Racism and Solidarity As a Welcome Pathology – Ramzy Baroud

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People take part in a protest against police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter during a march in New York July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
People take part in a protest against police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter during a march in New York July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Being survivors of perpetual injustice has, at least for many Palestinians, become the main frame of reference through which we can understand the world and ourselves

RAMZY BAROUD | Caravan Daily

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ast year, I wrote an article that made many readers unhappy. As soon as it was published, I began receiving messages of abuse and angry, threatening calls.

I hesitated about reporting the threats to the local police in Washington state and, in the end, I resolved to file the unpleasant experience under a burgeoning folder of “controversies” caused by my writings.

The title of the article was: “‘I Can’t Breathe’: Racism and War in America and Beyond.”

As a Palestinian columnist and author of books for the past 20 years, it has not been entirely easy working in the United States. Nor was it possible to be embraced by the mainstream while raging against mainstream ideas, constant appetite for war and unconditional support for apartheid Israel. 

George Orwell once wrote: “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

With time, and with no other alternative, I decided to comfort myself with that sage realisation. 

Having been born in a refugee camp in Gaza, I am the descendant of a generation of refugee peasants who once dwelled in a Palestinian homeland before it brutally vanquished, in 1948, to “miraculously” become Israel.

For the better part of a whole century, generations of Palestinians have experienced every form of oppression that the twisted human mind is able to conjure up: massacres, ethnic cleansing, destruction of property, rape, unremitting war, siege and all the psychological torment that often accompanies such devastation.

Palestinian children

It should come as no surprise that the most manifest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren

Being survivors of a perpetual injustice has, at least for many of us, become the main frame of reference through which we can understand the world and ourselves.

As a refugee, I have always remained absorbed and totally committed to exposing the suffering of refugees, wherever they are. And I am just one of an ever-growing group of Palestinian intellectuals, artists, academicians and justice activists the world over. 

Our shared experience and unrelenting fight for freedom and justice has molded us into a unique breed for whom solidarity with others has become innate, an uncontrollable urge, a pathology even, although a welcome one.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the most manifest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. 

That solidarity is mutual.

Surprisingly, some of the anger that followed my writings on the subject of Palestinian-Black solidarity came from pro-Palestinian “White” readers. One even went as far as disowning the Palestinian cause altogether.

“Let Black people free your country,” he wrote, along with a few profane phrases.

Honestly, good riddance! 

There must be no racism in the Palestine solidarity movement anyway, and any solidarity that is conditioned on isolating Palestinians from the fight for human rights anywhere in the world is unworthy and unwelcome.

I, like millions of other Palestinians, know precisely what racism is, what oppression feels like, how being economically underprivileged and politically disadvantaged is often the inception of anger and even counter-violence. 

The truth is, I was not trying to score cheap political points by espousing justice for 12-year-old Tamir Rice, or Eric Garner or, more recently, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

These, among hundreds of other who are killed every year in the ongoing drama of police violence, come from the most economically and socially disadvantaged segments of American society.

They hold little political influence and are rarely known for their powerful lobbies in Washington DC.

Yet, siding with them, however strategically useless such a move may appear to some, is the only moral path to be taken.

I, like millions of other Palestinians, know precisely what racism is, what oppression feels like, how being economically underprivileged and politically disadvantaged is often the inception of anger and even counter-violence. 

My people have been living that vicious cycle for a century and, for me, not to take a moral stance in solidarity with any oppressed group anywhere in the world is denying the very foundation of my being, the collective drive that keeps millions of Palestinians standing strong and moving forward.

There is an unmistakable sense of being permanently exiled that is shared by many Palestinians, regardless of their political backgrounds. That sense is both real and figurative to the extent that, with time, it has morphed into a culture, a mode of thinking and perspective.

Being “out of place”, the title of Edward Said’s powerful memoir, is not unique to one single Palestinian individual, but to a whole nation.

Even in our homeland, there is little sense of continuity; things can change so very quickly, by bombs, bulldozers or military orders.

To adapt, Palestinian culture — although rooted in a long history of uninterrupted existence that exceeds a millennium — has been quite fluid culturally and geographically. 

With the prolonged “exile”, our political identity surpassed time and place. Thus, identifying with Black or Native Americans, the refugees of Syria, the victims of South African apartheid or the Rohingyas of Burma is hardly an act of political expediency, but a natural moral inclination. A culture, even.

Said convincingly articulated the concept of “global perspective” that made the Palestinian struggle part and parcel of a global fight for social justice. 

For Palestinians, the lines between their political identity, their own culture and that of a much greater fight with loftier goals have become truly blurred. 

“In the case of a political identity that’s being threatened, culture is a way of fighting against extinction and obliteration,” Said wrote.

“Culture is a form of memory against effacement.”

In a recently released collection of poetry that I co-authored with two brilliant Palestinian poets, Samah Sabawi and Jehan Bseiso, what is Palestine merged into a much larger array of global struggles against injustice. 

In the poem written after the death of Herman Wallace — a Black man who was incarcerated in solitary confinement for 41 years on the basis of what many believe were trumped up charges — I attempted to include the old fighter’s struggle as part of my people’s own memory against effacement.

“My fist will rise from the charred earth; in a painting by Naji Ali/Through the thick walls of Louisiana State Penitentiary/In the streets of Hanoi/Amid the rubble of a Gaza mosque/Even on my dying bed.

“I have many names/But my face is always my face/On my forehead stitched the memory of pain/I smile still/And teach my son to never hate/Because hate is not love/And love is freedom/

“I am a Palestinian/My name is Herman Wallace/And I will always die free.” 

Suddenly, being Palestinian and Black was the most natural feeling. It was not a calculated decision, but an innate feeling driven by the common struggle for justice and a shared history of pain.

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