Where black and Palestinian lives meet (Part II)
In the second of a two-part Comment piece, Deanna Othman looks at the common struggle of African-Americans against institutionalised racism and Palestinians' fight against Israeli occupation. (Read part I here)
Invalidating resistance to oppression
An unwillingness to recognise black or Palestinian suffering by the dominant culture also leads to the invalidation or delegitimisation of even peaceful resistance movements. The portrayal of Black Lives Matter activists as anti-white, anti-police radicals who seek to destabilise society rather than a concerted movement seeking to constructively uproot a diseased system, serves to smear the movement and deny its necessity.
Similarly, Palestinian critiques of Zionism and the apartheid policies of Israel as a settler colonial state are decried as anti-Semitism, just as critiques of structural racism in the US are denounced as anti-white. When organising for change and resisting inhumane treatment become slandered by those claiming that they just want "peace" without an upheaval of the system, working toward "peace" becomes a euphemism for maintenance of the current situation.
Methods of peaceful resistance such as protest and boycott, and in the case of Palestinians, the BDS or Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, are also invalidated. Even in the US we now have a widespread effort by legislators to criminalise engagement in the BDS movement, despite it being protected under the Constitution.
|Even language becomes contentious, as many have attempted to derail the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, proclaiming #AllLivesMatter or #BlueLivesMatter|
Even language becomes contentious, as many have attempted to derail the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, proclaiming #AllLivesMatter or #BlueLivesMatter. Failing to see the necessity in declaring and focusing on the fact that yes, black lives do indeed matter and that a problem exists because we need to declare something that should be a given fact, further exacerbates the problem.
In the case of Palestinians, we witness the presence of "both sides" rhetoric in describing Palestinian resistance to Israeli assaults, implying "both sides" have attacked and experienced commensurate losses, an attempt to impose parity where none exists. Israel declares it is at war with Hamas not Palestinian people, despite the fact that the Palestinian people are caged, cut off from resources and killed. We hear that police are attempting to serve and protect, to ensure our safety from criminals, despite the fact that those who were murdered were not guilty of any crime, nor did they pose a threat.
Black on black crime and the culture of martyrdom
"But what about black on black crime? What about gang violence?" We constantly hear these questions brought up to detract from addressing the very real problems of police brutality, mass incarceration and racial inequality. As stated by organisers on blacklivesmatter.com, "those who insist on talking on black-on-black crime fail to acknowledge that most crime is intraracial," adding that the "continued focus on black-on-black crime is a diversionary tactic, whose goal is to suggest that black people don't have the right to be outraged about police violence in vulnerable black communities".
|Blame is removed from the system, placed on the victim, and the need to address underlying issues is eliminated|
The stereotypical representation of black people as more violent, rather than addressing a long history of injustice that has institutionalised a cycle of social and economic inequality, has ensured restricted access to quality education and other resources that improve quality of life. This only reinforces the misconception that such conditions are typical of black people and black culture. It also ignores the fact that the black community does fight, mourn and denounce black-on-black crime. Blame is removed from the system, placed on the victim, and the need to address underlying issues is eliminated.
In examining similar portrayal of Palestinians, the loss of Palestinian life is often blamed on the "culture of martyrdom," the idea that Palestinian and Muslim culture reinforce the concept of martyrdom, leading them to seek death, embrace and even celebrate it. We hear commentators accusing Palestinians of "teaching their children to die," or even the argument that various movements have used civilians as human shields.
|The presence of smart phones, social media, citizen journalists were able to capture footage, evidence and perspectives previously unavailable to the public|
Manipulation of messaging and the presentation of one culture as inferior, bloodthirsty and death-seeking removes culpability of the aggressor, justifying the use of any tactic or weapon necessary needed to excise the "target".
Working in solidarity
Following the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the earlier onslaught of bombing by Israel in Gaza a few months earlier, activists launched the hashtag #FromPalestinetoFerguson, leading to the website blackpalestiniansolidarity.com. Organisers posted a video highlighting the struggles of both peoples, stating on the site that they have chosen to,
"Build with one another in a shoulder to shoulder struggle against state-sanctioned violence. A violence that is manifest in the speed of bullets and batons and tear gas that pierce our bodies. One that is latent in the edifice of law and concrete that work together to, physically and figuratively, cage us. We choose to join one another in resistance not because our struggles are the same but because we each struggle against the formidable forces of structural racism and the carceral and lethal technologies deployed to maintain them."
Both the operation in Gaza and the resistance in Ferguson brought the conversations surrounding both issues to a new level, since the presence of smart phones, social media, citizen journalists were able to capture footage, evidence and perspectives previously unavailable to the public.
|Activists and organisers are challenging the dominant discourse, raising awareness and exposing the public to more accurate facts|
In the case of Gaza, what was once seen as a no-man's land for journalists and information became rife with bloggers, live tweeters and even mainstream journalists, adding a level of exposure and accountability that Israel did not have in previous assaults. As we've seen from the footage exposed by people in the cases of Brown, Castile, Sterling, and countless others, it has become clear that this type of violence against Black Americans is nothing new - we just now have the means to capture and disseminate it quickly.
Though the murders in their cases, as in the cases of thousands of Palestinians, have not necessarily been brought to justice as a result of this new form of accountability, the narrative is changing. Activists and organisers are challenging the dominant discourse, raising awareness and exposing the public to more accurate information.
Black Americans and Palestinians have declared that they see one another in their respective struggles, as "When I see them, I see us," has become the mantra of choice narrated by Black-Palestinian solidarity movement. It is a call to construct a counter-narrative focused on shared humanity and a commitment to resistance against systemic racism and all its ramifications, realising that the oppression of our people springs from the same source, and that their liberation is intertwined.
Deanna Othman is a journalist and educator who writes on Muslim-American and Palestinian issues, and has a religion column on The Huffington Post. Her work has been published by The Chicago Tribune, Salon.com, among other media outlets.
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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.