IMAGES AND PUBLIC CULTURE: UNDERSTANDING IMAGES ACROSS THE HUMANITIES
Panthers in the Urban Jungle: Primitive Imagery and the Black Panther Party
URSULA MCTAGGART, English Department
Friday April 11th, 2 to 3:30 p.m.
Ernie Pyle Lounge, School of Journalism
Abstract: Today, when hip-hop artists reference a "black panther," listeners understand that they are speaking of the Black Panther Party. The "black panther" metaphor evokes associations with radicalism, not a history of racist representations of African-Americans. In 1966, when the Black Panther Party adopted the insignia, however, the reverse was the case. The panther had been associated with depictions of African-Americans as animalistic, exotic, and frightening. When they adopted the panther logo in conjunction with other imagery of an idealized, "primitive" Africa, the Black Panthers attempted to resignify some of the United States's most prevalent racialized metaphors. This presentation will trace the history of the panther image in American culture and its adoption by the Black Panther Party. In some cases, I will argue, the Black Panthers succeeded in re-writing racist tropes. In other cases, the organization simply allowed the viewing public to reinvigorate the racist primitivist tradition.