["Black Power," speech by Stokely Carmichael, former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. University of California, Berkeley, November 19, 1966. Transcribed from taped remarks. As reprinted from Black Protest: 350 Years of History, Documents, and Analyses, by Joanne Grant.]
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...It seems to me that the institutions that function in this country are clearly racist, and that they're built upon racism. And the question then is, how can black people inside this country move? And then how can white people, who say they're not a part of those institutions, begin to move, and how then do we begin to clear away the obstacles that we have in this society that keep us from living like human beings. How can we begin to build institutions that will allow people to relate with each other as human beings? This country has never done that. Especially around the concept of white or black.
Now several people have been upset because we've said that integration was irrelevant when initiated by blacks and that in fact it was a subterfuge, an insidious subterfuge for the maintenance of white supremacy. We maintain that in the past six years or so this country has been feeding us a thalidomide drug of integration, and that some Negroes have been walking down a dream street talking about sitting next to white people, and that that does not begin to solve the problem. When we went to Mississippi, we did not go to sit next to Ross Barnett; we did not go to sit next to Jim Clark; we went to get them out of our way, and people ought to understand that. We were never fighting for the right to integrate, we were fighting against white supremacy. ...
Now we are engaged in a psychological struggle in this country and that struggle is whether or not black people have the right to use the words they want to use without white people giving their sanction to it. We maintain, whether they like it or not, we gon' use the word "black power" and let them address themselves to that. We are not gonna wait for white people to sanction black power. We're tired of waiting. Every time black people move in this country, they're forced to defend their position before they move. It's time that the people who're supposed to be defending their position do that. That's white people. They ought to start defending themselves, as to why they have oppressed and exploited us.
It is clear that when this country started to move in terms of slavery, the reason for a man being picked as a slave was one reason: because of the color of his skin. If one was black, one was automatically inferior, inhuman, and therefore fit for slavery. So that the question of whether or not we are individually suppressed is nonsensical and is a downright lie. We are oppressed as a group because we are black, not because we are lazy, not because we're apathetic, not because we're stupid, not because we smell, not because we eat watermelon and have good rhythm. We are oppressed because we are black, and in order to get out of that oppression, one must feel the group power that one has. Not the individual power which this country then sets the criteria under which a man may come into it. That is what is called in this country as integration. You do what I tell you to do, and then we'll let you sit at the table with us. And then we are saying that we have to be opposed to that.
We must now set a criteria, and that if there's going to be any integration it's going to be a two-way thing. If you believe in integration, you can come live in Watts. You can send your children to the ghetto schools. Let's talk about that. If you believe in integration, then we're going to start adopting us some white people to live in our neighborhood. So it is clear that the question is not one of integration or segregation. Integration is a man's ability to want to move in there by himself. If someone wants to live in a white neighborhood and he is black, that is his choice. It should be his right. It is not because white people will allow him. So vice-versa, if a black man wants to live in the slums, that should be his right. Black people will let him, that is the difference.
It is this difference which points up the logical mistakes this country makes when it begins to criticize the program articulated by SNCC. We maintain that we cannot afford to be concerned about 6 percent of the children in this country. I mean the black children who you allow to come into white schools. We have 94 percent who still live in shacks. We are going to be concerned about those 94 percent. You ought to be concerned about them, too. The question is, are we willing to be concerned about those 94 percent. Are we willing to be concerned about the black people who will never get to Berkeley, who will never get to Harvard and cannot get an education, so you'll never get a chance to rub shoulders with them and say, "Well he's almost as good as we are; he's not like the others." The question is, how can white society begin to move to see black people as human beings? I am black, therefore I am. Not that I am black and I must go to college to prove myself. I am black, therefore I am. And don't surprise me with anything and say to me that you must go to college before you gain access to X, Y. and Z. It is only a rationalization for one's oppression.
The political parties in this country do not meet the needs of the people on a day-to-day basis. The question is, how can we build new political institutions that will become the political expressions of people on a day-to-day basis. The question is, how can you build political institutions that will begin to meet the needs of Oakland, California; and the needs of Oakland, California is not 1,000 policemen with submachine guns. They don't need that. They need that least of all. The question is, how can we build institutions where those people can begin to function on a day-to-day basis, where they can get decent jobs, where they can get decent housing, and where they can begin to participate in the policy and major decisions that affect their lives. That's what they need. Not Gestapo troops. Because this is not 1942. And if you play like Nazis, we're playing back with you this time around. Get hip to that.
The question then is, how can white people move to start making the major institutions that they have in this country function the way they are supposed to function? That is the real question. And can white people move inside their own community and start tearing down racism where, in fact, it does exist? It is you who live in Cicero and stop us from living there. It is white people who stop us from moving into Grenada. It is white people who make sure that we live in the ghettos of this country. It is white institutions that do that. They must change. In order for America to really live on a basic principle of human relationships; a new society must be born. Racism must die, and the economic exploitation of this country, of non-white people around the world, must also die.
There are several programs that we have in the South among some poor white communities. We're trying to organize poor whites on a base where they can begin to move around the question of economic exploitation and political disenfranchisement. We know we've heard the theory several times, but few people are willing to go into this. The question is, can the white activist not try to be a Pepsi generation who comes alive in the black community, but that he be a man who's willing to move into the white community and start organizing where the organization is needed? ...
We've been saying that we cannot have white people working in the black community and we've based it on psychological grounds. The fact is that all black people often question whether or not they are equal to whites because every time they start to do something white people are around showing them how to do it. If we are going to eliminate that for the generations that come after us, then black people must be seen in positions of power doing and articulating for themselves. ...
