The holocaust that capitalism (the European version and the American version as it was forming) brought on Africa and the millions that were led like cattle to the new continent − and on their descendants − floats above the effervescence of New York.
It hovers above the festive feverishness of a cosmopolitan city with its well-tailored presence of black professionals or young people shooting hoops on the corner of Third Street and Sixth Avenue. (The word “holocaust” is misleading because of the superhuman shade to it, but because it’s a common term, it’s clear and convenient.)
As is the way of any holocaust, the effects of capitalism on Africans and African Americans cannot be erased. (The absence of indigenous people on the New York cityscape makes it easier to conceal their holocaust.)
Unlike another shoah (which Nazi Germany and its allies committed), the American one continues to spread institutionalized oppression and exploitation, discrimination and racism, humiliation and contempt for the surviving descendants.
There are sufficient reminders of a terrible past that cannot be buried: a bit of historical background on the neighborhoods and street corners, a quick count of who among the beggars and homeless are black (the majority), chance conversations that reveal the cavernous gap in family history (the earliest example is the slave cabin of the south). Then of course are the public housing projects.
Every age spawns its own mass struggles. Now it’s the phase of Black Lives Matter, a movement whose establishment stemmed directly from the police’s light trigger finger as they faced blacks, whose color is enough to define their lives as dispensable. After the big protests came the turn of the organizers, the community activists, the eloquent spokespeople and writers.
No wonder then that at this very time when Israeli soldiers, police and private security guards execute suspected Palestinian knife-wielders without trying to take them alive, ties are growing between American black activists and Palestinian activists. Connections are being made by both sides; they’re talking about the ruler’s contempt for the value of lives, for the very lives themselves, of Palestinians and blacks.
The similarity between the itchy trigger finger of uniform-wearers in both countries and of the judicial authorities that understand, legitimize and avoid meting out punishment is the outer membrane. Underneath are other layers of similarity.
There is no African American whose own country and its white citizens have not caused him and his family a terrible disaster in the recent or more distant past − and for many others in the present as well. There is no Palestinian that Israel and its citizens have not caused a terrible disaster in the past and present − expulsion from the homeland; the killing of friends and relatives; the stealing of land, home and livelihood; the lacerating of roots and the rewriting of history; the attempt to wipe out identities; the breaking up of families.
The huge success story that both countries attribute to themselves, and which they market, is the other aspect of the web of exploitation and disaster that have been wrought on the two societies − the African American and the Palestinian.
Here the resemblance screams out. The United States is the land of unlimited opportunity and liberty − individual progress for anybody who wants to and can. Just not for the masses of blacks, to whom it owes so much of its accumulation of capital and prosperity. Israel is rebirth and miracle, democracy, startup nation, honey − for every Jew in the world and just not for the Palestinians, the original people of the land.
The ties and connections that African Americans and Palestinians are building show that in spite of the victors, the vanquished are also writing history. Writing it together is one of the ways of changing its path.