- Framing Resistance Call and Response:Reading Assata Shakur's Black Revolutionary Radicalism in Palestine
I've known about Angela Davis since I was a teenager. But I didn't know who Assata Shakur was until I moved to New York City in the 1980s. I heard about her from my friend, Rosemari Mealy, a former Black Panther and the first UN representative of the National Alliance of Third World Journalists, who reintroduced Assata Shakur and her struggle to the movement.
Growing up under Israeli occupation of Palestine, I clearly recall my mother pointing to Angela Davis's picture in the local paper and declaring emphatically, "She is framed." My father, more of a perhaps-and-maybe person than my mother ever was, turned to her, asking, "What makes you so sure that she is framed?" Without skipping a beat, she replied, "She is Black. Of course she is framed." My mother was affirming what we grew up knowing with absolute certainty about the United States: It was founded as a settler colonial state that, like Israel, sought (but failed) to erase the existence of Indigenous communities, and consolidated this settler colonial project by first kidnapping and enslaving Africans, and institutionalizing racist discrimination. In our minds, these conditions resonated with the stories of Palestinian uprootedness and dispossession that we heard daily. Neither abstract nor distant, these stories of Black and Indigenous struggle were part of our families' histories. My aunt Um Khalil had barely survived the 1948 Nakba seventy years ago; her sister, Fatima, nicknamed Um el Fedayeen (or "mother of the freedom fighters") was expelled from her job at the Jordanian Ministry of Social Affairs following Black September, only a couple of months before she was due to retire. My cousins, like a million other Palestinians, were incarcerated in Israeli military prisons. My uncle [End Page 226] and my parents' friends were imprisoned and tortured by the Jordanian regime.
Reading Assata in Palestine
I read Assata Shakur's "To My People" (1973) as a text that converses with an anti-colonial radical Palestinian imaginary in a call and response praxis. Here, I am thinking of Palestine both as a transnational imaginary as well as an embodied physical geography. As we crossed one Israeli checkpoint after another on our recent Teaching Palestine trip,1 Shakur's reference that "the Turnpike is a checkpoint where black people are stopped, searched, harassed and assaulted" came up again and again. However, in responding to Shakur's call, I wish to explicitly avoid conflating and flattening this treatise on Black liberation struggle, or engaging in simplistic rhetoric such as "it's all the same oppression and all resistance movements are the 12 same."
While "To My People" raises multiple issues, I will limit my discussion to three questions that most urgently call for a Palestinian response. First, what does speaking on our own terms entail both in the heart of the U.S. Empire and the Israeli settler colonial state, and what does such praxis require in terms of questions of identification, radicalism, identity politics, and coalition building? Second, how do we think through and frame violence and nonviolence as strategies of resistance? And third, what is the relationship between the individual and the collective, and what implications does such framing have for possibilities of accountability and radical social change?
Rejecting Domestication, Assimilation, and Settler Colonialism
Shakur identifies herself as a Black revolutionary, a third world–identified woman. Referring to the U.S. as "amerikkka," Shakur saw white supremacy of the KKK as constitutive of the formation and development of settler colonialism in the U.S. rather than an exception. Identifying as a field "n—," Shakur was clearly rejecting internalized colonialism.
Invoking Black revolution as intimately linked to third world revolution, Shakur connected the Black struggle in the U.S. to the oppressed in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Mozambique, Angola, and South Africa. Shakur thus challenged the foreign/domestic dichotomy (Abdulhadi 2014) and argued against internalized colonialism and the assimilationist politics [End Page 227] of domestication within the U.S. To be sure, Palestine and other Arab anticolonial struggles such as Algeria are not mentioned in "To My People." However, the oral...