Now then, the question is, how can we move to begin to change what's going on in this country? I maintain, as we have in SNCC, that the war in Vietnam is an illegal and immoral war. And the question is, what can we do to stop that war. What can we do to stop the people who, in the name of our country, are killing babies, women and children. What can we do to stop that? And I maintain that we do not have the power in our hands to change that institution, to begin to recreate it so that they learn to leave the Vietnamese people alone, and that the only power we have is the power to say "Hell, no!" to the draft. ... There isn't one organization that has begun to meet our stand on the war in Vietnam. Because we not only say we are against the war in Vietnam; we are against the draft. We are against the draft. No man has the right to take a man for two years and train him to be a killer. ...
It is impossible for white and black people to talk about building a relationship based on humanity when the country is the way it is, when the institutions are clearly against us. We have taken all the myths of this country and we've found them to be nothing but downright lies. This country told us that if we worked hard we would succeed, and if that were true we would own this country lock, stock and barrel. It is we who have picked the cotton for nothing; it is we who are the maids in the kitchens of liberal white people; it is we who are the janitors, the porters, the elevator men; it is we who sweep up your college floors; yes, it is we who are the hardest working and the lowest paid. And that it is nonsensical for people to start talking about human relationships until they're willing to build new institutions. Black people are economically insecure. White liberals are economically secure. Can you begin an economic coalition? Are the liberals willing to share their salaries with the economically insecure black people who they so much love? Then if you're not, are you willing to start building new institutions that will provide economic security for black people? That's the question we want to deal with. ...
We have to raise questions about whether or not we need new types of political institutions in this country and we in SNCC maintain that we need them now. We need new political institutions in this country. And any time Lyndon Baines Johnson can head a party which has in it Bobby Kennedy, Wayne Morse, Eastland, Wallace and all those other supposedly liberal cats, there's something wrong with that party. They're moving politically, not morally. And if that party refuses to seat black people from Mississippi and goes ahead and seats racists like Eastland and his clique, then it is clear to me that they're moving politically and that one cannot begin to talk morality to people like that.
We must begin to think politically and see if we can have the power to impose and keep the moral values that we hold high. We must question the values of this society. And I maintain that black people are the best people to do that because we have been excluded from that society and the question is, we ought to think whether or not we want to become a part of that society. That's what we want. And that is precisely what, it seems to me, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee is doing. We are raising questions about this country. I do not want to be a part of the American pride. The American pride means raping South Africa, beating Vietnam, beating South America, raping the Philippines, raping every country you've been in. I don't want any of your blood money. I don't want it. ... don't want to be part of that system. And the question is, bow do we raise those questions. ... How do we raise them as activists?
We have grown up and we are the generation that has found this country to be a world power, that has found this country to be the wealthiest country in the world. We must question how she got her wealth. That's what we're questioning. And whether or not we want this country to continue being the wealthiest country in the world at the price of raping everybody across the world. That's what we must begin to question. And because black people are saying we do not now want to become a part of you, we are called reverse racists. Ain't that a gas?
How do we raise the questions of poverty? The assumptions of this country is that if someone is poor, they're poor because of their own individual blight, or they weren't born on the right side of town. They had too many children; they; went in the Army too early; their father was a drunk; they didn't care about school; they made a mistake. That's a lot of nonsense. Poverty is well calculated in this country. It is well calculated. And the reason why the poverty program won't work is because the calculators of poverty are administering it. That's why it won't work.
So how can we, as the youth in the country, move to start tearing those things down? We must move into the white community. We are in the black community. We have developed a movement in the black community that challenges the white activist who has failed miserably to develop the movement inside of his community. The question is, can we find white people who are going to have the courage to go into white communities and start organizing them? Can we find them? Are they here? And are they willing to do that? Those are the questions that we must raise for white activists.
We are never going to get caught up with questions about power. This country knows what power is and knows it very well. And knows what black power is because it's deprived black people of it for 400 years. So it knows what black power is. But the question is, why do white people in this country associate black power with violence? Because of their own inability to deal with blackness. If we had said Negro power, nobody would get scared. Everybody would support it. And if we said power for colored people, everybody would be, for that. But it is the word 'black,' it is the word 'black' that bothers people in this country, and that's their problem, not mine. ...
So that in conclusion, we want to say that first, it is clear to me that we have to wage a psychological battle on the right for black people to define their own terms, define themselves as they see fit and organize themselves as they see fit. Now, the question is, how is the white community going to begin to allow for that organizing, because once they start to do that, they will also allow for the organizing that they want to do inside their communities. It doesn't make any difference. Because we're going to organize our way anyway. We're going to do it. The question is, how we're going to facilitate those matters. Whether it's going to be done with a thousand policemen with sub-machine guns or whether or not it's going to be done in the context where it's allowed to be done by white people warding off those policemen. That is the question.
And the question is, how will white people who call themselves activists get ready to start moving into the white communities on two counts? On building new political institutions, to destroy the old ones that we have, and to move around the concept of white youth refusing to go into the army. So that we can start then to build a new world. It is ironic to talk about civilization in this country. This country is uncivilized. It needs to be civilized. We must begin to raise those questions of civilization. What it is, and we'll do it. And so we must urge you to fight now to be the leaders of today, not tomorrow. We've got to be the leaders of today. This country is a nation of thieves. It stands on the brink of becoming a nation of murderers. We must stop it. We must stop it.
And then, in a larger sense, there is the question of black people. We are on the move for our liberation. We have been tired of trying to prove things to white people. We are tired of trying to explain to white people that we're not going to hurt them. We are concerned with getting the things we want, the things that we have to have to be able to function. The question is, can white people allow for that in this country? The question is, will white people overcome their racism and allow for that to happen in this country? If that does not happen, brothers and sisters, we have no choice, but to say very clearly, move on over, or we're going to move over you.
Copyright © Stokely Carmichael, 1966.