Black Security: Studying Subaltern Securitisation and the Black Panther Party
Dongen, L.P.P. van
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This thesis analyses the applicability of the securitisation theory to subaltern groups by using the historical case study of the Black Panther Party. Securitisation theory – originally developed by the Copenhagen School – regards security as an intersubjective concept. This means that a security issue is created when an audience accepts an actor’s proposal to implement special measures to counter an existential threat. Because of its concentration on persuasion, the analysis of speech plays a central role in this process. Other scholars, like security analyst Thierry Balzacq, have added to this framework by reflecting on the context surrounding the securitisation and the working of the audience. This allows the securitisation theory to cover the creation of security issues even more precisely. Various postcolonial scholars, however, argue that the securitisation framework does not incorporate cultural, ethnic or political minorities – so-called subaltern groups. The Italian Antonio Gramsci coined the term subaltern to indicate people who lack political influence, placing them outside of the societal hegemony. Critics of securitisation theory assert that it does not account for those who cannot speak, either leaving them out of the framework or misrepresenting them. This creates a problem, as it would mean that securitisation is only applicable to elite groups. This thesis argues that securitisation is indeed applicable to subaltern groups when they are studied within their own historical context. To substantiate this assertion, this thesis studies the securitisation of the American government by the Oakland Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. By using this historical case study, the thesis combines international relations theory and historical reality. The Black Panthers argued that black Americans were essentially colonised by the United States. They viewed the US government as an oppressive entity that limited the self-determination of non-white ethnicities worldwide, for example through the Vietnam war and police brutality. Because of this, the Panthers argued for an armed revolution against the United States. This thesis asserts that the Black Panther Party successfully securitised the US government by claiming that only a revolution would prevent the destruction of black communities and legitimising themselves as an alternative government through community service programmes. It achieves this end by using discursive analysis on the Panther’s weekly magazine and contextual literary sources. With this case study, this thesis concludes that securitisation theory is applicable to subaltern groups. It also reflects on the responsibility of scholars to take this into account and cover their own societal blind spots.