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Gaza Is Not Ferguson

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August 14, 2014


As protests over Ferguson continue across the country, I’m both saddened by what sparked them and hopeful because I’m seeing so much righteous rage and a larger sense that things have to change or else.


At the same time, I'm wary and weary of the "Gaza=Ferguson" statements that have been floating around. In their most banal forms, I find these statements highly problematic and full of easy generalisations.


That is not to downplay the violence in either situation but, in fact, to do the opposite: To point out the different different historical realities and forms of violence and, yes, the different kinds of racism as well as the different forms of capitalist exploitation (and as I keep pointing out a million different ways, calling capitalism racist does nothing to illuminate its workings, so stop it already), embedded in different forms of colonial legacies.


On the point about capitalism and racism: I’ll have more in my forthcoming work, but for now the short answer is that capitalism is about brute exploitation, and that exploitation has often come about because of the racial and ethnic differentials of power. That does not necessarily compute to capitalism being inherently anti-Black or racist. Friends and other scholars have written and are researching slave economies emerging from various places around the world, and their work richly complicates the narrative of anti-Blackness/racism in which the discussion of capitalism is often mired.


It’s possible to consider how capitalism works both as an exploiter of racial categories and operates in its own systemic way. To do that is hard work and also to fly in the face of much of the analysis (though not necessarily the history, which keeps getting overwritten, though) currently present. We tend to assume that capitalism simply arrived in this form, the way we see it today.   But in fact, capitalism has managed to function to exploit racial categories along with other vulnerabilities.  It’s popular and easy to talk and write about capitalism as being inherently racist and/or anti-Black, but the harder work involves an understanding of capitalism’s insidiousness, outside the mystifying tendencies of much of today’s race scholarship.  There’s a lot of muddling of analysis that comes about, and consequently a lot of dehistoricising.*


It's also, as I know too well, to be labelled at best someone who ignores race or worse. But here’s my basic point: Capitalism exploits the most vulnerable, the ones least likely to be able to fight back; the realities of what are faced by vast swaths of the underclass here are frequently ignored (and yes, both race and class can and do intertwine). I'm keenly aware of how class works in this country, and while I know that statements like mine, especially because they come from a brown, queer, woman, allow for some old-fashioned racists to triumphantly point out, "Ha! See! It's not race!", I also think it's important to keep in mind that class (and I don't mean it in the crude way lefties use it) matters.


In the case of Gaza and Ferguson, I fear that the complexities of both are being erased, as well as the fact that solidarity across political, class, racial, and ethnic lines cannot simply be brought about with a quick slogan.  I’m also wary of easy calls for solidarity, which are politically efficacious but sometimes deny the reality of the hard work that needs to go into forging anything resembling real solidarity.  I also fear that such analogies reduce political struggles to, well, analogies, and render us incapable of truly engaging and eventually ending state brutality because we forget to comprehend its specificities.  I know and respect the fact that there have been many activists working across lines, to do the hard work of forging meaningful discourse that considers connections between anti-Black violence and the violence against Palestinians.  But I don’t think that “Gaza=Ferguson,” when applied contributes to that work.


That being said, it's still worth looking at specific instances of the connections between the two. I will quote here Christina Hanhardt's brilliant point which she made in a recent Facebook update (which, I understand, she also makes in her brillz new book, Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence, one that I’m currently reading) to point out the more nuanced and historically inflected ways in which we might actually think about connections. Consider this and the larger connections between "hate crimes," policing, capitalist exploitation, queer politics, and state brutality.  Consider, then, making connections not on the basis of needing easy slogans but on the basis of historical evidence and analysis. Consider discussions about these connections not in the light of feverish sloganeering but with the rigour of a thoroughly grounded analysis.


Christina Hanhardt: "During the first Intifada, the Anti-Defamation League's William and Naomi Gorowitz Institute on Terrorism and Extremism created a video to train police officers about how to respond to hate crimes, a video that was also used by lesbian and gay advocates. The video suggested that one example of hate violence was against police officers, and the video featured black teenagers throwing rocks at police officers. Given that the most dominant images of rock-throwing during these years were by Palestinian youth against Israeli state authorities -- plus the fact that the ADL was also then sponsoring the training of New Jersey police officers in Israel (and New Jersey, I might add, had also been home some years earlier to the very first faulty studies that were used to justify "broken windows" policing) -- it is clear that the violence in Ferguson and Gaza (and New York and Los Angeles) have long been linked. This is also one reason why in addition to right-on local organizing, internationalist movement building is so important."


*Last four sentences in this paragraph added later in the evening, August 14, 2014.


For more on state and police brutality, follow the Prison Culture blog. For more on Palestine, follow The Electronic Intifada and Corey Robin.


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