because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Assata Shakur

After 500 years of hard core, unapologetic oppression by White people and a White Supremacist system, Black people in America were still, in the 1950's, experiencing the same brutality and exploitation they had suffered under for so long. Some Black folks made picket signs and held marches. Others, like Assata Shakur, attacked back. Born JoAnne Byron in 1947 in Queens, New York, by the mid-1960's, she was protesting with the other college students at Borough of Manhattan Community College, demanding more Black and African Studies courses and Black faculty. But it didn't stop there.

Disenchanted with the Black Panther Party because she felt that the men who were members often acted in macho ways and that, overall, Black and African history were not being prioritized in the way she felt they should be, Shakur moved on to the Black Liberation Army. In short order, however, she moved again, this time to the Republic of New Africa, an organization that was trying to establish a majority Black nation in the southern United States.

It's hard to know what Shakur did and did not do in these organizations. We know that she helped to organize the Black Panther Party breakfast program, for example. But by the early 1970's, she was on wanted posters all over the United States, charged with a whole gamut of criminal mayhem. Called by the authorities a "revolutionary mother hen" and "the soul of the Black Liberation Army," Shakur was accused by the FBI and other agencies of being connected to virtually every crime in North America for a while, but after she was arrested none of the accusations became formal charges. Between 1973 and 1977, she was charged and tried for murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, bank robbery and armed robbery, but she was acquitted or the charges were ultimately dismissed in every case.

Still, the Powers-That-Be were determined to see -- and keep -- Shakur in prison and eventually, they accomplished their objective. Beaten, held in solitary confinement, subjected to continual vaginal and anal searches, and ultimately winding up as the only woman prisoner in a facility for men, Shakur was named a "political prisoner" by U.S. activists. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights concluded in 1979 that her treatment was "totally unbefitting any prisoner" and her sentence promised to hold her in this position for another twenty years at least.

So, some of her comrades went in to visit her and -- using guns (though nobody was hurt) -- took her with them when they left. And in 1984, Assata Shakur left the country for Cuba where she has lived in exile ever since, still considered an escaped convict and a "domestic terrorist" by the U.S. government. Whatever some think of her personal politics, Shakur is most certainly an in-your-face woman as evidenced in her writing from Cuba: "Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them...A woman's place is in the struggle."

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