ACT I – MY INTRODUCTIONS TO OPPRESSION
One of my earliest memories in becoming aware of Oppression came when I was in the 8th grade. I was in middle school, and in my History class we watched a documentary about Jewish concentration camps during World War II. We learned about Naziism, Hitler, and Genocide. I cried. I cried whilst watching images of emaciated bodies waiting to die of starvation; I cried when I heard the descriptions of “ovens” and “gas chambers.” I cried. For weeks, at home alone in my room, I cried.
Shortly thereafter I attended the Bar Mitzvah of a middle school friend. And then I read The Diary of Anne Frank. I felt a tremendous kinship with Jewish people. I felt a strong connection with The Oppressed. I could not wrap my mind around how human beings could perpetuate such atrocities as the attempted annihilation of other human beings.
Part of the affinity I felt was due to my own status as one of the very few Black students in my K-12 schooling experience. I was called a “Nigger” for the first time on my first day of Kindergarten. This would continue to be a daily occurrence until I entered Middle School – then it only happened every OTHER day. When I was in the 4th grade, a male student at my school – a kid named Jessie – used to spit in my face and call me a Nigger every day during recess. When I finally told my mother – who is white – about this daily occurrence, she showed up to my school and addressed the issue with my teacher and principal. I later discovered that when Jessie’s parents were told about his behavior, his father said something like, “If my son did not have to go to school with Niggers, this would not be happening.”
Additionally, both of my parents – my white mother and my Black father, both born and raised in the Southern part of the United States during the Jim Crow era – sometimes discussed the experiences they had in the South, experiences that aided in their decision to flee that region and move to California. For my mom, one instance that stands out occurred when she and her friends came upon a sign in a rural area of Oklahoma or Arkansas (I can’t remember which) that said, “Nigger, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On You.” This was an obvious Lynching Threat, but I did not understand that as a child. And even as a college student, when I told my mom that I was interested in attending a graduate program at a university in Georgia, she repeated that story to me – she feared for my safety in the South. I shrugged it off as ridiculous paranoia at the time. Especially since I had not felt or been all that safe in “liberal” California!
But my dad provided more in-depth stories. Some of which were about White Supremacy, Racism, and Anti-Blackness; others were about Internalized Racism, Anti-Blackness, and Self-Hate. My dad did not think or expect much from white folks; while he did not reckon that every white person hated Black people, he was never shocked by stories or experiences that exposed the ones that did. As a dark-skinned Black man raised in New Orleans, he was most shocked and hurt by the fact that so many Black folks had internalized Anti-Black Hate, and that they had wielded it against him in ways that had damaged him to his core.
So I understood Oppression from myriad perspectives. My mom – who came from a white Protestant Christian family with a Christian Minister as the family Patriarch – made it very clear that we were never to judge or persecute people who did not share our religious beliefs. Her grandfather (the Christian Minister) came to Christianity late in his life, and encouraged his family to remain true to their own Faith whilst accepting and supporting folks from other Faiths and Belief Systems. So when I encountered friends at school who were Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. – my mom often spoke to me about the importance of respecting their religious beliefs and customs. I have taken this lesson with me throughout my life.
When I moved to Queens, NY I found it fascinating and thrilling to walk through my neighborhood during Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh holidays and to experience the various religious and cultural observances of my neighbors. It seemed, in my peaceful Queens neighborhood, that all of these religious groups and practices were able to coexist peacefully, and with respect for one another. Every summer I would see signs on light posts about “Alia” – announcements from my Jewish neighbors who were selling most of their belongings and moving to Israel. And then I watched documentaries on the subject. And then I began reading commentary from both Israeli and Palestinian authors about the situation in Gaza.
When I attempted to speak about this in Progressive Circles, I was told that I should remain silent about it – that I could not engage in this discussion without being read as Anti-Semitic. This seemed ridiculous to me; the same folks who felt empowered to speak openly about the European colonization of the Americas, the stealing of land from Native Americans, the abduction, enslavement, and subjugation of Africans in the Americas – these same people would speak in hushed tones about the Israel/Palestine conflict. And in some cases, they would rebuke anyone who made comparisons between this conflict and other forms of colonialism, imperialism, and oppression. All to avoid accusations of Anti-Semitism.
