we can kick its ass with our bare feet.

The fact that most Americans don’t understand the first thing about Black Power is hardly shocking when you consider the fact that most Americans don’t understand the first thing about race and the first thing about race is that it’s all bullshit. It’s a bunch of crap created to destroy the unity of class and the diversity of ethnicity. Black and white weren’t even widely embraced concepts until the late 17th century. Before then, America wasn’t so much a melting pot as it was a disorganized gumbo of different kinds of servants; African servants, Irish servants, German servants, all getting whooped and bamboozled by the same master class of cousin-fucking English noblemen until they could be properly assimilated long enough to pay off their debts, learn their place and praise Angloid Jesus. Then they could become servant-whooping noblemen too.

This all changed with Bacon’s Rebellion when a disgruntled tycoon named Nathaniel Bacon decided that he wanted a bigger slice of the colonial pie and gathered an army of African and European servants to take it by force. But what Bacon really did was arm and organize Colonial Virginia’s poorest subjects while inadvertently giving them a license to challenge the state’s monopoly on the use of force. Long after Bacon dropped dead of fever, the English planter class remained haunted by visions of multi-ethnic peasants united by a shared lust to burn their precious capital of Jamestown to the ground. So, the aristocracy adopted the rigid legal caste system of Black and white. All Africans became a permanent slave class and most European Protestants were afforded the petty privilege of getting whooped less if they turned on their darker comrades and identified with their masters. This same formula was later tweaked and used to assimilate other slave classes into the melting pot of whiteness in order to make sure that they maintained the majority indefinitely.

Plenty of renegades of all different ethnicities, from the Seminole Nation to Saint Patrick’s Battalion, challenged this concept over the years but it wasn’t until the Civil Rights Movement broke bad that this resistance was finally crystalized into a movement that continues to threaten the very fabric of the system to this day. Stokely Carmicheal was a young negro organizer who spent the first half of the sixties as the hardest-working man in the Civil Rights Movement. Between the years of 1960 and 1965, Stokely played a major hand in nearly every major civil rights demonstration across the South but by the time he reached the top of the movement as the head of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, Stokely was tired. He was tired of seeing his friends get chewed on by German shepherds. He was tired of being polite to the white establishment. He was tired of being a negro. So, Stokely made a conscious decision to be Black and make Black beautiful.

Carmicheal first coined the term Black Power during a Mississippi rally in 1966 but he didn’t turn this slogan into a full-blown movement until he published the groundbreaking manifesto Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America a year later. In this fiery treatise Stokely officially rejected the then vogue label of negro as an attempt to Americanize the culture of the African diaspora and curry favor with a system designed to destroy it. Instead, Stokely chose to embrace the original white supremacist slur of Black because the colonialists had adopted this word specifically to differentiate African people from the master class and Stokely wanted to do the exact same thing.

Black Power masterfully pointed out that everything that made Africans so dangerous to the system was precisely what made them strong. They were a fierce, communal, resourceful people who weren’t fooled by the empty materialism of mass capitalism. Stokely dared his people to embrace what made them dangerous and in the process, he managed to hijack race itself, a social construct built on oppression, and transformed it into a social construct defined by resistance. Stokely Carmichael weaponized identity politics and fed-up Black folks weren’t the only ones listening.

Following in the footsteps laid down by Carmichael, who subsequently adopted the African name of Kwame Ture, and his brothers in the Black Panther Party, movements aiming to repossess their own oppressive castes popped up across the country like daisies on Lincoln’s grave. Soon there was a united coalition of American Indian tribes occupying federally stolen land and shouting Red Power with rifles in their hands. The brown people that the border crossed became Chicanos and pissed-off perverts like me became Queer.

We all built our own little tribes and the tribes just kept getting smaller, but we were all united by the fact that each of us had been fucked over by the white power system in our own way and we were all through with asking these motherfuckers for table scraps. We didn’t want inclusion into their sick system. We wanted autonomy so each of our communities could have the power to create our own systems, a tribal confederation of freaks made equal by the flames of Jamestown that we danced around naked like merry savages, and Kwame Ture and the Panthers were the human giants who gave us the license to burn.

But Black people didn’t stop at liberating other minorities. They liberated white kids too and they did it with an electric guitar. A lot of people forget how badly America fucking sucked after World War 2. After taking credit for beating the Nazis and pulling itself out of the grave it dug for itself with the Great Depression, American capitalism took a gray flannel victory lap during the late 40s and early 50s. It was a time of abundance for white folks when every nuclear family had an identical box in the suburbs with a white picket cell door and a new car in the garage. Every wife also had a stove to be shackled to with a steady supply of Valium to keep her in line. Every man had a socially respectable drinking problem to carry him through the empty death march of his 9-to-5 job. And every child had a stable two-parent example of how empty assimilating into a globalized master race really is.

Then came Rock n Roll, a wild electric hybrid of Black rhythm and blues and redneck hillbilly music named after a slang term for fucking and that is precisely what Rock n Roll was all about. During an age of unparalleled puritanical subjugation, unrepentant perverts like Chuck Berry and Little Richard were hooting and hollering about big Black dicks and the joys of anal sex while inviting everyone to get busy to their racket. When Chuck was riding his Stratocaster like a forty-watt strap-on or Richard was beating his piano like the bitch owned him money, nobody gave a flying fuck about what the rules were. They were all too busy getting down and more often than not, white kids were getting down with Black kids.

The establishment was terrified. They tried everything; censorship, segregation, Pat Boone, even good old-fashioned violence, nothing worked. Major labels refused to record this noise, but kids just bought it from Jewish mom-and-pop operations instead. Cops tried dividing audiences by color with lynching ropes, but once the music got started, the crowds got too wild to police. Finally, the establishment had to pull out their trusty last resort card by assimilating Rock n Roll into the hive mind by having watered-down honkies like Elvis turn it into something more palatable to the conformist diet, but the genie was already out of the bottle and every generation of grumpy parents continues to fight the losing battle of trying to push it back in.

There is a direct line from Chuck Berry to the man who inspired me to write, Kurt Cobain. Punk rock has always been a populist attempt by weird kids of every color to revive the undomesticated wilderness of uncut Rock n Roll. Lou Reed wanted to write R&B songs for dope fiends and faggots. Iggy Pop learned how to stalk the stage like a panther by watching James Brown flip the fuck out. Joey Ramone was just a lonely Jewish kid from Queens inspired to form a gang in the form of a band by a couple of Black girls from Harlem named the Ronettes. And when the establishment came to transform this feral noise into commercial garbage called new wave, four inner-city Rastafarians from DC blew it the fuck up by creating hardcore, with the Bad Brains playing faster, louder, and wilder than any white kid with a pink mohawk had ever thought possible. This shit is my history and it’s fucking Black history.

Black Power taught us all that we have the power to define our own identities and Rock n Roll pointed out that you don’t have to be dark and/or Queer to be oppressed. White privilege is a gilded prison cell that only keeps you safe as long as you keep it down and know your place. It is a form of domestication that is abusive even to the people on the highest floors of the panopticon. Chuck Berry told miserable American kids that they don’t have to be white as long as they were willing to be dangerous and Kwame Ture taught us that there is power in being dangerous. This is the Black history that they don’t want you to know about and this is the history that we all need to celebrate year-round if we ever want to get free.

Nicky Reid is an agoraphobic anarcho-genderqueer gonzo blogger from Central Pennsylvania and assistant editor for Attack the System. You can find her online at Exile in Happy Valley.