This Juneteenth, we honour Palestine-Black liberation as one
Juneteenth 2021 comes on the heels of a violent raid in Gaza in which 243 Palestinians, including more than 100 women and children, were killed by Israeli missiles, and at least 2,000 others injured. These attacks followed the racist, colonial and armed expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, and Israel's raid on Palestinian worshippers in the Al-Aqsa mosque.
For many African Americans and Palestinians, the link between our communities exposes the global circulation of white supremacy, settler colonialism and state violence. The shared tactics of surveillance, violent repression, containment and prison brutality overshadow the spirit of commemoration, even as the US declares Juneteenth as a federal holiday - especially as we know that the same police departments that continue to brutalise and kill Blacks are trained in so-called counter-terrorism tactics by the Israeli military.
"For many African Americans and Palestinians, the link between our communities exposes the global circulation of white supremacy"
In the popular imagination, Juneteenth marks June 19, 1865, when enslaved blacks in Texas were informed of the Emancipation Proclamation, and their freedom from slavery. The ongoing violence against Black communities reminds us that the US and Israel are joined at the hip when it comes to state control.
Yet, the US and Israel’s “special relationship” has in many ways created another, subversive relationship between our communities, one that seems to resound with a deafening beat this Juneteenth. The raid at Al Aqsa, for example, reminds us of the grotesque murder of six women and three men, including the pastor, at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina by a white supremacist six years ago Thursday.
Black intellectuals such as James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Audre Lorde, and Angela Davis have long discussed the relationship between Black struggles against white supremacy and state violence, and Palestinian struggles against Israel’s militarised settler-colonialism. Palestinian public intellectuals such as Ghassan Kanafani, Rasmea Odeh, Nada Elia, Ahlam Muhtaseb, Rabab Abdulhadi and countless others have drawn these parallels too.
Political organisations like the Arab American Action Network, USPCR, BLM, Black Women Radicals, Yallah Indivisible, PYM, PFC, M4BL, and many, many others have all spoken up, organised events and talks, produced amazing scholarship, posted informative threads, and taken to the streets to vocalise a commitment to collective liberation.
Opinion: "From Palestine to Grenfell we have shared enemies, and the past year has helped us connect the dots in these struggles," writes Malia Bouattia. https://t.co/3vRSM34cVS— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) June 18, 2021
Reflecting on the meaning of Juneteenth in Palestine while observing the Israeli military prepare yet another violent raid, Wille B. writes: “My people, African people, have been and continue to be colonised, beaten, raided, arrested, and incarcerated for no other reason than our race and resources. The crime of what I saw before me only gave form to Israel’s true colonial nature and the anti-colonial bond that Black and Palestinian people must build”.
In the same vein, the Black Lives Matter movement’s expressed support for Palestine reminds us of how Black Americans have linked the Palestinian struggle with theirs since the early days of the Black liberation movement.
Yet, while US blacks have celebrated Juneteenth since the late 1880s, the new federal holiday comes at a time when the US’s hideous human rights violations are still occurring. These include the failure by the Senate to pass anti-lynching legislation, Jim Crow 2.0 voter suppression, President Trump’s support and incitement of US white nationalists, President Biden’s initial failure to protect Haitian immigrants from deportation, and the prohibition of the seminal 1619 Project in K-12 education.
"The new federal holiday comes at a time when the US’s hideous human rights violations are still occurring"
And while Black-Palestinian solidarity has never gotten as many clicks and shares as it has today, we recognise with sobering clarity that the freedom for Black and Palestinian communities has not been actualised. Angela Davis reminds us that “freedom is a constant struggle” and with that, as decolonial feminist scholars concerned with global liberation, we raise the question: What does it mean to punctuate this historical moment in the spirit of commemoration, as more and more tragedies continue to occur in black communities and in Palestine?
In addition to the latest violence in Palestine, Juneteenth 2021 also comes during Pride Month - a global celebration of queer and gender non-conforming love. Transnational allyship between Black and Arab queer communities is not a coincidence but instead anchored by intersecting histories of racialisation.
Both the US and Israeli state represent Blacks and Palestinians as culturally backward and Arab and Black decolonial queer activists have brilliantly highlighted how the state creates the conditions which led to increased vulnerability of marginalised queers.
Although it is inevitable that corporations, instead of actual black Americans, will benefit from Juneteenth as a new federal holiday, our decolonial allies have already laid the groundwork for countering this co-optation of US black culture. Arab, Palestinian and Jewish organisations have courageously resisted and protested Israeli state discourse of LGBTQ+ inclusion and pinkwashing, which is enabled by the continued surveillance of and violence towards Palestinians.
As ethnic studies scholars and feminists concerned with queering decolonization, we are optimistic yet critical of the blackwashing of Juneteenth and the pinkwashing of US and Israeli violence. To this end, we are open to how both celebrations and critical perspectives on the federalization of Juneteenth enhance the project of global white supremacy.
Our training in Ethnic Studies at UCSD, particularly around settler colonialism, state-sponsored racial projects, and critical gender studies, enables us to think about how to envision a truly decolonised globe, one that exceeds the freedoms assumed to be granted by a benevolent nation-state.
And while we are more than aware of the colonial and racist logics and structures that characterise the very institutions where we work, we are unrelenting in our desire for better, and hope that our intersectional, global, and decolonial work in Ethnic Studies will help to shed light on the complexities of commemoration during these violent times. Our aspiration for freedom for our communities continues. Until then, we link up in subversive struggle, and in solidarity.
Dr Christina Jessica Carney (she/her/hers) is assistant professor in the Departments of Black Studies and Women's & Gender Studies at the University of Missouri.
Follow her on Twitter: @mizzprofcarney
Dr Lila Sharif (she/her/hers) is assistant professor of Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana – Champaign, and affiliated faculty for the Department of Sociology, the Center for South Asian and Middle East Studies, and the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory.
Have questions or comments? Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.