Arab Americans “all in” for Black Lives Matter
By John Mason/Arab America Contributing Writer
Many Arab Americans are used to being “categorized” according to some criteria or other, whether this stems from the 9/11 attacks or the “Muslim Ban.” More specifically harmful are the racist remarks directed by President Trump at four Democratic freshmen women in the House of Representatives, including Arab American Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All are women of color. Trump tweeted for them to “go back home [to the] places from which they came.” And this, despite the fact that three of these women, including Tlaib, were born in the U.S. Here, John Mason looks at Arab American support of the Black Lives Matter movement and at parallels between the Black Liberation and Palestinian Liberation movements.
In Big Cities and Little Cities, Arab Americans rally for Black American Justice
Indeed, it was not a great chasm for Arab Americans to leap to support African Americans or Black Americans in their moment of travail triggered by the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25? It did not take long for many Arab American communities around the U.S. to react to the history and moment of white police violence against people of color. Dearborn, Michigan was a source of a core group of young Arab Americans who organized and led a street rally supporting Black Lives Matter (BLM), according to Michigan Radio. Dearborn is home to several generations of Arabs, many of whom have been active in social and civic affairs for decades. Their rally up and down the city’s streets paralleled rallies and marches across the country, and now the world, to honor Floyd and throw their might behind BLM.
Being civic-minded as they are, Dearborn’s Arab-American organizers also called for the formation of a citizen’s police oversight committee and other possible reforms. Activist Nasreen Ezzeddine told the crowd, “The reality is, we do not need to look beyond Dearborn’s borders to find cases of police brutality and anti-blackness, left unaccountable.” Again, following Michigan Radio, Ezzeddine also noted to the crowd,
“It is a story we hear time and time again: that black people feel uncomfortable and unsafe coming into our community.” Even small children were seen accompanying their parents to the rally, learning early on about matters of civic responsibility.
The Arab American Civil Rights League in Dearborn held a press conference in solidarity with Black Americans and all marginalized communities experiencing state-sanctioned violence. A release stated, “Black people in America continue to live under the racist notion that their very existence is a threat. That shared experience binds Arab Americans with our Black brothers and sisters.”
In wake of the George Floyd killing, Chicago Arab American business and political leaders held a press conference with Black political and religious leaders to show solidarity and extend support for community rebuilding efforts.
Black Lives Matter draws Parallels with Palestinian Liberation
As in Dearborn, Arab Americans in Washington D.C. participated in the protest to support justice for Black Americans. In the Nation’s capital, however, the march took a different twist. What a reporter for Middle East Eye (MEE) observed was the emergence of Palestinian-American protesters. One such protester told that reporter that 9/11, which was responsible for directing a kind of bigotry towards Arab Americans, was a moment when some began to identify with the Black struggle.
Another Palestinian American protester claimed his outrage. He went even further in drawing the parallel with the Palestinian experience. MEE quoted him as saying,
“I’m just standing here to bear witness, but at the same time we do have to understand that Black liberation is inseparable from Palestinian liberation because these police officers in front of us today, a lot of them go to Israel and get trained by the Israeli Defence Forces.” Such training by the Israeli EDF is not a myth—it has been reported by several American police forces.
An Arab American college professor from Washington D.C. who was protesting reported to MEE that “she was outraged by police violence against African Americans decrying the “systems of oppression” around the world. She specifically directed a comment to the parallel between American Blacks and Palestinians: “People around the world need to show solidarity with each other, and there has been great solidarity between Black Lives Matter and the Palestinian movement in the U.S.
Arabs Worldwide support American BLM Protesters on Social Media
On Twitter and other social media, Arabs around the world are messaging #BlackLivesMatter in support of protesters in the U.S. following the murder of George Floyd. Especially grievous in the eyes of outside supporters was the deployment by the White House of almost 1,600 U.S. military troops, which are usually reserved for fighting combatants or enemies external to the U.S. According to The New Arab news link, overseas Arabs are advising BLM supporters on a shared experience with violent police or military force against protesters. A Palestinian woman, for example, shared her experience with tear gas on Twitter. A Lebanese human rights specialist wrote a guide, “From Beirut to Minneapolis”, for U.S. protesters. It includes information on what to carry in their Protest Bags, including “ski goggles and cut onions to inhale if teargas gets on your face.” Other instructions in the guide are to “wear helmets and have an exit strategy!”
On the U.S. front, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) is an important voice in support of BLM. It is the largest Arab American civil rights organization in the U.S. The ADC announcement of its support noted that “the ADC knows that the liberation of all marginalized groups is tied to that of our Black brothers and sisters. ADC stands against injustice, discrimination, and racism regardless of the groups it is targeting.” It further noted that many of the rights Arab Americans have today have been carried on the backs of Black Americans, “whose blood, sweat, and tears have gone into shaping this country.” ADC’s announcement concludes by asking if we have done enough to fight racism of every kind?
The Arabs for Black Lives Collective also issued a call to action inviting Arab Americans to add their voices to a statement, demanding anti-racist training and taking action to “support activists across the country who are risking their lives to demand Justice for George Floyd and the countless souls who have lost their lives to white supremacist policing and violence.”
“Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, Tlaib respond after Trump defends racist tweets”, Brian Naylor, National Public Radio, 715/2019
“In Dearborn, Arab-American activists rally in support of Black Lives Matter”, Kate Wells, Michigan Radio, 6/4/2019
“’ We want justice’: Arab activists join Black Lives Matter protest in Washington”. Ali Harb, Middle East Eye, 6/3/2020
“Arabs are advising American protesters”, Narjas Zatat, The New Arab, 6/8/2020
“Statement on Racism & Anti-Blackness”, American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, 5/28/2020
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.
Check out Arab America’s Blog here!