Global Interlocking Oppressions from #Ferguson2Palestine
by Dr. Johnny E. Williams
“As fulcrums for white supremacy, anti-blackness and anti-Palestinian racism functions to normalize unjust racialized social and institutional practices.”
One of the most important accomplishments of Barack Obama’s presidency is its wholesale revelation to the world that being black in the White House makes little difference in stemming domestic and international systemic oppression. For the first four years of Obama’s presidency most blacks unwaveringly supported Obama, but our support started to wane after the extralegal execution of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012. Obama’s support among black folks fell from 93% in 2012 to 81% in 2013 but rebounded slightly in 2014 to 84%. This 13% fluctuation indicates we black folks are slowly starting to open our minds and eyes to the reality that Obama’s presidency is merely an ill-clad continuation of our oppression.
Since the Obama administration displays no will to end state and extralegal violence directed at us, segments of our community, specifically youth, have mobilized to bring pressure to stop these actions. Despite this pressure the Obama administration continues to implement policies like the Department of Justice’s recently released “new” Federal Racial Profiling Guidelines to hinder efforts to remedy the state violence of police brutality and racial profiling. In the words of Princeton University Professor Naomi Murakawa, the new guidelines “do nothing to change the letter of the law with regard to racial discrimination. They operate within policing as we know it… And without changing … structures” so it has no impact. Given Obama’s temerity, black folks have taken to the streets because, for the first time since the modern civil rights era, we truly understand that “we are the ones we have been waiting for” to bring about permanent structural change for a just and equitable political and economic system.
“Because oppressions interlock and intersect, the Black Lives Matter movement understands the importance of working with similarly oppressed people to rout global white supremacy.”
To accomplish our movement’s objectives we understand we cannot secure our human rights until all people are free of systemic oppression. For this reason the Black Lives Matter movement seeks common cause with other oppressed people. The centrality of ‘race’ is important for the movement but so too is centering gender, sexuality, class, militarism, and the experiences of oppression. To struggle against systemic racism without fighting to rid the world of sexism, heteronormativity, economic exploitation and domination is viewed by the movement as a piecemeal intervention that will not effectively dismantle white supremacy and its associated systems of oppressions. Because oppressions interlock and intersect, the Black Lives Matter movement understands the importance of working with similarly oppressed people to rout global white supremacy.
It does not escape Black Lives Matter participants that state violence techniques used by Israel to control and occupy Palestine are also being deployed against us. We are very much aware that police in the U.S. are receiving training from the Israelis on how to dehumanize and control us as “others” in order to shut down our dissent. Palestinians drew the connection too and sent solidarity messages to Ferguson protestors via social media advising them how to counter the effects of tear gas. One especially illuminating tweet read: #Ferguson: “The tear gas used against you was probably tested on us first by Israel. No worries, Stay Strong.”
Much like Palestinians, “othering” constitutes us as an existential threat to the state. For example, for-profit media routinely frame both Palestinians and black folks as “demons” to legitimate state violence directed at us. Palestinians under Israeli occupation and black folks in the U.S. confront racial narratives and ideologies daily – often in veiled forms – and systems of physical and social control (e.g., extralegal force (vigilantism), mass incarceration, disenfranchisement and lethal over-policing) that work in concert to maintain our status as the “other.”
“Othering’ is also facilitated by the U.S. and Israel engagement in low-intensity genocidal actions such as ethnic cleansing through segregation and various discriminatory practices like gentrification, housing discrimination, barrier construction and so forth. Such tactics receive tacit support from the state in the form of legal rulings like the September 2014 Israeli Supreme Court decision authorizing rural, Jewish-majority communities to reject Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel and other “unsuitable” (non-Jewish) applicants for residency. Supports for such discriminatory rulings are fueled in large part by widespread public support among Israeli Jews for chauvinistic laws and policies towards Israeli Arabs. A clear majority of the Jewish public (59 percent) in a 2012 Haartez poll backed the government giving preference to Jews for public sector jobs and half favored the government treating Jews better than Arabs.
“For-profit media routinely frame both Palestinians and black folks as “demons” to legitimate state violence directed at us.”
Though ‘white’ Euro-Americans are not so overt about their scorn for black people, polls consistently show that, much like their counterparts in Israel, they are not concerned about the abuse blacks experience during policing. This sentiment is evident in the December 22, 2014 CNN poll which found 57 percent of whites saying they have a “great deal” of confidence police officers in their community treat blacks and whites equally. In an earlier December 7, 2014 NBC/Marist College poll 79 percent of ‘white’ Euro-Americans say they have “a great deal” or a “fair amount” of confidence that police won’t use excessive force. But 52% of blacks have “just some” or “very little” confidence that they won’t. Given that ‘white’ Euro-American confidence in local police is the highest ever recorded, they clearly view the policing policies and practices as supportive of their interest, not as institutionally repressive.
Unlike Ashkenazi Jews and ‘white’ Euro-Americans, Palestinians and blacks face police in full battle gear, ready to unleash their massive firepower on them. During the early stages of the Ferguson uprising a protestor, in the face of an overwhelming show of police force, yelled out, “You gonna shoot us? Is this the Gaza Strip?”
Though the context of our struggle against oppression differs, both oppressed groups understand that our basic human rights are abridged through simultaneous experiences with multiple oppressions like race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and nation. These oppressions are not suffered separately but as single, synthesized experience which, sociologist Patricia Hill Collins maintains, work together to sustain injustice. Collins refers to this co-production of oppression as the “matrix of dominations” where intersecting oppressions are organized in structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and interpersonal domains of power to recur across quite different forms of oppression. They materialize in racialized form as anti-black and anti-Palestinian racism which socially condition oppressors to be utterly indifferent to black and Palestinian suffering. As fulcrums for white supremacy, anti-blackness and anti-Palestinian racism functions to normalize unjust racialized social and institutional practices. Given this, the Black Lives Matter movement understands the importance of forging domestic and global alliances to share and develop tactics for creating change to free ourselves and others from the callous and cruel destruction perpetuated by white supremacist regimes which view us and our communities as disposable exploitive “others.” In this sense we in the U.S. and Palestine are building a multiracial and multinational movement for justice by connecting the dots between racist state violence in the U.S. and the occupation of Palestine.
Dr. Johnny Williams is an associate professor of sociology at Trinity College, in Hartford, Connecticut. He is the author of African-American Religion and the Civil Rights Movement in Arkansas (University Press of Mississippi 2003) and of numerous articles examining culture’s role in politics, social movement mobilization and scientific knowledge production.
He has two forthcoming books: Decoding Racial Ideology in Genomics (Lexington Press) examines the complex role racialized culture plays in delimiting how genome researchers think about human genetic variation; The Persistence of White Sociology (Palgrave Macmillan) investigating how conventional sociology as a theory, method and ideology functions to ensure the viability of systemic racism.
His commentary is featured in media outlets such as Black Agenda Report, Racism Review, CounterPunch, Ctnewsjunkie.com and The Mark News (Toronto, Canada).