Black resistance and Palestinian solidarity
In an op-ed piece published last week, Matan Shelomi accused Davis Stands with Ferguson (DSF) of being used by Students for Justice in Palestine to “Blackwash,” or appropriate, Black struggles in support of the Palestinian cause. With such a direct attack on Black agency and Black resistance we feel compelled to respond. DSF and its Black leaders are neither a monolith nor a set of passive bodies upon which others do their work. As an organization working to end state violence and police brutality, and dismantle the system of anti-Blackness, we stand in solidarity with Palestinians experiencing violence at the hands of Israeli forces. We unequivocally stand on the side of those oppressed by racism and state violence, both here and abroad. And we are not alone in this effort. It is from Ferguson itself that we see the bonds of solidarity growing between Black Americans and Palestinians. These bonds are historical and material — built on the streets, in the prisons and through the experiences that we both share
As an organization, DSF stands accused by Shelomi of having a Black-and-white understanding of the Palestinian situation and lacking a critical understanding of liberation. We have been accused of drawing lines of solidarity that don’t exist elsewhere. We maintain that Shelomi’s argument, rather than our own, fuels ignorance of Black resistance and the complexities of this conflict. While Shelomi accuses DSF of “Blackwashing,” his argument is, without realizing it, a prime example of whitesplaining. Not only does this argument show a lack of knowledge about the depth of solidarity between the movement for Black lives here and the Palestinian struggle, but it conceals a number of problems. An example of this limited understanding is the claims of justice within the the so-called “multi-ethnic Israel.” The United States is also a multi-ethnic nation. Simply stating such demographic information belies systems of power and inequality; it does not diminish the fact both the U.S. and Israel are built and maintained by racism and colonialism.
We will not allow ourselves to be used as a tool for the defense of a racist, settler colonial state. The anti-colonial struggle of Palestinians is, in fact, deeply connected to the racist and settler colonial systems present in the United States — the systems which we are fighting to dismantle right here, from Ferguson to Davis. Police in the U.S. are often trained by the same forces oppressing Palestinians in their fight for freedom. The companies that the University of California invests in fund both the occupation of Palestine and the security and prison systems here in the U.S. While services and Black communities languish in the U.S., the U.S. government provides Israel with enormous amounts of aid, most of it military. The realities of violence extend across geographic lines, and so must our solidarity.
While Shelomi wants to appeal to the idea that Israel is a “multi-ethnic state,” we see that Black bodies are also targeted by Israeli state violence. We demand recognition that the state of Israel has ignored the sterilization and police brutality faced by Ethiopian Jews, as well as the consistent anti-Blackness and racism faced by Sudanese refugees at the hands of Israeli citizens. Not only do we stand with Palestinians in their struggle with a settler colonial state, but we also stand against Israel in solidarity with our Black family suffering in their brutal system of anti-Black violence. Shelomi uses the existence of Black bodies in Israel to illustrate the state’s purported liberalism, but by doing so, renders invisible the actual lived experiences of these Black bodies, which are routinely subject to racialized policing and brutality. For all of these reasons, we, as Black leaders of DSF, stand with Palestinians in their struggle against occupation and genocide.
Given Shelomi’s charges, we feel that perhaps a little bit of education for a non-Black audience might be necessary. Shelomi focused on Martin Luther King Jr. and nonviolence as the only aspects of Black resistance, thus mischaracterizing and simplifying the complex diversity of Black resistance strategies. Black resistance has always taken a variety of forms, from civil disobedience, boycotts and marches to armed interventions, uprisings and rebellions. As a non-Black person, Shelomi’s argument implies that the organizers of this group, a set of Black people, don’t know their own history. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, and, in a civil court case, the United States was found complicit in the crime. As Black organizers, we are intimately acquainted with the experience of having a so-called liberal and multi-ethnic state kill our community leaders — whether they preach and practice violence or not. Shelomi’s invocation of Martin Luther King Jr. is a silencing technique that deploys his name as if it were possible for a single non-violent and charismatic leader to overcome systems of violence and power. While Shelomi quotes King, we want to turn instead to Frantz Fanon, another Black intellectual. In his 1961 book, Wretched of the Earth, he writes:
“The naked truth of decolonization evokes for us the searing bullets and bloodstained knives which emanate from it. For if the last shall be first, this will only come to pass after a murderous and decisive struggle between the two protagonists. That affirmed intention to place the last at the head of things […] can only triumph if we use all means to turn the scale, including, of course, that of violence.”
As an anti-colonial Black thinker, Fanon would call for Black resistance in the form of a revolutionary uprising — a suggestion unaccounted for in Shelomi’s argument. As Black thinkers, scholars and students, we are interested in describing and understanding the fullness of our liberatory history and potential futures, not just the quotes appropriated by non-Black people to aid them in our oppression.
We, the leaders of DSF, stand in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. Not because we lack an understanding of the systems of power at work, or our own history, but precisely because of our understanding that resistance is far more complicated and oppression far more insidious than what has been described in the op-ed criticizing our labors. To Shelomi, and to others who would critique the connections between Black and Palestinian struggles, you are right that we are not tools to be used. We are Black students of history and we have both the agency and the knowledge to act in solidarity with those who are oppressed. We are no one’s tools, we will not be used to Blackwash settler-colonialism, and we will not be talked down to by those who don’t know our history.
Kyla Burke and Brandon Buchanan are co-organizers with Davis Stands with Ferguson (DSF).