chapter 4 black power
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In 1966, when James was nine, "black power" struck fear into his heart: "I thought black power would be the end of my mother. I swallowed the white man's fear of the Negro, as we were called back then, whole." His mother worked as a typist at Chase Manhattan Bank from 3pm to 2am, and didn't have time, James remembers, for "identity crises." His mother considered the achievements of the civil rights movement to be her own, but, at the same time, her "contradictions crashed and slammed against one another like bumper cars at Coney Island. White folks, she felt, were implicitly evil toward blacks, yet she forced us to go to white schools to get the best education. Blacks could be trusted more, but anything involving blacks was probably slightly substandard." She drummed into her children's heads: "What's money if your mind is empty! Educate your mind!" One night, after visiting Jacqueline, or "Jack", James remembers two black men snatching his mother's purse. His mother let the incident slide right off of her back. For James, however, this only emphasized the danger his mother was in, so when he left for summer camp and boarded a bus, realizing that the man standing next to his mother outside was a Black Panther, he felt fearful; he tried to warn her, and when the son of the Black Panther sat down in the seat in front of him, James punched him in the face.