In light of the bombshell allegations that the late Black Panther Richard Aoki may have worked an FBI informant, I spoke with Scott Kurashige, the Director of Asian/Pacific Islander Studies at the University of Michigan. Since news broke yesterday about Aoki’s possible connections to the FBI, Kurashige has been offering his own analysis and critique on social media. I’ve excerpted selection portions of our conversation below that deal with the larger context of the allegations.
Kurashige calls the allegations "very serious" and is critical of the reports.
"We need to look at the research, and this is not something we can do overnight. Before we can draw any definitive conclusions about what [Seth Rosenfeld] is claiming, we really need to put some serious minds together. People who have both the research expertise and the personal knowledge of some of this history together…Every author has a perspective and a frame."
Asked whether his view of the specific historical period would change if the allegations against Aoki turned out to be true, Kurashige offered the following:
"It probably wouldn’t complicate my view of that period much at all. I think for a lot of young Asian American activists, particularly in the Bay Area, Aoki was a very immediate inspirational figure because he was a very generous person and a lot of people talk about the positive effect he had on movement activism in the Bay Area. So I think people are concerned about his personal legacy, but they don’t want any stories — particularly before they’re fully verified — to tarnish that legacy.
"I’m a little bit older, and I think for people of my generation, Aoki wasn’t known very much…I bumped into him at conferences, but he wasn’t an icon on the level of Yuri Kochiyama. To ber perfectly honest, my own politics have evolved to the point where I think we need really challenge a lot of the really militant posturing that radicals in the Third World Liberation Movement did in the ’60s. We need to really understand what it meant at that time and place. For Japanese Americans there was this real need and desire to challenge the model minority myth that they were passive and paralyzed. Just as Fanon writes in "The Wretched of the Earth," there was an unleashing of energy and the militant response to all the violence of repression and white supremacy comes out when a movement is being born."
And finally, Kurashige says there’s much more analysis that needs to be done.
"Whether these allegations prove to be totally true, totally false, or somewhere in between, it needs to be used a teachable moment for people in movement organizing to really think about how we discuss and strategize the issue of state repression within movement organizing and how we study and discuss our own movement histories.