ACT II – ON THE IMPORTANCE OF DISCOURSE
Recently, a Facebook Friend posted an article by an author who identified as a Zionist who believes in Palestinian Self-Determination and in the creation of an Independent Palestinian State. He defined the term Zionism in the following way:
“The fact is, Zionism can be summed up in exactly one sentence: ‘Zionism is the belief that the national homeland of the Jewish people is Israel.’ That’s it. That’s the whole thing. There are Zionists who believe additional things, many of which disagree with me, and some of which I would say are racist, colonialist, anti-Palestinian, and genocidal. However, those views aren’t part of Zionism and there are more Zionists for whom it’s just the one line. Just the State of Israel as a home for the Jews. And when you say you’re anti-Zionist, you’re saying you want the Jews to return to a world where we are a people without a home, at everyone’s mercy.”
Of course, the problem with this definition is that it does not address the methods by which the state of Israel came into existence. It does not address how the land that is now called “Israel” was procured, nor how it continues to remain in that geographical space. And in failing to address these issues, it essentially asserts that anyone who disagrees with these methods of land procurement is interested in relegating Jewish people to a Homeless population where they are perpetually unsafe.
Interestingly, myriad ethnic, racial, gender, sexual, class, disabled, and religious groups are “unsafe” in this world. And most folks who are pro-Humanity and anti-Oppression believe that EVERYONE deserves to live in a Homeland wherein they are free from Oppression and Persecution. But the idea that every marginalized and oppressed group should forcibly move other groups from their homes and land in order to create that Safe Space?!? This does not generally exist in the realm of progressive folks. This does not generally exist in the realm of folks who are pro-Humanity and anti-Oppression. And it is always fascinating to me when I meet people who are against Oppression in every capacity…except when it comes to Israel and Palestine.
The author who defined Zionism went on to provide a brief history of Jewish Oppression over the centuries. This was important information, most of which the majority of Progressive Folks are aware of. But what I could not abide was the implication that because of the centuries-long project to oppress, persecute, and annihilate Jewish People from the Earth – a project which is VERY Real – the State of Israel, as it stands, in its current geographical location, had to be created and must exist by ANY means necessary. That because Jewish people have been so horrifically oppressed and persecuted for centuries, they deserve to claim land and property in the creation of a State…even if that means that they must displace and kill others in order to do so.
I find this notion to be entirely and patently WRONG. The idea that in order to secure one’s safety, it is permissible to endanger and/or constrain the lives of others is problematic on its face.
Imagine if all Black people in the United States descended upon the Southern U.S. and made the claim that because we had been enslaved, lynched, raped, experimented on, exploited, and annihilated for CENTURIES – we get to claim the very land where this occurred. We get to forcibly evict all non-Black folks from this land and partition them off into a tiny space so that we could guarantee the safety of our People. Because let’s be Real: Black People are an UNSAFE population in the United States. We are not safe from the Law Enforcement and Legal systems; we are not safe from domestic terrorist groups; we are not safe from random white folks who see us as threats and thus decide to bear arms and shoot us; we are not safe from media stereotyping; we are not safe from biased news reporting about us; we are not safe from the idea that much of this country views us as sub-human, as animals, as BEASTS that must be encaged, ghettoized, slandered, and annihilated.
We Are Not Safe.
And with that in mind, if I polled various Black communities with the plan to Take Back The South By Any Means Necessary, the large majority of BLACK PEOPLE would laugh me right out of the room. Not only because this task would be nearly impossible to engage; but also because most Black folks would view the idea of oppressing others in an effort to end Black Oppression as inherently ridiculous and counter-productive. They would see it as perpetuating the very same type of Oppression that we would be attempting to combat – making others Unsafe in order to secure our own Safety. Because that is what I would be proposing. And most human beings would rebuke this plan in its entirety.
Apply this same logic to Israel. And you will be referred to as “Anti-Semitic.” This makes absolutely no sense to me.
ACT III – ACTION VS. REACTION
So, every time a white person decides to wantonly take Black lives – and this is happening almost as often now as it did during various other eras in U.S. History – Progressive Activists protest and rebuke these instances, this phenomenon. And understandably so. But there are always a few folks – many of them Black – who make the claim that we choose to focus on these instances of White Supremacist Anti-Black Killings whilst ignoring the fact that Black people routinely kill other Black people. Let me attempt to address why this comparison is so problematic.
Firstly, most crime in the United States is INTRA-RACIAL and INTRA-ETHNIC. That is to say that white people are more likely to kill other white people, Latinos are more likely to kill other Latinos, Asians are more likely to kill other Asians, etc. So the fact that Black folks kill one another – the mythological, media-created phenomenon of “Black on Black Crime” – should not be surprising.
That said, the question then becomes “Why Are Black Folks Killing One Another?” An interesting question, since it is never asked about any other racial or ethnic group, but let’s attempt to answer it nonetheless.
