BY TABIAS WILSON
The story of the African Diaspora’s journey from the bondages of the Atlantic to the post-racialist age of Obama is a topic of critical discussion in many anti-racist communities, a point of pride for neo-liberal allies and a rallying cry for those currently pondering the efficacy of race-based remedies for problems based in historical (and present) white supremacist policies. For me and many of my African-American peers, our history functions on an axis. It is simultaneously a painful pressure point and a source of unspeakable pride and joy. Our histories of oppressions and strategic survival bind us together like the hermetic locks of our Ashanti, Maasai, Yoruba and Mau Mau ancestors. Each day as we live and breathe we carry with us the revolutionary rage of Nat Turner and Angela Davis, the intellectual prowess of Dubois, Douglass andKimberlé Crenshaw, the strategic acuity of Tubman and Malcolm and the empowering love ethics of Ella Baker, Fannie Lou and bell hooks. The lesson of our histories is one of community, love, resistance and radical solidarity.
The quest for Black liberation in the United States was aided by white allies, Jewish-Americans in particular. ThurgoodMarshall, the first black Supreme Court Justice and lead litigator in Brown v. Board of Education, routinely recalled the assistance and support he received from his middle-class Jewish neighbors. The history of Black Americans and Jewish Americans is storied, well documented and an important part of the Civil Rights Movement. Many young Jewish college students participated in the freedom rides down South to participate in sit-ins, marches and other demonstrations. Jewish youth routinely put their bodies and privilege on the line to stand in solidarity against the interconnected systems of racism, classism, nativism, anti-Semitism, fundamental anti-blackness and white supremacy that defined the Black and Jewish experiences in America. As a young Black male who benefited greatly from the coalitions before and during the Civil Rights Movement, I would be remiss without recounting the ways in which our Jewish brothers and sisters have assisted in our historic, shared fights for liberation and human dignity.
Just as the relationship between Jewish Americans and African Americans was based in a fundamental understanding and experience of racial and ethnic subordination, so too is the relationship between the African and Palestinian diasporas. Our lives are similarly defined, redefined and experienced through the systemic maldistribution of material resources and inequitable access to sociopolitical power(s). Our ancestors have both experienced the traumas of violent, forced immigration from lands we have historically called home. Palestinians continue to exist through deep resistance in what Angela Davis has called the “largest open-air prison” in the world. They are policed, profiled and subordinated through terroristic, violent lessons of racialized comportment. According to Alice Walker, “Going through Israeli checkpoints is like going back in time to [the] American Civil Rights struggle.” As a Black man, in the present age, I will never understand the physical and psychological traumas of a Palestinian brother at an Israeli checkpoint. However, my experiences with police and racial profiling and the real threat of being assassinated for walking while black, or wearing a hoodie, or appearing too aggressive allow me to retain a deep empathy for his experience. As I mourn the murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, I must also grieve for the lives Samir Ahmad Abdul-Rahim and Mohammed Salayme. For too many young men and women of color, survival itself is a revolutionary act of resistance.
To be born Palestinian is to be legally marked as inherently violent, indisputably dangerous and a necessary gudgeon for the peace and calm of “civilized” society. Put simply, the Palestinian body has been constructed as the threat to Israeli society, creating a state of vast acceptance and normalization of the current state-sanctioned system of racial apartheid that has displaced millions of Palestinian bodies. Just as nearly 600,000 Black and Latino young men are routinely harassed by police under the pretenses of New York City’s “stop and frisk” policy, millions of Palestinian people are terrorized for drifting too far from the walls of an open-air prison. In both cases, data shows that the “threat” is rarely material but, instead, psychological. These systems of racial “othering” continually create imputed images of people of color as inherently threatening and dangerous. This internal logic equates Black and Palestinian existences. This logic paves the way for violent and strictly enforced racist policies. In short, these policies enhance, benefit and reify the power and humanity of one racial group at the expense of the other.
Let me be clear, however, my criticism is not one of hate or malice toward individual Israelis but instead a critical analysis of the powers and effects of settler colonialism, racial subordination, Zionism and controlling images that allow such bloodshed to continue unabated. The issue here is not the rational fear of the Israeli man or woman who recalls the horrors of their history, but instead the ways in which state policies have perpetuated racial subordination and violent trauma through the molestation of the bloody chronicle of Jewish death and survival, all in the name of peace and safety. We cannot protect ourselves, our essence, or our humanity from systemic violence with systemic violence. Instead, we must adopt a critical love ethic of universal liberation from cyclical and systemic violence and oppression.
We are called to remember that our willful participation in such systems, regardless of our intentions, taints the humanity that our ancestors lived and died to achieve. It has been said that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” This is indeed true, because it is through the utilization of the tools of oppression that we become both the (material) oppressor and the (spiritually) oppressed. In order to move past these cyclical patterns of violence and trauma we must look deeply and examine the oppressor within, dare to love those who we see as threats or “other” and question whether the threat is real, imagined or internal. This is a call for a human solidarity across and beyond racial differences and an ethic of love that first acknowledges our shared humanity and endeavors to reify that shared notion. Distinct from mere alliance, solidarity calls for a recognition and dismembering of the systems that throughout time have crushed us all by guaranteeing the safety of some at the cost of death for others. Solidarity recognizes that our humanity and survival are eternally linked with the dignity and lives of those deemed least among. Without solidarity, there can be no love and without love there can be no peace or justice. For these reasons I stand with love and solidarity with the people of Palestine and all those whose lives and humanity have been and continue to be destroyed, distorted or denied.
This piece was originally published in The Tufts Daily on March 5th, 2013.