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Black Against Black: The Agony of Panthermania

Out of habit, William goes to the window to check the street. He turns with a protective afterthought.

"This is their thinkin'. I'm not saying it's absolutely my thinkin'. But I can kinda pass on their feelin'."

Middle-class black parents are in the same spot as the white liberal parent who wakes up to find a probable bomber in his child's bed. It is the reactions that are different. The fears and agonies of the black parent must be kept private, because the fear of white retaliation is greater. Sometimes mixed with vague hopes, but more often with convictions born of experience that the price is too high, the torn loyalties of sisters, brothers and friends of black revolutionaries are not made public. They are no less vehement. It's just that the white majority, hearing little about them, generally assumes these feelings don't exist.

William, who would not think of invading his son's sanctuary, excuses himself to get something upstairs. "Don't want you to think I'm passive," he says. With good humor William has shown us his home and tulips and his dead wife's oil paintings, but now he returns with a resolute bearing. Laid flat in his palm is a .38 caliber pistol.

"Do you have that on you all the time?"

"Yes. I wouldn't provoke anything. I'd never use it with troopers around. But if I felt I'd been taken advantage of—" William hesitates—"you can't feel safe here these days. If I had to use it, I would."

". . . Junius thinks Abbie Hoffman is a bourgeois basket case, a paper Yippie . . ."

Tip-tick, tip-tick. It is a rather wimpy sound after all, coming from Junius. This is no giant phallic blast of gunfire. It is beyond the crazed-ego, low-IQ homicide, beyond even the higher-status self-inflicted violence of shooting oneself with a needleful of smack. These are small, steady cerebral shots, marking time to the knots Junius is untying in his mind. But one is easily fooled by Junius, as he has been fooled all his life.

They told me I was stupid in first grade. OK, I'm stupid, so I won't do anything. I didn't know about race and racism. Most of the kids at grammar school were white. One day in front of the class my first grade teacher said, "I don't like your tie because it's black." I said, "I don't like you." He said, "I don't like you or the color of your tie." Then all the kids repeated after the teacher, "We don't like black." So I came to believe when I was six years old that black was an ugly color.

They put me into the stupid class to learn reading. Then I began to see the racial discrimination in school, the caste system of tracking and channeling. The way I knew was that the smartest kid in the class was white and had blue eyes and blond hair. I think she was stupid. But the ones put into the stupid groups were black children and white working-class students. Automatically assumed to be stupid. If one of the other kind was put in a remedial group, the mother would be down at school the next day yelling, "Why is my kid in a stupid class?"

I knew I had some high potential. Based on my first Otis test in grade school, they gave me an IQ of 96.

I was re-tested later and came out with an IQ of 110.

Now at prep school they tell me I'm exceptional.

Junius is taking care these days to use his bright smile as little as possible. He prefers to look down and then abruptly up with burning eyes—which takes his listener through The Shift. This is the point known to youngsters when one shifts from being Negro to being black. The Shift is a gear-grinder. Every day the gears slip a little and while Junius is fighting to regain control, he hides behind a crazy act.

This year the prep school psychiatrist went into Junius' head and came out with the neatly printed report that lies on the coffee table.

"Junius is an exceptional student, though he tested only adequately the first time. He will probably remain at average level with his peers through prep school and only emerge thereafter. Now he has developed the defense of "acting crazy." He is not crazy at all but is down on himself and searching for figures to believe in. Junius has a history of throwing himself into things 100 per cent. Intense, able to deal with complicated abstract thoughts, he then slips into confusion. His artistic outlet is very important.

"My son and I was talking yesterday about John Huggins," William mentions, "and why he got killed. The way Junius was runnin' it down to me, there's two factions. The reactionary Black Nationalists who want a separate colony and don't believe in organizing with the white revolutionaries. And the Panthers, who do. Well now the Black Nationalists are killing all these Panthers, like John Huggins, and gettin' away with murder—"


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