Monday, May 13, 2013

An Irritated Analogy

Imagine, if you will, that you are a white American feminist. Imagine that someone points out that white American feminists have long failed to show sufficient concern or respect for American feminists of color. We have not understood or acted on behalf of their issues and needs, we have not educated ourselves, we have not listened, we have not created an inclusive movement, we have, indeed, allowed ourselves to think that ‘all the feminists are white, and all the blacks are men’.

If you are someone who values truth, and someone who values understanding her own privilege, you will agree that these things are true, and strive to address them.

Now, imagine if you will, that someone comes along and says that women of color are oppressed solely by white feminists. This person has no interest in any other factor creating oppression in the lives of women of color. They seem entirely unaware that any men have ever been involved systemically or significantly in the oppression of women of color. They certainly don’t believe that women of color were facing any oppression before feminism came along in the nineteenth century. They’ve read, in fact, that before feminism, American women of color lived in perfect harmony with their neighbors of all colors, and had no problems at all. Now that there’s feminism, of course, they face economic and educational inequality, problems of access to adequate health care, race and gender based discrimination, and many other difficulties, and this is all clearly the result of feminism.

 All progressive people, therefore, they assert should be fundamentally opposed to feminism, and see it as an entirely and uniquely destructive force in the world. Women of color, in particular, should never be fooled into thinking that they have any problems that were not directly inflicted on them by the white feminists, and if they start to think anyone else is causing them problems, they should just review all the terrible things white feminists have done to them.

 You might be tempted to write this person off as ludicrously uninformed, or you might suspect that this is someone who hates women, and hates feminism, and is trying to find a convenient reason why feminism is awful that you will have to agree with. You might, if you did a little digging, find that they have a whole arsenal of other reasons why they assert feminism is terrible, most of them just as spurious or historically inaccurate.

This is exactly the nonsense that spills out when people who hate Israel try to use the Mizrahim, the Ethiopian Jews, and other Jewish communities of color as a way to beat up on Israel and Zionism. These are people who have somehow managed to educate themselves about the discrimination these communities face in Israel, (or perhaps ‘educate’ is not the term, given the high ratio of lies that tend to creep in) but have somehow managed to not learn about, or not care about, any other oppression these Jews experience now or in the past at the hands of anyone except Israeli Ashkenazim. Just like that, generations of segregation, bigotry, murderous hate, and racist laws simply vanish. Ancient communities become blunt instruments to try to wield against other Jews.

 In other words, yes. The Mizrahim, the Ethiopians, the Russians (oh, we forgot about them, since the anti-Israel crowd likes to paint them villains), the Bokharans, all of them, have faced difficulties and often discrimination in Israel. We have internalized colonialism and racism as much as any other oppressed people, and we continue to struggle with them. But if you like to passionately assert that these problems indicate rot at Zionism’s heart—you’re ignorant.

 If you do not know both what the Farhud was, and how it fits into the broader history of collaboration with the Nazis by Middle Eastern governments, you do not have the right to enter this discussion. If you don’t know that there were camps in Tunisia as well as Poland, you do not have the right to enter this discussion. If you do not understand the intersections of colonialism and traditional anti-Semitism as they affected the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa, you do not have the right to enter this discussion. If you dismiss the fascist connections of pre-war Palestinian leadership, and think that discussions of anti-Semitism in Islamic societies are simply ‘Islamophobia’, to be scoffed and dismissed, you should stay well out of this discussion. If you do not understand the speed and the racist venom with which ancient Jewish communities were dismantled and exiled in the years following the establishment of Israel, you simply don’t know enough to even approach this discussion.

 Or you could go through life thinking that American women of color had no problems until Seneca Falls, and would have none today if we could only dismantle NOW. Sometimes willful ignorance can’t be overcome.

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