Vic Mensa: What Palestine Taught Me About American Racism

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Last summer, I traveled to Palestine with a group of African-American artists, scholars and activists organized by Dream Defenders. I am not anti-Semitic, and the views expressed in this essay are in no way an attack on people of the Jewish faith. My words are a reflection of my experiences on my trip, and my criticism lies with the treatment of Palestinian civilians by the state of Israel, no more and no less. As a black man in America, being stereotyped as a criminal is more than familiar to me, as is being unwanted on the streets of my own home and profiled by law enforcement.

From Time.com. Story by Vic Mensa, a Grammy-nominated rapper from Chicago.

Nora has been embattled in a tortuous legal struggle for her family home since the 1980s. The state of Israel has gone to unbelievable lengths to try to evict her and replace her with Jewish settlers.

Nora’s home is just one heartbreaking casualty of war in the ongoing struggle between Israel and Palestine, in which heinous acts of violence have been committed by both Jews and Arabs. The blood on both sides runs deep. I do not pretend to be familiar with every nuance of the longstanding turmoil that engulfs Israel and Palestine; it is no doubt as aged and tangled as the family trees ripped apart by its brutality. I can only speak to the experiences I had there, to the humiliating checkpoints where Palestinians were not only stripped of their possessions but of their dignity. Walking the ancient streets of the Old City, I watched a Palestinian boy thrown against the wall and frisked by Israeli soldiers in full military gear, carrying assault rifles with their fingers ever present on the trigger. Our guide tells us he’s likely been accused of throwing stones, a crime punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of four years in prison. Take a moment to process that. Throwing stones. Punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence.

American Racism
Image By: Cam Be

Just outside of Jerusalem we visited a Bedouin camp, where a sectarian group of Muslims told us they have seen their elementary school demolished ten times, as well as broken into and vandalized by armed settlers that live in the hills above. The Bedouins are a naturally nomadic community who prefer to live in tents and ask for only the freedom to the most basic of human rights; even these are unequivocally denied. Solar panels donated and built by European institutions for the camp were destroyed by the Israeli government, citing a lack of permission to build. Even toys donated by an Italian institution for the children of the camp were confiscated. An elderly man with a face of leather spoke to us in Arabic saying, “Now that you have seen with your own eyes, return home and explain what you saw. Place pressure on the U.S. government to place pressure on Israel.”

The parallels between the black American experience and the Palestinian experience are overwhelming.

As I gaze over the 25-foot “separation wall,” the economic disparity is acutely transparent; the Israeli side of the wall looks like the Capitol in The Hunger Games, while the Palestinian side reads like a snapshot from a war photographer. It’s as if the South Side of Chicago’s most forgotten and disenfranchised neighborhoods were separated from the luxury of Downtown’s Gold Coast by a simple concrete wall.

Image By: Cam Be

As with the black community in the U.S., the use of incarceration, racial profiling and targeting the youth as methods of control are heavily prevalent in the occupied West Bank. The main difference I see between our oppression in America and that of Palestinians is how overt and shameless the face of discrimination is in the occupied West Bank. As much as we ruminate on our metaphorical police state in Black America, martial law is a very real and tangible condition in Palestine.

For once in my life I didn’t feel like the nigger. As I sat comfortably at a coffee shop, gawking at a group of Israeli soldiers harassing a Palestinian teenager, it was clear who was the nigger. My American passport, ironically, had awarded me a higher position in the social hierarchy of Jerusalem than it did in my hometown of Chicago. As insensitive as it sounds, it was almost a feeling of relief to be out of oppression’s crosshairs for a moment, albeit a very short one.

Image By: Cam Be

This seems to be the overarching attitude of the Palestinians, one of pain but of pride, of darkness but of dignity. They have been made strangers in their own land, second-class citizens in the home of their forefathers, but they refuse to be a memory. They fight as if their existence depends on it, because it does. And all they ask of us is to tell their story.

Read more at Time.com.