Loud and proud: Lessons learned in a year of Palestinian pride

Loud & Proud: Lessons learnt from a year of Palestinian pride
9 min read
26 July, 2023

What happens when you spend your entire life trying to assimilate into a white supremacist culture, and then suddenly find yourself trying to fight it?

What does it mean to finally claim the culture you were born in? These are questions I’m eager to answer, as I explore everything I learned in the past year of getting in touch with my Palestinian roots. 

A little over a year ago, I wrote about my journey of Palestinian self-discovery. I’d spent over twenty years of my life trying to be as white as possible, going by Kyle and doing anything I could to mimic the “idealised” version of beauty I saw on television.

In that piece, I explored what it meant to be Palestinian when I just wanted to be American. Today, I’ve come to realise a few things about being Palestinian and wanted to write about what I learned in the past year.

"Exist as a Palestinian loudly, take up space, and achieve my dreams in the spotlight so that everyone knows Palestinians are capable of anything"

It’s a curious thing, to ignore activism and culture for decades and then be thrust into them both at a rate that could make your head spin.

In the beginning, I refused to tell people what my heritage was, now I wear a Palestinian flag on my lapel and boast multiple flag stickers on my things. I used to select ‘White/Caucasian’ on legal documents because that’s how Middle Eastern people technically classify on the US Census, and I wanted to blend in, but now I check the box next to “I decline to self-identify.”

I used to avoid the subject of Palestine at all costs, but now I proudly wear my keffiyeh at work in hopes someone asks me about it so I can tell them I’m Palestinian. 

It’s a 180-degree change, and one I’m proud of. But with that pride, there’s an inescapable sensation of pain and a realisation that being Palestinian means having to find a way to carry this pain no matter how much happiness I can find despite it.

I spent most of my life successfully avoiding this hurt because of how much I ignored my culture, and I’ve thought a lot this year about how much easier it was to survive when I did that.

Ignorance really is bliss, because it’s so much simpler to go through life pretending the bad things aren’t happening, and not questioning anything about anything.

Before, I never saw the news about Palestine because I didn’t care to know it, but now that I follow what’s going on, my heart breaks every single time I see a Palestinian family getting evicted from their house, or see bombs dropped on civilians in Gaza.

This is the pain I’m still figuring out how to live with, and one that won’t stop until we stop getting killed. Unfortunately for us, it doesn’t look like there’s an ending to that suffering coming any time soon, but I will proudly shoulder that pain alongside my pride because as a Palestinian, I have no other choice. I refuse to go back into a blissful dream state, pretending these injustices aren’t happening, because pretending something isn’t broken never fixes anything.

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I had a conversation with a new friend earlier this summer, someone I used to follow as a kid who inspires me with his work in media.

When I was explaining to him my experience of opening myself up to my Palestinian roots and my wishes to document this journey of mine, he mentioned that he’d seen a 2019 documentary called Gaza, by Gary Keene and Andrew McConnell. “It’s gut-wrenching, though,” he warned before I had to tell him that my father was actually from Gaza, and I was fully aware of what the people who live there are going through.

But he hit the nail on the head. What the Palestinian people are going through in Gaza, and the rest of the ‘48 (a term we use to describe the land Britain stole and gave away, instead of referring to it by the name of our oppressors’ choosing), is in fact, gut-wrenching.

It’s an infuriating, heart-breaking, jaw-droppingly disgusting fact that the world knows what goes on in these places and does nothing about it. 

"The world knows about Palestinian pain, but there are too many people who don’t know what Palestinian joy looks like"

I guess that’s why I’ve tried so hard this past year to do what I can to embrace my heritage and wear my Palestine pin on my lapel with a smile on my face.

The world knows about Palestinian pain, but there are too many people who don’t know what Palestinian joy looks like. And the biggest lesson I’ve learned since accepting my heritage is that there are a million different ways to showcase Palestinian joy, and not every activist needs a bullhorn, because proudly existing is resistance enough.

