Where black and Palestinian lives meet (Part I)

Where black and Palestinian lives meet (Part I)
Comment: A common thread runs between the 'Black Lives Matter' protest movement against police brutality on African-Americans and the ongoing struggle of Palestinians against Israeli apartheid, says Deanna Othman.
5 min read
10 Jul, 2016
Many African-Americans have adopted Palestinian symbolism in their fight against racism [Getty]
In a two-part Comment piece, Deanna Othman looks at the common struggle of African-Americans against institutionalised racism and Palestinians' fight against Israeli occupation.

As a non-black person of colour watching the events of the past week unfold, I was left speechless and outraged, but not surprised, by the sheer injustice we witnessed in the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

Sadly, the murders of these two men - like the murder of countless other young black men and women at the hands of law enforcement - remain all too frequent in our society, and we state this time and time again.

Like-minded individuals protest and publish their grievances; racists and trolls attempt to subvert and contort the discourse when members of the movement confront the issues. We collectively experience the mind-numbing loss; we watch the graphic video footage; we tweet and speak our outrage; we mourn; and the cycle repeats itself.

The injustice of this cycle is compounded and perpetuated by the way media covers each murder. With the murders of Sterling and Castile, this has been exacerbated by the subsequent murder of five police officers in Dallas, Texas.

The injustice of this cycle is compounded and perpetuated by the way media covers each murder
In addition to the usual discrepancies in the way media portrays black victims versus white offenders, this event has presented the added dimension of painting those who stand firm to proclaim that Black Lives Matter, as somehow linked directly to an army veteran who deliberately shot and killed police officers.

Although those who decry police brutality and systemic racism have been increasingly depicted as violent, anti-white and divisive, the occurrence of an act of violence by a lone individual following the unconscionable murder of two young black men has served the agenda of those of seek to delegitimise and demonise a movement that has attempted to address structural and systemic racism through peaceful, strategic means.

Bearing this in mind as a Palestinian-American, it is necessary to recognise that Muslims, Arabs and non-black people of colour in the West often lay claim or co-opt the black struggle only as it serves to legitimise their own.

We must acknowledge that this occurs and call out anti-blackness within our respective communities, while also being careful to ensure that we do not elevate our own voices at the expense of the black voices who live the struggle. However, although I respect the uniqueness of every people's struggle, and the varying histories that accompany such struggles, I cannot help but see the parallels, both in the situations the African-American community confronts in the US and that the Palestinians confront abroad, and the common rhetoric that is widely used to both demonise those struggling, while also serving to justify the violence of the aggressor against them.
I cannot help but see the parallels in the situations the African-American community confronts in the US and that the Palestinians confront abroad

Rage. Hopelessness. Self-doubt. Worry. Often it seems that regardless of what you do, how you behave, how much you achieve, those who devalue your humanity will always deem you a potential threat.

The disparity between how you view yourself, versus how those in positions of authority view you can have crushing, and often lethal, effects on the both young and old.

In contextualising activism for Palestine, and the Black Lives Matter movement, we discern that such movements, whether fighting Israeli apartheid or systemic, post-Jim Crow racism, have always been repressed, attacked and maligned, although their common goal was and is to end racist colonial violence against these groups.

While both the black community and Palestinians abroad deal with similar issues in different contexts - the imprisonment of youth, targeting of young men, state-sponsored violence, lack of access to clean water, racial profiling - the tactics that have been used to portray these victims, to justify the bigotry and institutionalised injustices perpetrated against them, are strikingly similar.

Vilification of victims and selective sympathy

Whether it is a young black man shot dead by police, or a Palestinian teenager murdered by Israeli soldiers, the victims - rather than the murders - are out on trial by media following their deaths.

Whether it is an arrest record or mug shot, or the accusation of terrorism, every attempt is made at validating the murder, regardless of the victim's age or innocence in the situation.
Whether it is a young black man shot dead by police or a Palestinian teenager murdered by Israeli soldiers, the victims are out on trial by media following their deaths

The victim must have been reaching for a weapon; he must have tried to stab a settler; he must have been inherently predisposed to violence, and therefore it became incumbent on the officer/solider/settler to take pre-emptive measures.

Victims are demonised and otherised, having to always prove their humanity, even in death. If you are not the "perfect victim", then in the dominant discourse, you are no victim at all. Victims are transformed into collateral damage necessary to preserve the noxious status quo.

The outpouring of sympathy depending on the identity of the victims also highlights this disparity. With the killing of the police officers in Dallas, media coverage and discussion centred around praise of those who work in the line of duty - their valour, heroism and sacrifice.

However, discussion of what may have led to such a violent outcome, the creation of a pressurised environment where some feel they have no outlet but to lash out in rage and despair, was not delved into deeply in the dominant narrative.

The treatment of the legacy of the police officers who became victims of violence versus the treatment of victims like Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and countless others remains vastly different.

Similarly, Palestinian victims of Israeli aggression receive far fewer outcries of sympathy and support, and even fewer headlines, than Israeli victims of violence. Although the number of Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli bombs and missiles, or those who have been shot dead at Israeli checkpoints, vastly outnumbers the amount of Israelis killed by missiles or stabbings, the disproportion in media coverage and sympathy from American audiences continues to exist.

(Read part II here)

Deanna Othman is a journalist and educator who writes on Muslim-American and Palestinian issues, and has a religion column on The Huffington Post. Her work has been published by The Chicago Tribune, Salon.com, among other media outlets.

Follow her on Twitter: @deannaothman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.