Black Feminists Are Standing Up For Palestinians — No Matter The Cost

Brea Baker is a writer and organizer. In this op-ed, she shares her perspective on the history and current movement of Black feminist support for Palestine.
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.
Poet Aja Monet, singers Kehlani and Amerie, and activist Tamika Mallory are just some of the prominent Black women who have lent their talent and platforms to mourning the more than 8,000 Palestinian people who’ve been killed in the last few weeks and who are calling for an immediate ceasefire to prevent more death in Gaza, and in Israel. My timeline, too, has been filled with the impassioned support for the #freePalestine movement from Black women of all walks of life: world travelers, teachers, community organizers, writers, and artists. Many of them remember the support of Palestinian people during the Ferguson uprisings of 2014, but this current wave of Black feminist defense of Palestine didn’t start in the 2010s – the solidarity has a rich history. 
Even though the tie between Black liberation and Palestinian solidarity is long and unwavering, what has been playing out on our timelines in the past few weeks has shown that little has been learned from that history. Following an attack by Hamas on October 7th, Israel released an onslaught of violence against Palestinian civilians that is still going. After dropping bombs which devastated hospitals and destroyed evacuation routes, blocked humanitarian aid from nearby nations, and cut off electricity, water, and telecommunication services, the Israeli government’s cruelty created an outcry against the ongoing genocide. Tensions are high and anti-semitic and Islamophobic hate crimes are on the rise globally. Kehlani has said she has been doxxed for being open about her stance, and she’s one of many to receive backlash for standing with Palestinians. Six-year-old Palestinian-American Wadea Al-Fayoume was stabbed to death by his family’s landlord and threats of violence against Jewish people, neighborhoods, and synagogues spread like wildfire. The grief was, and remains, palpable as people from all backgrounds plead for a ceasefire and end to the occupation that leaves them so vulnerable to begin with. 
Grassroots support for Palestinians has poured out from Black millennials and Gen-Zers online — from TikTok to Instagram to Twitter — in the past three weeks, but prior to the public pressure, Black politicians and institutions remained mostly silent at best and one-sided at worst on the crisis. Misinformation and gory false tales further incentivized antagonism and dehumanizing narratives of Palestinians. A-list celebrities (including prominent Black celebs like Tyler Perry, Diddy, Octavia Spencer, Jordan Peele, and Chris Rock) signed an open letter to President Biden thanking him for his leadership (he still refuses to support a ceasefire) and allegedly advocating in support of Jewish and Palestinian people (already a false binary comparing ethno-religious identity with nationality) “who have been terrorized by Hamas.” But there was no mention of the more than 5,000 Palestinians who were murdered by the Israeli Defense Forces at the time that the letter was released or the decades- long occupation that creates this cycle of violence.

The fight to end anti-semitism and the fight for Palestinian freedom are one and the same because both recognize that scapegoating one group of people in the name of safety for another will always doom us.

brea baker
As those standing with the state of Israel (including some extremist Black Hebrew Israelites and Black scholars who supported Zionism in its infancy) worked to convince people that the issue was too complex to have a stance on, despite decades of recorded brutality, Black feminists knew better. “It’s necessary that my work be informed by the ways in which all oppressed people are harmed by the United States,” activist and public educator Ericka Hart told Unbothered. “As so many Black scholars have posited, none of us are living single-issue lives and the lives of Palestinians, Congolese, Sudanese, Ethiopians, Haitians and anywhere else US imperialism has touched, must be of top of mind when fighting for Black liberation.” 
In 1990, during a commencement speech at Oberlin College, Audre Lorde opened with a harrowing reminder that, as American citizens, we live in a country full of contradiction and inequity. Lorde is a Black lesbian poet and writer who famously wrote in 1983 that there is no hierarchy of oppression and proclaimed that she could never be considered free “while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” After detailing the violence of policing, homophobia, domestic white supremacy, and poverty in America, Lorde set her sights on the injustice of Palestine:
“Our federal taxes contribute $3 billion yearly in military and economic aid to Israel. Over $200 million of that money is spent fighting the uprising of Palestinian people who are trying to end the military occupation of their homeland. Israeli soldiers fire tear gas canisters made in America into Palestinian homes and hospitals, killing babies, the sick, and the elderly. Thousands of Palestinians, some as young as 12, are being detained without trial in barbed-wired detention camps, and even many Jews of conscience opposing these acts have also been arrested and detained.”
More than 30 years later, Lorde’s words are more true than ever. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the US has provided more foreign aid to Israel than to any other country since World War II. More than $300 billion of taxpayer money funds airstrikes, missiles, and depravation while that same U.S. government tells us it can’t afford reparations, free healthcare, or fully-funded public education. Which is precisely why those in power here in the United States and in Israel, are invested in keeping our movements divided and unable to connect those dots. “This country loves to silence anyone standing for oppressed people to be liberated and they will justify their actions every step of the way, calling everyone that worked against that mission a terrorist, when the only terrorist is the US government,” Hart said.

