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Black Power

May 25, 2013

BPDefinition of ‘power’

Western use denotes negative meaning: ‘all power corrupts’ Lord Acton

Power involves relationship – power over people, power to use money &c.

Power has no existence on its own so cannot be good or evil – depends on uses to which it is put.

Power means having energy do something; resources eg. money, to do it with and knowledge of how to do it.

Can be power to create, to control, to lead.

Paul Tillich spoke of ‘The courage to be’ – power to be the person you are – cannot have this power if others have power to thwart you become who you are.

Gospel demands people be reconciled with one another.

Cannot be reconciled with another if not reconciled with yourself.

Self-alienation has grown out of rejection of black humanity, created ‘dominion over the created self’.

Humans made in the image of God – not facial likeness – word elsewhere is used of function – to be creative like God is.  God has given humans power to have dominion over earth’s resources.

So if humans do not have responsibility, they have been stripped of the power God wants them to have and have become non-persons.

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X both came to see, towards the end of their lives,  that white people are not intrinsically evil but that the problem is bigger, one of structure – the question is how to change the structures which inculcate misuse of power by white people.

A statement by Mathan Wright Jr. on black power as a religious opportunity.

Wright was a Northern Episcopalian whose input was theological.


He argued that to glorify God meant: ‘All of life must be clarified in this sense. It must be given and seen in that dimension which sets it forth in terms of glory…To see life as it truly is means to see it as God sees it, in its eternal dimension, in the glory appropriate to its involvement with and in the life of God.’


Aristotle declared that what a thing will be, that it is, whether it be horse or man.  All people need power to become.

Without power, life cannot become what it must be.


Therefore, institutions concerned with ultimate social ends must be power-producing enterprises. They must be or become enablers, facilitating human growth into self- direction toward its appointed flower and fulfilment.

Conversely any agency which promotes dependency warps the human condition and subverts the divine purpose of human growth.

A God of power and might who has made man to be in his own image must will that creation reflects his power. The cross lies at the centre of Christianity.  Pain is essential to growth.  A mother has to allow her adolescent pain to grow.


St. Augustine argued that marriage reflects the love of God. The more diverse a society is, the more a Christian should chose a partner who is more distant from him in race, class culture of nation, thereby reflecting the way God embraces diversity.

The early church’s worship was like a family, with the father at head of table. So the American church should reflect diversity.

Although the early church was hierarchical, it was a different hierarchy to that of the world outside – a pope could be black despite slavery in the Roman world.

Every American needs converting to the idea that America must be moved towards its destiny by developing and utilising the full potential of all

At the close of the Civil War, slaves were in factions, had been encouraged to tattle on one another and mistrust and hate each other.

Need financial help from whites to learn to organise.

White churches have been asked for financial injection into ghetto projects.

The first creed was ‘Jesus is Lord’ – that involves power

In Genesis, power was God’s  breath infused into the life of man.

Thus black power is a sign of God’s kingly rule.

Time and eternity are like two horizontal lines which are close enough to be in tension.  Instead of increasing progress, the kingdom of God always has to be worked at in each generation.  God saved Israel at Red Sea, saved Daniel &c.


Power is constituted by obedience to God who calls for justice and liberation

The world’s power is oppression, injustice, violence = pseudopower.

Whenever power resorts to violence it becomes powerlessness as it does not have God’s power behind it but is demonic.


The answer to the white power structure, to racism, degradation, humiliation, exploitation.

Innocence is a refusal to face reality which makes blacks apathetic.


Profound critic of black power – said it was ‘a cry of disappointment’ born from despair, a reaction to the failure of white power.

It calls the black people to amass their strength to achieve their legitimate goals.

It does not contrast with love – some say ‘love’ means you love your enemy so allow him to walk over you.

For King, ‘power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anaemic.  Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.’

