The “Brutal Solidarity” Between Buffalo and Palestine
The violence that has visited Buffalo’s Black community and the Palestinian mourners of Shireen Abu Akleh speaks to the commonality of their oppression.
So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit.
Those words sit heavy with me today in the wake of last week’s tragedies. A white supremacist in Buffalo drove hours to one of the most segregated cities in the country to open fire on the very people who have been victimized by the city’s history of segregation. He staked out Buffalo’s Black community, armed himself, and began killing.
Only a few days prior, an Israeli sniper murdered a Palestinian-American Al Jazeera reporter named Shireen Abu Akleh. Following the tragedy, Israeli forces attacked mourners at her funeral. Her crime was trying to tell the truth about the realities of the violent segregation and dispossession that define Israeli apartheid.
You don’t see the media tying these stories together. To most outlets, they are thousands of miles apart—about as distant from each other as Buffalo and Palestine themselves.
But they are tied together in their own “brutal solidarity.” This is the solidarity formed by the shared history of being preyed upon by European colonialism and the fetishization of the gun. The roots of anti-Black violence have been unceasing on this land from the transatlantic slave trade to a history of forced labor, lynchings, and terror. The root of violence against Palestinians by Israel start with the creation of Israel itself in 1948, the dispossession of Palestinian land—the Nakba—and deals made between Israeli settlers and Europe and the United States to create a Western European outpost in the Middle East, armed to the teeth and built on stolen land. That process has continued into the present with the very settlements that Shireen Abu Akleh covered.
It is a “brutal solidarity” forged by efforts in Israel and the United States to stamp out the teaching of history, a war on truth and facts in the service of oppression and violence. In Israel—and increasingly in the US—to speak about exercising boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against the Israeli state in peaceful defense of Palestinian lives is to put a target on your back. In our own country, more than 40 states have put forward laws to stop teaching what they call “critical race theory.” They have called upon the state, two years after mass demonstrations that followed the police killings of George Floyd struck fear in their hearts, to squash any teachings about slavery and systemic racism (without a peep from Elon Musk and his lapdogs in the free speech brigade). The Buffalo killer’s manifesto, of course, pulled anti-CRT rhetoric from Fox News’s Tucker Carlson and his ilk.
We also see the “brutal solidarity” between Buffalo and Palestine in the panic of their oppressors: panic against truth, panic against pluralism, and panic against the fear of being replaced by the other. In the United States, this is called the “great replacement” theory. In Israel, people refer to “demographic time bombs.” In both cases, these calls to fear are also a call to violence. In both cases, racist TV blowhards and politicians co-opt these theories, increasing the temperature within those predisposed to kill. Steel wool couldn’t scrub away the blood that stains Tucker Carlson’s hands.
Sometimes it feels like brutal solidarity is all the solidarity we get, and searching for crumbs of hope can seem like a symbolic, empty enterprise. But there is hope, and if we are to find it, it will be in a young generation that is more diverse and less tolerant of intolerance than any in history. It is in the early efforts of Palestinian and Black youth attempting to bridge and connect their common experiences. It is in the mural of Michael Brown that someone painted on Israel’s apartheid wall in Gaza. It is in the efforts of Black youth to visit Palestine this summer, share experiences, and do something truly revolutionary: to replace the brutal solidarity with a solidarity of hope, forged not only by shared experiences but also shared struggle.
But we also can’t just fold our arms and wait for the youth to save us from the global catastrophe that previous generations created. We cannot tweet our way out of this mess. We need to support the marginalized organizationally, politically, and financially, while decentering ourselves and making room for them to lead. Despair is natural at this moment. I feel it in my bones. But cynicism or the distractions provided by a dumbed-down celebrity culture will only give us more of the same violence. In the name of Shireen and the fallen in Buffalo, we must act.
[Dave Zirin is the sports editor of The Nation and the author of The Kaepernick Effect: Taking a Knee, Changing the World.]