Palestine: Black Solidarity in a World of Anti-black Racism

by Tawana Honeycomb Petty

In May of this year, I traveled to Palestine in a small delegation for ten days. I had read about Palestine, and had even seen videos about the occupation, but I wasn’t mentally or emotionally prepared for the impact my trip would have on me. In fact, I am still processing my trip as I type this. I imagine I will be attempting to process my experiences in Palestine for years to come. However, unfortunately, because of the current climate of anti-Black racism in the United States, the extreme militarization and murders of unarmed Blacks by overzealous and racist police and vigilantes, and the use of water as a weapon - through mass shutoffs, towards Black people, I am not afforded an opportunity to place my work on hold awaiting the reconciliation of my emotions.

Shortly after my invitation to speak at the National Students for Justice in Palestine Conference in Boston on the water injustices in Detroit - the connections between the oppression of Palestinians and Black people became much more clear for me. The control of resources such as water, housing and land had strikingly eerie similarities. The militarized brutality that Black people are experiencing in America and the brutality Palestinians are facing from the Israeli military began to have obvious links.  See video by hip hop activist Jasiri X after his recent trip to Palestine.

Even before my trip to Palestine, I had been participating in Black/Arab solidarity discussions. Recognizing the need to struggle against anti-Black racism, which is inherent in this country, and extremely prevalent towards Blacks in Dearborn/Dearborn Heights, Michigan, a few of my comrades and I felt we needed to do something to build towards liberating ourselves from the hatred imposed upon us. I expressed to them the antagonistic relationship that also exists between Arab business owners and the Black community in Detroit. This frequently toxic relationship has lead to violent confrontations on several occasions.  Although the conversations have been challenging for all of us, I commend my Arab comrades for not only engaging me in these conversations, but for being honest about the anti-Black racism they were witnessing in their own families and communities, and for putting themselves on the line in order to struggle against it. We acknowledged the role of racist propaganda. They also spoke on the privilege that typically accompanies the pursuit of the American dream – meaning – the lifestyle you can be afforded the further you travel away from your darker roots.

We partnered in small conversations at the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership. This was important to me because James and Grace Boggs, along with other revolutionaries I have come to learn from and respect, had long struggled against the conflict in Palestine. It has been an honor to continue in that legacy of work.

These conversations were emotional and at times drudged up anger and frustration, but we remained committed with the understanding that Black Lives and Arab humanity depend upon it.

Upon my return from Palestine, my resolve to struggle against anti-Black racism grew. Some of this was due to the blatant racism I experienced personally while in Palestine/Israel, and some was because of the escalation of racism I was witnessing and experiencing in my own country.

One of the ways to continue the conversation and work towards deepening the contradictions that come with Black solidarity when it often doesn’t feel reciprocal, was to organize a discussion with other Black activist/organizers who have been engaged in Palestinian solidarity work and were struggling with similar contradictions.

During the 33rd Annual African World Festival, which was also part of the 50th Anniversary of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, I invited Kristian Davis Bailey, Oya Amakisi, Dawud Walid and Darryl Jordan to join me on a panel titled, Palestine: Black Solidarity in a World of Anti-Black Racism. The panel was facilitated by Reverend Mayowa Reynolds. It proved to be a timely and powerful discussion. Kristian, a recent graduate of Stanford University, and a committed Black/Palestinian solidarity activist, was struck by how many “Arab audience members there were, and how many (mostly young) people came up to me afterwards expressing the need and interest to organize against anti-Black racism within Dearborn’s Arab communities.” He recognized that the work would be difficult, but the response from the other young activists solidified his resolve to continue the struggle for liberation. Follow Kristian’s recent Black Statement of Solidarity with Palestine.

Another one of the telling moments of the event at the museum was the number of people who stayed behind to continue the conversation and seek further understanding of the Palestinian conflict, nearly an hour after the panel discussion had ended. Most even signed an email list to stay included in the conversation. There were also activists from Jewish Voices for Peace present to show their solidarity with the work.

The struggle for liberation for Black people and Palestinians predates my short 38 year old existence, but as a wise elder once told me, “never tell yourself that it won’t happen in your lifetime.”

I understand now that I must struggle everyday as though the people will be victorious and I must be committed to visioning and building toward a society where all oppressed peoples can be free and self-determinant, in my lifetime.