During the years when I worked closely with the Black Panther Party and its leadership, in its revolutionary days in the 1960s, when there were discussions, and at times disagreements, they did not say to me: “Who are you, as a white man, to talk about the liberation of Black people and revolution—who are you to disagree with us about this?” No—things were never based on “identity,” but on what was true and not true. That’s what we were all trying to figure out.
This was the case when I first encountered Huey Newton, at an African-American cultural program in Oakland (he approached me and said, “Who are you, Socrates?”—and this led to a back-and-forth about revolution: was it needed, and could this revolution actually be made?). The same was true of later discussions I had with Huey, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver and other leaders of the Black Panther Party: always the basis and standard was what was true and not true, never what “identity” someone was.
What we were grappling with was how to radically change the world in an emancipating way—not how to carve out a “niche” for ourselves, or how to tear down some other people and climb over them to get a better position for ourselves, in this terrible world as it is, under the domination of this system of capitalism-imperialism.
This is what everyone who cares about the oppressed of the earth and the future of humanity should be grappling with, on the basis of principle and integrity—not the hucksterism and hustling of those seeking to turn “identity” into capital.