Who’s Calling the Emergency? The Black Panthers, Securitisation and the Question of Identity


  • Peer Illner Copenhagen Center for Disaster Research’s Changing Disasters Programme, Denmark




Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton, Cultural Disaster Studies, State of Exception, Securitisation, Ontological Security, Stigmatisation, Identity Politics, Positionality, Afropessimism


This article intervenes in a debate in cultural disaster studies that interprets disasters as objects, whose study opens up an understanding of societies’ fears, anxieties and vulnerabilities. Widening the scope of disaster studies, it proposes to view disaster not as an object but as an optics, a matrix that frames elements of social life as an emergency. Presenting the case of the American Black Panther Party for Self-Defense through a framework of security studies, the article explores the Black Panthers’ politics as a process of societal securitisation that allowed African Americans to mobilise politically by proclaiming an emergency. It traces a political trajectory that ranged from an early endorsement of revolutionary violence to the promotion of community services and casts this journey as a negotiation of the question of identity and ontological security in times of crisis. Drawing on Black studies and on stigma theory, it suggests finally, that the Panthers’ abandonment of violence represented a shift from identity-politics to an engagement with structural positionality.


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Theme: Cultures of Disasters