In 2019, Black Lives Matter founder Patrisse Cullors sat down for an interview on Al Jazeera with the British rapper Lowkey in which Cullors revealed that after the organization she had helped form put together a delegation to visit Israeli-occupied territories in Palestine and gave visibility to Palestine’s problems, certain donors to BLM ceased their support.
“We went on a solidarity trip and I think it transformed all of us (in the delegation). It transformed how we understood the Palestinian struggle but it also transformed how we understood it in relationship to Black people’s struggles inside the US. I think it was a profound moment of clarity…We did receive backlash. Many of our funders pulled from funding us,” Cullors explained.
The interview in itself was a critique of the neoliberal isolation of struggles. Most often in this world, we are taught that every struggle against injustice is unique to the extent that the dynamics and power relations in two separate struggles cannot be compared. If it is not the case, what is packaged for mass consumption in response to injustice are blanket statements that avoid specificity of mentioning the offended and the offender. As another rapper, Common, told us, “justice for all” is just not specific enough. This version comes from the auspicious minds of well-trained public relations experts to that corporation and that celebrity’s social media accounts.
Liberal sponsors of pro-Black protests in America were not too keen on BLM connecting the injustice against Black people to the oppression of Palestinian people and the colonization of Palestinian lands. Which of the two aforementioned neoliberal responses caused this disaffection with BLM? My bet is on both.
The vast majority of platforms in the American media space support, if not tolerate BLM and do not think the movement comprises terrorists and race-baiters as portrayed on Fox News and other conservative media. Yet, what is urged about BLM is often an iteration that is acceptable to the politics of centrism and liberalism-lite. Black Lives Matter, one would argue, is not all about police brutality and Black representation in the corridors of power and influence.
Consider the fact the philosophy that underpins BLM’s posture takes to task the American way of life itself, or better, how America came to be what it is on the backs of unrewarded Black humanity. Black Lives Matter sits on the intellectual foundations of Kimberle Crenshaw’s intersectionality and critiques on race as well as Cornel West’s anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism. Even if BLM’s leaders or most prominent supporters do not always embody these views, there exists within the spirit of its anti-establishment politics, the ability to correct our course. Essentially, Black Lives Matter is aware Black lives cannot matter to the exclusion of those threatened by capital and by expansionism.
Israeli expansionism has been and continues to be supported by American money and moral laundering. The Biden-Harris administration said it is committed to a $38 billion investment in Israel over the next 10 years, for purposes of Israeli defense. There is an unwavering lobbyist effort from the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that counts on both Republican and Democratic support. And there is white Evangelical Christianity and its fideist attachment to Israel. It is safe to say that Israel’s ability to rain down biblical brimstone on Palestine in a disproportionate response to Hamas’ rockets as well as taking over lands that international law forbids, is encouraged by the morally bankrupt maxim “Israel has a right to defend itself”; words every American president in the last 50 years was coached to utter.
Israel’s expansionism in modern discourse has been connected to Zionism, which has in turn been compared to white supremacy, perhaps as a result of the brutally unforgiving nature of the colonial exercise in Palestine and the exclusion of Arabs.
However, even though we may struggle to define what Zionism is, and even though we would have two or more thoughts about calling Israel an apartheid state, we do not have the same headache defining colonization and expansionism. We also do not have a headache perceiving the disproportionate response to whatever Hamas and Palestinians are throwing at Israel.
BLM was right to have sewn its cloth together with the Palestinian struggle three years ago. The ancestors including Kwame Nkrumah, Frantz Fanon, W.E.B. DuBois and Martin Luther King Jr. should be smiling. And so would others alive today who provide the reification necessary to maintain pressure on power and to call out political oppression.
The movement has already spoken of its support during these days of renewed armed conflict, and people of goodwill should expect BLM to continue down this path relentlessly. The worst thing a movement that is in support of Black humanity can do is to unhinge its trolley from that of other oppressed people because moneyed liberals threaten or go ahead with withdrawal of support.