This essay will deeply analyse the chosen image and how it is connected to the historical events in America during the year of publication. The cartoon is the back cover of the “Black Panther Party” newspaper, published in the year of 1969, California. The publication is focusing mainly on various issues such as racial struggles, political and civil rights, and equality.
The image illustrates a black woman standing on a kitchen table and fighting with a broom against rats, who are coming from everywhere. Most of the page is occupied by the cartoon, but there are small pieces of text on the background, written on posters with drawings. At the top and at the bottom of the page we also see long lines of text, which are creating a border and closing the scene.
The most noticeable things are the two large rats, stretching their sharp nails against the frowning woman, who is holding her only weapon, not a gun, not a knife, but only a broom. There is no sign of fear on her face, only determination. The broken table, the holes on the walls and the detachable wallpapers can be interpreted as signs for poverty and deprivation. This can be linked with the words at the bottom of the page, which are a call for a decent home and normal life. A receipt for the monthly rent, which is $150, is left on the table. During the late 1960s the annual family income in the USA was under $6000, which is $500 monthly (Emisar, 2018). At that time, many companies started to use machines (for example in the cotton industry) and in this way, many jobs occupied by black people were removed and many people were left unemployed, which means that such high price for rent was almost impossible to be paid for the average black family (“The State of Black America in 1960”, n.d.).
On the wall there are three posters, which support the founders of the Black Panther Party – one of Huey P. Newton (we can also notice that the black woman is wearing a pin of him on her chest, which shows her dedication to the cause) and another of Bobby Seale, which calls for his freedom. On 5th of November, 1969 he was accused of initiating a riot in Chicago and he was sentenced to spend four years in jail (Bobby Seale, n.d.).
The poster next to the woman’s head is showing a picture of Bobby Seale, who is screaming for the freedom of the members of the party in Connecticut. Between the 1920s and 1960s, the state’s African American citizens organized riots for self-defense and rights for the black community. On the same year, when Seale was sentenced, fourteen members of the party were arrested for the murder of Alex Rackley, a member of the party, who turned out a police informant and who was killed, while he was tortured to confess for his betrayal. Seale was put on trial again in 1970, accused being part of the murder. Eventually, the trial dropped, because of a lack of evidence (The Rise of the Black Panther Party in Connecticut, n.d.).
The text on the poster in the upper part of the door says: “We’ll fight from one generation to the next” and it is supported with the drawing of a woman, holding a child, symbol of the future. This shows that the activists have no intention of giving up, but rather their determination of continuing the fight, no matter how long it takes.
The poster in the middle presents a drawing of two crying pigs running for their lives. “Panther leaders were deeply influenced by “The United Front Against Fascism",” a report by Georgi Dimitroff delivered at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International in July-August 1935.” (The Black Panther Party and Black Anti-Fascism in the United States, 2017) and that’s how they started to associate the racists and fascists with pigs. The animal “is a symbol of sloth (laziness) and/or greed in ancient Christian symbolism.” (Venefica, 2018).
Anger and a desire for justice, result from the terrible conditions of living, can be sensed in the words of the woman. She is not the only one who is suffering, but her children are forced to accept this hard life too. The whole scene with the black angry woman, fighting with the awful rats presents the difficult life that the dark-skinned people in America are forced to endure during these years. The broom shows how helpless is the woman and the rats are representations of the fascists and the greedy politicians. Numbers (the rats are five, the woman is one) also speak about how difficult the battle for freedom is.
The connotation of the rats is connected to “to their corresponding capacity for survival in horrid and utterly reprehensible conditions” (The meaning of the dream symbol: Rat, n.d.). Which in the context of the picture leads me to two questions: Is the woman fighting against the rats because she is afraid of them, or she is afraid not to turn herself into a rat, excepting this life and fighting every day for her survivel?
When we analyse an image is important to think about the audience too. A quote from Cartright and Sturken says that images can be used as a tool for “managing and controlling populations” (2009, p. 24). They can be a powerful weapon for manipulating the population and distorting the truth. Activists publish particularly this image and its purpose is to urge people to fight for change. They are trying to show the sad and hard life of the dark-skinned population of America through the cartoon. Eventually, people decided to fight in order to win their right of freedom and equality. But if this cartoon was published by the government, for example, it would probably be seen as a mockery. This can also be confirmed with another quote from Cartright and Sturken: “the meaning of images can change dramatically when those images change social contexts.” (2009, p. 26). They also state that “our ideologies are diverse and ubiquitous” (2009, p. 23). If a member of the black community sees the image wouldn’t be very hard to understand the meaning and the purpose of it. But if it is seen from the eyes of a white citizen, who has a job, a house and rights, it will cause a confusion.
In conclusion I would say that in their times activists are considered as political criminals, whose aim is to create chaos and disorder, and to provoke riots, and thus many of them were locked in jail or even killed. We can not say that racism does not exist nowadays, but at least there is a big change in dark-skinned people’s life than in the past.