Being Black Palestinian: Solidarity as a
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, July 20, 2016
Herman Wallace in 2008
Last 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.”
Palestinian columnist and a book author over the past 20 years, it has not
been entirely easy working in the United States. Nor has it been possible
to be embraced by the mainstream while raging against mainstream ideas,
constant appetite for war and unthinking support of 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
have decided to comfort myself with that sage realization.
Having been born in a refugee camp in Gaza, I am the descendant of a
generation of refugees and peasants, who once dwelled in a Palestinian
homeland before it was brutally vanquished in 1948 and ‘miraculously’
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.
In fact, 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
expose the suffering of refugees, wherever they are. But I am just one of
an ever-growing movement of Palestinian intellectuals, artists,
academicians and justice activists the world over.
experience and unrelenting fight for freedom and justice has molded us
into a unique breed, where solidarity with others have become so innate,
an uncontrollable urge, a pathology even, although a welcome one. Thus, it
should come as no surprise that the loudest
international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the
killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already
been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black
brethren. In fact, that solidarity
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.
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
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
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 a 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 millennia - has been quite fluid; culturally and geographically, as
well. 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 Rohingya of Burma
is hardly an act of political expediency, but a natural moral inclination.
A culture even.
Edward Said had 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 have become truly blurred between their
political identity, their own culture and that of a much greater fight
with loftier goals.
“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
In a recently
released poetry collection 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
streets of Hanoi,
Amid the rubble of a Gaza mosque.
on my dying bed.
I have many names.
But my face is always
On my forehead stitched the memory of pain.
And teach my son to never 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.
- Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20
years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an
author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books
include “Searching Jenin”, “The Second Palestinian Intifada” and his latest
“My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story”. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.