Mark Francis Cohen’s discussion of the Malik Zulu Shabazz-led D.C. chapter of the New Black Panther Party (“Black Power,” 1/19) is obviously tainted (agendum: subtly portray Shabazz and his followers as misguided, irrational, unorganized, racist, conspiracy-theory-oriented Black Nationalists) and ignorant of the ways American racism operates at all levels of social construction and everyday life in the United Statesincluding his own ill-considered narration. To present/dismiss Shabazz’s race-conscious (occasionally racist) rhetoric as “conspiracy theory” and isolate these ideas solely with Shabazz and the new Black Panther Party, when many other, not-so-controversial folks feel the same way, demonstrates a fundamental lack of sense and simply invalidates Cohen as one who can responsibly report on American race relations, particularly the philosophy of the New Black Panther Party.
Contrary to Cohen’s rigid, textbook definition of gentrification as class-based, Shabazz is correct in viewing the gentrification of D.C. in racial terms and in understanding this process as unjust and destructive toward African-Americans. How can Cohen separate race and economics in defining gentrification? Has he forgotten how these two inseparable forces propelled slave society and still operate in the socioeconomics of contemporary America? Anyone familiar with the most elementary sociological studies of urbanism and race/ethnicity in this country would be able to understand and sympathize with Shabazz’s battle to preserve what African-American property and cultural/material capital has not yet been stolen or taken over by white Americans. For Cohen, attempting to organize against white-supremacist racism and exploitation (a lethal mix of hate and disrespect, greed and thievery)the goal of the New Black Panther Partyis understood to be reactionary politics and the social-psychological pathologies of conspiracy theorists. Was Cohen born in the United Statesthis unjust, racist landor has he just failed to learn about the ubiquitous white-on-black racism that continues, day after day, to hamper American race relations and tarnish U.S. history?
If the Washington City Paper seriously wanted a revealing and truthful story on the New Black Panther Party, why choose a cynically paralyzed white writer who would be denied access to Panther meetings and other “insider” information from the get-go?