Ride or Die: Black Solidarity with Palestine in the Fight Against White Settler Colonialism
Published September 19, 2023
Forty years ago, the late, African American writer Leanita McClain wrote an essay entitled “How Chicago Taught Me to Hate White People,” about the racially polarizing election of that city’s first black mayor, Harold Washington. So polarizing was McClain’s essay that the newspaper she worked for, the Chicago Tribune, refused to print it; it had to be published 600 miles away in the Washington Post in the pre-internet days.
McClain’s words have weighed heavily on my mind in recent years because you see it was Chicago that taught me to hate Black people, or at least the Black boule.
The year was 2006 and my fiancée at the time invited me–well, demanded actually– to a Chicago fundraiser for the Mocha Moms, an advocacy organization for African American women who’ve dropped out of the workforce to raise their children.
I was reluctant but it was a gorgeous summer afternoon and the fundraiser took the form of a wine tasting; having recently returned from six years of living abroad in two countries known for their wines, South Africa and Argentina, I had developed a taste for a nice red.
“You got any Shiraz?” I asked the bartender cozying up to the bar. The barkeep nodded, and produced a bottle that clearly identified the wine as an Israeli product. I stopped him mid-pour.
“On second thought, you got a good pinot noir? I asked.
Dude grabs a bottle and I can clearly see that this wine was made in Israel as well.
Now, I’m getting a little salty. “Look man, gimme anything that wasn’t made in Israel.” I barked.
“That’s all I got,” the bartender said. “We gave your group a discount to just serve Israeli wine.”
I wanted to strangle someone. My date’s friends had made all the arrangements for this soiree. I surveyed the room to see if the rage I was feeling registered on any of the other 50 Black faces in the restaurant. It didn’t appear so. Everyone seemed to be doing fabulously, sipping wine culled from bloodied, occupied vineyards, pinkies raised just so, giddily sharing their plans to visit Martha’s Vineyard, or the fabulous new U.S. Senator named Barack Obama.
I was livid and could barely contain my rage. I broke off my engagement with my fiancé about a year later and while it was not because of the fundraiser, that event symbolized the difference in our worldview.
The experience, however, sparked an unmistakable feeling of deja vu. Six years earlier I visited my teenage son in Tampa Fl and as I was driving in from the airport, heard a story on NPR about a local Palestinian engineering professor, Dr. Sami Al-Arian, who has been fired from his tenured teaching position at the University of South Florida after federal prosecutors filed racketeering charges against him for supporting terrorism. The short radio segment was all I had to hear to know that the case stunk to high heaven, and I said as much when I arrived at the home of my Baby’s mana, who worked, at the time in the office of the university president.
“Now, you know y’all need to give that man his job back, ” I chided her playfully. “He ain’t no more a terrorist than I am.”
The response of this woman, who was born at the height of the civil rights movement, who was raised by working-class parents–her father in fact worked at Chrysler just as mine had– and attended a historically-black college just like I had, was like a thunderlap. She said:
“I don’t know; they said he’s done some bad things.”
As Amiri Baraka once said: “Who do the sayin?”
WEB DuBois was disappointed in the Talented Tenth for failing to lead; what in the world would he think of the generation of Negroes raised in the Age of Obama, who have rejected political Blackness for a performative Blackness that finds its voice in splitting your verbs, just so, while parroting the white settler verbatim?
I was an adolescent in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter removed Andrew Young from his post as ambassador to the United Nations for back-channel communications with the Palestine Liberation Organization but I distinctly recall that I did not hear a single adult–not my father, not the older brothas in the barber shop who talked politics endlessly, and not any of the Black politicians who were interviewed by reporters–who failed to back Andy Young, and many tore into Carter for sanctioning him.
Then, it seems to me, Black folks were united in our quest to decolonize; now, too many of us just want to get our hands on the bag. And so it has come to pass, that while Palestine burns, Black people—too many in any event– laze in the summer sun, sipping a nice Shiraz, made in Israel.
I have no truck with anyone who would misconstrue my support of Palestinians as anti-Semitism. Let me state for the record: the Jews are a glorious people and no other tribe contributed as much to the Black freedom struggle, either in the U.S. or even in South Africa during the apartheid movement is not to be misconstrued for anti-Semitism.
Moreover, Semite refers to the Biblical region known as Samaria, of which Palestinians are also a native population. Hence, the largest expression of anti-Semitism in the world is Israel’s illegal and immoral occupation which meets the definition of an apartheid state under international norms.