As so many Black scholars have posited, none of us are living single-issue lives and the lives of Palestinians, Congolese, Sudanese, Ethiopians, Haitians and anywhere else US imperialism has touched, must be of top of mind when fighting for Black liberation.

ericka hart
Name-calling is a clear tactic in this current war against the truth. Claims of anti-semitism have been lobbed at pro-Palestinian advocates since the state of Israel was founded, despite the fact that Palestinian people come from all religious backgrounds, including Judaism.
“There is absolutely no doubt that anti-semitism is real and that Jews have suffered endless persecution over the course of thousands of years. Jews everywhere deserve to be safe from the anti-semitism and hate that has left us with endless generational trauma,” writer and political organizer Camonghne Felix wrote to Unbothered in an exchange on Instagram. Sitting at the intersection of Blackness and Jewish identity, Felix is especially mindful of the nuance in these conversations without diluting her support for Palestinian rights. “That safety is impossible to achieve when Zionists weaponize the very real threat of anti-semitism against people who simply want to live.” Again this isn’t new. Political commentator Marc Lamont Hill was fired from CNN following his support of Palestine back in 2018. And The Cut found that “professional blowback has been lopsided” with people who posted pro-Palestinian posts lost their jobs while Israel military defenders haven’t faced the same consequences. “I have been called anti-semitic, received death threats and have lost scheduled gigs,” Hart admitted. Jaimee A Swift, an assistant professor of Black Studies at James Madison University, has seen the same censorship play out recently. “We’re seeing those who stand up and say we don’t want the collective punishment of Palestinian people are having their job offers rescinded, being fired from positions, and not being considered for positions,” she said. 
I reject the lie that Black women either don’t know enough about the history of this issue or are only jumping in because of alleged hatred against Jewish people. “To advocate for Palestinian lives and to question the moral conditions of Zionism is not antagonistic to Judaism,” said Felix,  who affirms that the Torah encourages justice-minded thinking and resistance to genocide. “Jews are unsafe in any part of the world that does not stand against ethnostatist violence.” As Felix points out, Zionism (the colonial defense of the state of Israel as a rightful Jewish homeland) and Judaism (a religion that values justice) are not synonymous nor do they go hand in hand; many progressive Jewish activists and community members have reiterated this fact as they reject the genocide of Palestinian people in their name. Accusations of anti-semitism only serve to insulate the racist Israeli regime from any and all examination. But the fight to end anti-semitism and the fight for Palestinian freedom are one and the same because both recognize that scapegoating one group of people in the name of safety for another will always doom us. And as Dr. Swift shared with us, these latest censorship efforts — not unlike book bans across the United States — are a form of supremacy, control, and suppression.

We’re seeing those who stand up and say we don’t want the collective punishment of Palestinian people are having their job offers rescinded, being fired from positions, and not being considered for positions.

