Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Position Paper: The Basis of Black Power, Excerpt
If people must express themselves freely, there has to be a climate in which they can do this. If blacks feel intimidated by whites, then they are not liable to vent the rage that they feel about whites in the presence of whites--especially not the black people whom we are trying to organize, i.e., the broad masses of black people. A climate has to be created whereby blacks can express themselves. The reasons that whites must be excluded is not that one is anti-white, but because the effects that one is trying to achieve cannot succeed because whites have an intimidating effect. Ofttimes, the intimidating effect is in direct proportion to the amount of degradation that black people have suffered at the hands of white people.
Roles of Whites and Blacks
It must be offered that white people who desire change in this country should go where that problem (racism) is most manifest. The problem is not in the black community. The white people should go into white communities where the whites have created power for the express purpose of denying blacks human dignity and self-determination. Whites who come into the black community with ideas of change seem to want to absolve the power structure of its responsibility for what it is doing, and saying that change can only come through black unity, which is the worst kind of paternalism. This is not to say that whites have not had an important role in the movement. In the case of Mississippi, their role was very key in that they helped give blacks the right to organize, but that role is now over, and it should be.
…What does it mean if black people, once having the right to organize, are not allowed to organize themselves? It means that blacks’ ideas about inferiority are being reinforced. Shouldn’t people be able to organize themselves? Blacks should be given this right. Further, white participation means in the eyes of the black community that whites are the “brains” behind the movement, and that blacks cannot function without whites. This only serves to perpetuate existing attitudes within the existing society, i.e., blacks are “dumb,” “unable to take care of business,” etc. Whites are “smart,” the “brains” behind the whole thing…
The charge may be made that we are “racists,” but whites who are sensitive to our problems will realize that we must determine our own destiny.
In an attempt to find a solution to our dilemma, we propose that our organization (SNCC) should be black-staffed, black-controlled, and black-financed. We do not want to fall into a similar dilemma that other civil rights organizations have fallen into. If we continue to rely upon white financial support we will find ourselves entwined in the tentacles of the white power complex that controls this country. It is also important that a black organization (devoid of cultism) be projected to our people so that it can be demonstrated that such organizations are viable…
It means previous solutions to black problems in this country have been made in the interests of those whites dealing with these problems and not in the best interests of black people in the country. Whites can only subvert our true search and struggles for self-determination, self-identification, and liberation in this country. Reevaluation of the white and black roles must now take place so that white no longer designate roles that black people play but rather black people define white people’s roles.
Too long have we allowed white people to interpret the importance and meaning of the cultural aspects of our society. We have allowed them to tell us what was good about our Afro-American music, art, and literature. How many black critics do we have on the “jazz” scene? How can a white person who is not part of the black psyche (except in the oppressor’s role) interpret the meaning of the blues to us who are manifestations of the song themselves?
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council (SNCC – pronounced “snick”) was founded at Shaw University in North Carolina in 1960. SNCC played a major role in the civil rights movement, organizing and participating in many projects including Freedom Ride, Freedom Summer, and the March on Washington. Though originally working towards a goal of integration, in the mid-1960s many SNCC leaders began to promote a new focus on Black Power. In 1966, SNCC published a position paper on Black Power. This excerpt describes SNCC's view on the roles of African American and white activists in addition to a call for self-determination.