Free Black Gxrlz and Free Palestine

We are grateful to Aurielle Marie for helping our organization be more accountable to the values we espouse, and we hope their insight sparks robust conversation in more literary communities around belonging, activating personal responsibility, applying lessons, and change as a practice. As a nonprofit, we offer the caveat that this essay series reflects the author’s opinions and lived experience as an organizer and literary citizen. The Offing as an organization does not endorse political candidates.

This is the eighth letter in a series of 10 dedicated to engaging The Offing’s literary network in social justice and a value shift toward equity within our respective organizations. The letter was originally sent on June 4, 2021.

I often write to you in hopes that my words—that our words—can be liberating or, in some sense, an impetus for liberatory thought and action. I hold onto the belief that the pursuit of ideas, that invention through language, is enough to move us. I seldom falter in this belief. I seldom waver in my earnest hope that our words, soaring just ahead of deliberate action, will help create a world beyond prisons, beyond policing, beyond dangerous carcerality and hollow inequity. But today I am thinking about the last moments of Ma’Khia Bryant’s life. I am thinking about the children who find themselves at the wrong end of an Israeli soldier’s weapon. I am thinking of the many words that children on the margins are denied and the worlds they are unable to reach. I am angry and exhausted and would be doing us both a disservice if I tried to write around this moment instead of through it.

The first time I had the misfortune of being teargassed, I was in Ferguson, Missouri. It was late at night, and we had received a brief on-the-ground training from a street leader named Rev. Sekou. It was Ferguson October. You could feel the world moving beneath our feet. The first curls of teargas came as police advanced on the mid-sized crowd gathered on West Florissant, and all I could remember was something I’d learned on Twitter in recent months: don’t touch your eyes with your hands. Our hands hold natural oils, and the chemical irritants in teargas are attracted to that, leaving our hands like small weapons against our own bodies and rendering us incapacitated and unable to flee from police. Online allies who were themselves dealing with State persecution in a human rights crisis shared these tips. They were Palestinians, our saving grace. In the throes of militarized violence, fighting a settler-colonial State, they were among the very few in our global community who came to our aid.  

What would it have looked like for a community to aid Ma’Khia Bryant, a young Black girl slain by a similar militarized force, before her untimely murder? Sixteen years old and left to defend herself against her peers and a policeman’s gun, abandoned by a foster system that continues to mirror the prison system identically. Ma’Khia is remembered as “sweet” and “beautiful” by her family, even as public officials attempt to destroy her memory and shape her into a criminal. This is the same brutality responsible for the abuse and persecution of so many Black girls. At a press conference, Columbus’ mayor mused aloud to reporters, “Did Ma’Khia Bryant need to die yesterday?” as the video of officer Nicholas Rearden shooting her loops behind him. The silence that followed his question cloaked racial terror, decades of dehumanization, and ultimately worked to sanitize the brutal shooting. The girl, not a child at all, but a monster. Wielding a knife, wild, and unworthy of even due process.  

I don’t mean to conflate the plight of Palestinians and that of American Black girls, but merely to gesture toward the world from which we are both restricted. We live lives denied safety, denied agency, denied decency and abundance. We are two peoples forcibly removed from our homelands and facing eerily similar atrocities before an overwhelmingly silent global audience. The world watched Ma’Khia die and lost no sleep. The world watches Palestinian children starve, watches as they’re shot by occupying Israeli forces, and barely bats an eye. Look, I’m not trying to condense a decade of political tyranny into a clean and simple essay. By now, I think you know I want to discuss what is critical and what is central, but also give room for the unknowing with trust that you are here because you are willing to do your own work. Even when and especially when it is most uncomfortable. The complexity of the Palestinian struggle is not an excuse to ignore it. This agitation at the intersections, this linking of experiences across the void between us and displaced folks in Gaza, is proof that solidarity is a necessity. And, in true commitment to solidarity, we must divorce ourselves from actions that harm Palestinian people and similarly bring harm upon the bodies of Black girls and Black people stateside.

In cities like Atlanta, Ferguson, Philly, and NYC, resident tax dollars are used to finance police exchange programs like GILEE, where local police are sent to Israel to be trained by settler forces under the guise of “counter-terrorism” and “urban policing.” Countless other cities, too, have set up exchange programs. Settler nations support other settler nations. Settler violence births and normalizes other settler violences. So, my connection to the Palestinian people was made by the very nations that persecute us. The US, by its own actions, linked the persecution of Palestinian people to that of my people: since beginning their collaboration with Israel, police killings of Black people in America have not slowed. They’ve nearly doubled. Our taxes were due this month, and in most states, nearly half of our taxes fund militarized tyranny, both domestically and abroad. With our money, our country’s government will continue to fund Israel and supply them with weapons even though it acknowledges nearly 250 Palestinian civilians were killed by the Israeli government in the past few weeks. This money, our money, will fund bombs dropped on the heads of children, a militarized push of families from their homes, and will further the reach of settler displacement. Friends, this is our fight, too.

Solidarity is profoundly simple at its core: should we ever find that our comfort is at the expense of someone else’s life, it becomes our responsibility to divorce from such comforts. It is our responsibility, always, to pursue equity and justice alongside the folks who are impacted by our fight. I understand what many of my Palestinian comrades understand: that solidarity is a word made tangible by actions. And yet, solidarity is regularly denied to Black people and Palestenian folks in a most kindred way. I remember reflecting in this Twitter thread in 2019 on the severe lack of support Black organizers find in transracial/transnational “justice” spaces. Our voices are silenced, our strategies critiqued, and our fears ignored. The acute nature of Black-Palestentian interconnected struggle comes without a demand for further sacrifice from Black people; we are two peoples resisting violent repression by militarized States. We live in fear of brutality. For us, freedom is more than a possibility, so even our imagining of freedom begets our words, which begets our organizing, which begets resistance. And so often, the focus of our global audience is on the stone or glass bottle in our hands, while our oppressor holds a knee to our neck or an automatic weapon to our head.

Friends, no matter your intentions, you are a complicit benefactor. Your nation has decided to support a country that wages war with Palestine, in your name. So often, our nation wages war on Black communities, in some of your names. So today, choose solidarity and discomfort as a way through. As a way to stand as we reclaim our words and our worlds. In resistance to the dehumanization and denial that State violence enforces. And toward a future where our children can lift their heads without fear.

Despite Our Discomfort:

  1. Join the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movementin solidarity with Palestenian activists in Gaza and across the world:
    • Begin by divesting from five corporations you frequently use on your local BDS list, and find a “BDS Buddy” to do the same, and hold you accountable to these divestments
  2. Read this article about the invisibilization of Black women and girls in discussions on US police violence
  3. Read “Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement” by Angela Davis with one radical accountability buddy (perhaps your BDS buddy?)
  4. Learn more about Operation Ghetto Storm and the We Charge Genocide movement, and consider the US persecution of Black people as a genocidal event.
  5. Read this poem, “Finished with the Peace” by Rasha Abdulhadi
    • Sit with it. Journal what comes up.
  6. Read “Apologies to all the People in Lebanon” By June Jordan
    • Sit with it. Journal what comes up.
  7. Call your local reps and encourage them to support the block of sale of military arms to Israel from the US
  8. In solidarity with Black gxrls, and with Palestine, don’t call the police.

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Women’s History Month

I often compare gender to an occupation, because in many ways, it is such labor.

Back to the Future

Black History must, for us, be more than brief vignettes of fragmented storytelling of bus boycotts and voter rights.