Jaimee A Swift
Apartheid governments feed off of controlling large groups of people, particularly when it comes to saving face. Since 1948, government officials and military leaders have leveraged media, birthright trips, and force to garner widespread support for their vision for the state of Israel. Following the forced displacement of almost one million Palestinian people, also known as Nakba, a series of predatory legislation, property laws, and mass incarceration turned Palestinian neighborhoods into Israeli settlements and Palestinian people into refugees or prisoners. The Gaza Strip and West Bank are essentially all that remain part of the state of Palestine, but they remain vulnerable to Israeli officials who police checkpoints at all entrances and exits. Its civilians are unable to come and go freely, essentially on permanent lockdown, which is why Gaza is consistently referred to as an “open-air prison.” The Israeli state regularly shuts off access to water, electricity, internet, and humanitarian aid in both Gaza and the West Bank.
Taking these conditions into consideration, for decades, everyone from Ntozake Shange to Maya Angelou to Alice Walker have pushed for a free Palestine. “You can’t talk about Angela Davis or Audre Lorde or Toni Morrison or Barbara Ransby or Shirley Graham Du Bois or Winnie Mandela being your fave Black feminist but then in the same breath ask, ‘what does Black liberation have to do with Palestine?’” Dr. Swift said. “All of these people I mentioned were thoroughly enmeshed in the struggle for Palestinian liberation and freedom.” In addition to her work as an educator, Swift is the founder and executive director of Black Women Radicals, a Black feminist advocacy organization dedicated to uplifting Black feminist leadership. In the weeks since Israel’s violent onslaught on Gaza following the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, Black Women Radicals has amplified archival evidence of progressive Black women’s historic commitment to anti-Zionism. Writers like June Jordan who, in 1991, defined Palestine as a “litmus test for morality.” Likening it to the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, Jordan said that what someone is prepared to do on behalf of the Palestinian people speaks volumes about one’s commitment to justice. 
Dr. Swift has long been a student of Black feminist politics and movements, so she understands the legacy of Black feminist predecessors recognizing they were tethered to the liberation of other marginalized peoples. Foundation Black feminist texts like the Combahee River Collective Statement, published in 1977, affirm a politic driven by Black women who know white supremacy and patriarchy’s violence first hand. Palestine sits at the intersection of many ”isms” that Black feminists are actively working to eradicate. “If we’re in the United States, in the imperial belly of the beast, then we have an obligation and duty to be concerned with other liberation struggles around the world,” Swift stated. 
In addition to sharing footage from decades past, Black Women Radicals recently convened a group of prominent Black feminists for a webinar, “Black Feminist Writers & Palestine.” The webinar included an intergenerational group of Black women panelists including writer Clarissa Brooks, scholar Beverly Guy-Sheftall, activist/author Angela Davis, journalist Breya Johnson, and academic Briona Simone Jones. Guy-Sheftall and Davis were signees to a 2011 letter called “Justice for Palestine: A Call to Action from Indigenous and Women of Color Feminists” which was accompanied by an in-person delegation and a trip to occupied Palestine. Davis described the trip as so moving and disturbing that, more than a decade later, she remains just as committed (if not moreso) to an end to apartheid in Palestine. “It was far worse than we imagined,” Davis said before noting that Zionist violence in the region has only intensified since her visit. 

To advocate for Palestinian lives and to question the moral conditions of Zionism is not antagonistic to Judaism... Jews are unsafe in any part of the world that does not stand against ethnostatist violence.

Camonghne Felix
During that same trip to Palestine, Israeli soldiers stopped the bus that Davis, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, and others in the delegation were riding in. The soldiers then boarded the bus with German Shepherd dogs asking for identification from every passenger. “Having grown up in the Jim Crow South, I thought I really understood some of the worst aspects of oppression,” Guy-Sheftall said. The military checkpoints, forced expulsion, and daily violence was all too reminiscent of white supremacy in America. “Our relation to Palestine says a great deal about our capacity to respond to complex, contemporary issues, whether we are talking about imperialism, settler-colonialism, global racism, transphobia, homophobia, the climate, and all the related questions,” Davis declared. 
It’s no wonder, then, that Black women are acutely aware of these intersections. Being that we have similar boots on our necks, we know what subjugation looks like on others. “Spelman College is the only historically Black college or university that has a chapter of students for justice in Palestine,” Guy-Sheftall reminded webinar attendees. Yet, one wouldn’t know this from looking at traditional media. As Clarissa Brooks revealed at the webinar, journalists like her have been begging editors to write about Palestine from a Black feminist perspective. At every turn, Brooks was told no. And over the last few weeks, we’ve seen journalists losing their jobs, and their lives, for their commitment to telling the truth about Palestine. The media landscape has been complicit in flattening this conversation and keeping the plight of Palestinian people from being heard in the name of an uninterrogated allegiance to the Israeli state. 
Black feminists know firsthand that oppressed people can be agents of oppression, against themselves and others. The presence of marginalized people in the master’s house doesn’t change the system of hoarding power over others. We’ve seen it in Haiti with the violence of the Dominican Republic and we see it every day when men of color align with patriarchy even when that means cozying up to white supremacy’s vision of the world. As Angela Davis said in the Black Women Radicals webinar, Black feminists are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Our ideology guides us through the fog and offers clarity on whose “side” we're on. 
Black feminism says that we can (and should!) be highly critical of any government that steals peoples land, corrals displaced people into densely populated areas, deprives those neighborhoods of water and healthcare, mass incarcerates the people from those neighborhoods, and sanctions surveillance and violence. Whether talking about the United States or Israel, that analysis doesn’t waver. “The Black feminist thinkers and scholars, particularly the poets, have taught me to study history, and to locate my critique of the now in the examples of history,” Felix concluded. “I honor their work and bravery by challenging myself to imagine a more brave and just world for all oppressed people, who span various races, nationalities, and creed.”

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