Of all the lessons learned this year, this one is probably the most valuable. The truth of the matter is, your bones need to be made of metal to do the kind of activism that has you out on the streets repeatedly, not only watching/keeping up with the news but sharing it for the world to see.

I’ve learned that my bones are not that strong because being caught up in the news cycle for too long is emotionally and mentally exhausting, but I can rely on those with titanium bones to keep holding up their signs and chanting their chants, while I focus on what I can do best: Exist as a Palestinian loudly, take up space, and achieve my dreams in the spotlight so that everyone knows Palestinians are capable of anything. 

In accepting this lesson, I help heal the parts of myself that tell me I’m not doing enough. I may have spent the majority of my life ignoring my heritage, and I may not be as heavy a political activist as my friends, but when the world keeps telling you that Palestinians don’t exist, being loud and proud about your own existence is activism in and of itself.

One day, this pride I have in my day-to-day life will bleed into my career and it'll blossom not because I ignored my heritage, but because I embraced it.

That said, while I dream to work in entertainment, and create stories that bring Palestinian culture to life and introduce this beautiful heritage of mine to the rest of the world, I must be content with living loudly as a Palestinian at my day job.

I refuse to wait until my dreams come true to take up space in this world as a Palestinian, when our spaces are quite literally stolen from us on a daily basis. And coincidentally, my day job is where I’ve learned my most recent lesson of what it’s like living proudly as a Palestinian: Our capitalistic society will forever choose money and safety, overvaluing the differences of people and fighting for true justice, especially if doing so makes them uncomfortable.

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I currently work as a technician and what started as a Genius Bar appointment for a couple of racist Israelis turned into one of the driving forces of why I’ve decided to continue being even louder and prouder about my Palestinian identity. The hardware issue that had to be dealt with was pretty simple, but no matter how kind or personable I tried to be, this couple simply couldn’t move past the fact I was wearing a Palestinian flag on my shirt.

You can hear the whole story on TikTok, but to sum up my experience, the couple demanded they get their phone back from us after we checked it in for repair, claiming they didn’t feel that their phone was “safe” in our hands. Furthermore, they also demanded that my manager walk up to me, in front of them, and force me to remove my pin. Thankfully, my manager declined, but what ensued after was a call with HR and legal, and the determination that my wearing that pin was an act of “political solicitation.”

Despite their stance on “social justice,” and the fact they sold national flag-themed watch bands in celebration of the Special Olympics last year, and annually sell Pride and Pan-African flag bands, it seems diversity and inclusion only matter when they make money.

In all of this, every single person I interacted with has shown empathy and outrage at the corporate decisions made by faceless people I’ve never got to speak to directly, and it’s taught me just how deep this systemic racism goes.

But here’s the problem: We let our social justice initiatives be driven not by what’s actually just and right, but by what will make us the most money. 

If it doesn’t make you money, it’s not a cause worth fighting for. In the case of Palestine, people are too scared to advocate for what’s right because they think if they do they’ll be labelled anti-Semitic. Do you know how crazy that is? To label an entire group of people as anti-Semitic because they simply want to stop being killed?

In a conversation with my manager about the situation, she asked how I was feeling, and I responded with, “Exhausted, because I think I’m part of the only minority in the world that gets accused of hating an entire religion simply for wanting to exist in peace.”

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We’re never going to move forward in our fight to free Palestine if people continuously see us as the xenophobic bigots our oppressors make us out to be. This is ironic, because it’s our oppressors who are racist xenophobes, that want to ethnically cleanse an entire land they claim to find sacred, but for some reason have no problem desecrating with barbed wire fences and tunnelling walls through ancient cities.

So, in the year that I’ve been boasting my Palestinian identity, through all the lessons I’ve learned, I know that it’s imperative that we take up space as Palestinians, and be loud and proud about our identities.

Most importantly, it’s critical that we (and our allies) do everything we can to showcase how beautiful Palestinian joy really is.

Joy is an innately human experience, and the harder we make it for our oppressors to dehumanise us the closer we’ll get to finally returning home.

Tariq Raouf is a Palestinian-American Muslim writer, based in Seattle. 

Follow them on Twitter: @tariq_raouf