Black Power is a ‘psychological call to manhood’

‘It is inaccurate to refer to Black Power as racism in reverse, as some have recently done.  Racism is a doctrine of the congenital inferiority and worthlessness of a people…..The major proponents of Black Power have never contended that the white man is innately worthless.’

However, Black Power born out of a belief that white society is irredeemable and change from within is impossible so calls for separatism.

In a multi-racial society different groups need each other.

The white minority who have fought with the blacks should not be excluded.

Retaliatory violence would be ineffective. Riots achieved nothing.

‘Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth…..Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.’

Idea that US blacks were part of 3rd world so would get help from there is ‘beyond the realm of serious discussion’

‘One of the greatest paradoxes of the Black Power movement is that it talks unceasingly about not imitating the values of white society, but in advocating violence it is imitating the worst, the most brutal, and the most uncivilised value of American life.’

‘Solving problems with violence has led the world inexorably to deeper confusion and chaos.’

Racism comes from hatred inside people and you do not eradicate hatred by being violent to someone.

‘…one day mankind will bow down before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and non-violent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land.  And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.  I still believe that we shall overcome.’  (Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech)

Committed to non-violence to the end – but he did not contrast it with violence – that was better than apathetic acceptance.



 Disagreement not about power but about violence

King believed call to violence means blacks can’t win; in fact non-violence is a no-win policy

King unable to distinguish between rebellion and revolution

Slave rebellions did not amass support because not organised, planned, without fire-power

Violence is quickest way to end racism – whites’ consciences not stirred much by knowing about injustice but will be when thousands of them get killed.

Black theologians ‘continue to be Martin Luther King’s children.  They are not Uncle Tom’s children by any stretch of the imagination, but neither are they Malcolm X’s children.’

‘It is the Cross which reveals war and revolution as the life-giving means to counter-act the misuse of freedom by men with absolute power who tend to use it irresponsibly to abridge the freedom of the powerless…..The Cross declares that a just war is as much a risk as an unjust peace, but no more so.’

‘Violence is the only way to power for good.  Every and any means is justified; if the end does not justify the means, nothing does.’

The most important task for Black Power is to ‘smash racism’ through revolution and so create a new humanity.

‘Following this venture, win, lose or draw, there will be a new America.’

Washington suggested that black ‘churches’ were not churches but religious ‘societies’ with limited aims; they needed integrating into the mainstream

On their own, they have no theology; merely a use of the bible to sanctify black hopes.

This view made him unpopular in black circles.


In replies to criticism that Black Power is just mirroring, copying white behaviour:

‘This is a deliberate and absurd lie.  There is no analogy – by any stretch of the definition or the imagination – between the advocates of Black Power and white racists. Racism is not merely exclusion on the basis of race but exclusion for the purpose of subjugating or maintaining subjugation…..The black people have not lynched whites, bombed their churches, murdered their children and manipulated laws and institutions to maintain oppression.  White racists have.’

‘Each time the black people saw Dr. Martin Luther King get slapped, they got angry. When they saw little black girls bombed to death in a church and civil rights workers ambushed and murdered, they were angrier; and when nothing happened, they were steaming mad.  We had nothing to offer that they could see, except to go out and be beaten again.’


‘Only the fear of your power to retaliate would cause them to…..’treat blacks properly.

black Muslim slogan: ‘Fight like hell with those who fight like hell against you, and the world of mankind will respect you as equals.’

Blacks will not get power in US by non-violence – In Africa they are the majority but in US they are a minority of 1/9th.

Christianity has statements like ‘Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow’  (Psalms).

Black is the colour of evil, white of righteousness.

‘The real reason that non-violence is considered to be a virtue in Negroes… that white men do not want their lives, their self-image, or their property threatened’


If whites had known that power, to be authentic, has to be shared, not used to exploit, then blacks would not have had to create their own power base.  Far from being powerlessness, it is clear, cool-minded realisation of the cultural, political and economic reality of contemporary society in which white power calls the tune.

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