In a nutshell, Black folks turning on other Black folks would not exist at the levels that it does…had Black folks not been brainwashed to HATE OURSELVES for CENTURIES in the United States. If you are not familiar with the centuries-long and ongoing Project to convince Black people that we are an inherently worthless, criminally deviant, and sub-human race, then you need to engage in some basic reading and research. Because this information is not part of the X-Files – it has been written about EXTENSIVELY. When you convince a people that they are worthless; when you convince a people that they are criminally deviant; when you convince a people that they are sub-human; when you convince a people that they are not worthy of living; when you do this over CENTURIES, and you get these notions co-signed by government, law enforcement, medical establishments, and the media (among others) – the Material Consequences are REAL. People learn to hate themselves, they begin to hate others like them, and they begin to devalue their own lives and the lives of their People. This is a REACTION to Systemic Oppression.
Were it not for White Supremacy and Anti-Blackness – two projects which have been actively engaged in since the inception of the United States – we would not have a situation wherein Black people hated themselves and members of their groups. We would certainly have INDIVIDUALS who engaged in acts of self-hate and violence; but we would not have the PHENOMENON that we currently have in place today.
It is entirely possible for one to simultaneously rebuke instances of Black folks killing other Black folks via street and gang violence, AND to make the assertion that these instances would not be happening at the levels that they do were it not for centuries of White Supremacy and Anti-Blackness in this country. Both/And.
The same can be said of most of the extreme acts of violence that have been engaged in by some factions in Palestine. One can simultaneously rebuke Hamas and the violence this group engages in, AND assert that groups like Hamas would not exist were it not for the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Violent people will ALWAYS exist in ALL cultures. But extremist groups like Hamas are able to exploit the wanton oppression of their own People, oppression that exists because of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Both/And.
One simply can not discuss extremely violent responses to Oppression without acknowledging that Oppression exists in the first place. Crips killing Bloods is not the same thing as members of the Ku Klux Klan killing random Black folks – both are equally abhorrent, but they are not comparable. One engages in REACTIONARY behavior that is born of Internalized Racism and Anti-Blackness, and the other engages in ACTIVE HATE perpetuated by those who have benefited from structural and systemic power for CENTURIES and who will stop at nothing to maintain their supreme positions.
Similarly, if Israel was not currently occupying Palestine, leaders of groups like Hamas would not have a fertile breeding ground filled with depressed citizens whom they could incite to engage in acts of wanton violence. Media sources make it seem as if the primary issue in this conflict is about Israel attempting to protect itself from Hamas; but most fail to illuminate the fact that Hamas exists because there has been no way from Palestine to protect itself from Israel. The violence on both sides is utterly inexcusable; but one has its foundations in power-based ACTION while the other has its foundations in disempowerment-based REACTION. Not the same. Not the same at all.
In short, one way to successfully curtail violence is to not engage in violence in the first place. But this is a hard lesson to be learned, especially by USAmericans – as so many of us in this country have chosen to believe that in order to keep ourselves safe, we must “Get Them” before they “Get Us.” Futile. Counter-Productive.
I have written this – in a somewhat choppy Stream-of-Consciousness mode – with the full knowledge that if/when I publish it I may be accused of being Anti-Semitic; I may receive Hate Mail; I may lose people whom I believed to be my “Friends”; and I may receive Death Threats.
So Be It.
I have grown tired of reading about instances of folks being persecuted because they dared to speak on this topic; I am even more tired of those who speak on it being dismissed as Anti-Semitic and as ignorant of the history and issues. I have spent copious amounts of time researching this history and reading the various sides – and there are more than just two – of this debate. And I have come to the conclusion that folks simply do not get to use their histories of Oppression and Persecution in an effort to abnegate all responsibility – or worse, provide a viable excuse – for engaging in the Oppression and Persecution of others.
I don’t get to do it; you don’t get to do it; States don’t get to do it; NO ONE GETS TO DO IT. And if you want to call me names for saying this, go right on ahead. I am not Anti ANY group of Humans based on their race, class, gender, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, level of ability, etc. I am Anti-OPPRESSION, in ALL of its forms. I am Anti-NATIONALISM. I am anti-ETHNOCENTRISM. I am anti-RACISM. I am anti-MISOGYNY. I am anti-CLASSISM. I am anti-QUEER PHOBIA. I am anti-(DIS)ABLEISM. I am anti-COLONIALISM. I am anti-IMPERIALISM.
But I am Pro-HUMANITY.
And I Will Not Be Silenced.