- Black Power and Palestine: Trans-national Countries of Color by Michael R. Fischbach, and: A Shadow over Palestine: The Imperial Life of Race in America by Keith P. Feldman
We didn’t just say, “We want an end to police brutality”—you know, “Hands up, Don’t Shoot.” Hmph. We said, “Be armed for self-defense against the police forces of the United States of America.”1
Thus spoke Elaine Brown, former chair of the Black Panther Party (BPP), during a recent television documentary segment on repression by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and her legendary political party. “Black Lives Matter has a plantation [End Page 503] mentality,”2 is how she was earlier quoted for an article on “the degradation of black liberation” movement 50 years after its founding in Oakland, California. She combats a certain liberalism. Her comments were a scandal for some and a statement of the painfully obvious to others. Criticism of romantic “Facebook revolutions” may be less controversial in the Egyptian context of “Arab Spring” commentary. But hashtag activism has been lionized and monetized for the context of the United States, specifically when this corporate-social media constellation speaks to police violence against Black communities and, possibly, their tweeted connections to Palestine. It is rather curious then and yet refreshing that Michael Fischbach virtually ignores the hashtag trend entirely in his new book, Black Power and Palestine.
Looking back, today’s invocations of “Black-Palestinian solidarity” tend to pivot around mainstream media and two stellar illustrations, all too narrowly: condemnation of Zionism by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in support of Palestine and the BPP’s programmatic connection with Palestinian liberation organizations. Will Fischbach help broaden some visions? His historical frame remains a relatively short one. The geographical context is mostly North American as well. What might disrupt the stunning counterrevolutionary amnesia of the last several decades? What happens when academic book-writing takes control of subjects broached by audacious political movements of praxis made defunct for the time being by massive state violence?
This volume does not just regard easy icons of Black radicalism. There is SNCC. There are Panthers. There is also Martin Luther King, Jr., and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) or the more conservative civil rights movement treated by early chapters. A later Black political elite is featured in closing chapters on Andy Young, Jesse Jackson, and Joseph Lowery. Two more chapters track the figure of Bayard Rustin at different phases of his ideological life—a timely chronicle given his subsequent canonization by a public TV documentary and shallow multiculturalism, as if he were some revolutionary male version of Audre Lorde (“Brother Outsider”). He was not. A synoptic chapter on the Black Arts Movement is resourceful as it traverses assorted genres of Black verbal-political expression, though James Baldwin’s easy placement under this one rubric should raise eyebrows. Nicely, Fischbach’s Black Power and Palestine commences with a chapter on El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (previously Malcolm X), “Black Internationalism: Malcolm X and the Rise of Global Solidarity.” Like the links between SNCC and the Panthers, the epic career of Kwame Ture (previously Stokely Carmichael) is neglected here (as elsewhere)—and strangely so for a book with this “Black Power” title and concentration.
It proposes, “Malcolm X and SNCC opened the door of internationalist Black solidarity with Palestine as a country of color” (p. 109). The inaugural section on Malcolm is noteworthy otherwise. The iconic photo of Malcolm with the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Ahmad al-Shuqayri in Egypt is the cover image of Alex Lubin’s earlier book, Geographies of Liberation: The Making of an Afro-Arab Political Imaginary (University of North Carolina Press, 2014). But the image context is absent from those pages inside—like it is more or less skirted by Keith Feldman’s book, A Shadow over Palestine—as if...