Whose history do we select?
The most talked-about cancellation this year had its planned event happen Tuesday. Instead of being hosted by the Missouri History Museum, though, the panel on Ferguson, Ayotzinapa and Palestine occurred in a small event space with a fridge, a basketball backboard missing a hoop and a decorative canoe hanging from the roof.
The panel, a precursor to the Ayotzinapa solidarity march on Friday at Kiener Plaza, included representatives from the Saint Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, Organization for Black Struggle, Black-Brown Solidarity and Latinos en Axion. The event saw a solid turnout of Washington University AltaVoz organizers, community members and students. Clearly, more students would have showed up had the event been held at the museum, but the abrupt cancellation delivered a message seized upon in the rescheduled event.
“The fact that they kicked us out tells us that we’re powerful,” panelist Juju Jacobs from OBS observed.
A coalition is forming between oppressed communities of all backgrounds, and anyone dismissing it would be unwise to do so. As Jacobs added, the movement is based in more than a collection of moments. It is about more than Darren Wilson, Ferguson and even a nationwide, America-long epidemic of police brutality against people of color. It is a movement against state violence, a legacy of imperialism and the capitalist orientation of global economics.
Truly, the coalition between blacks and Palestinians battling state violence has been around for years, as alumna Ayah Abo-Basha points out in an op-ed submission today. And the alliance is grounded in the more radical ideology that a state history museum would be loath to sponsor, especially when donors make possible a third of said museum’s budget. Thus, we hear the chants and hashtags of “selective history.”
Yet history is a collection of narratives, and every narrative is inherently selective. For instance, Abo-Basha writes about Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver’s work on behalf of the Palestinian cause but does not mention that Cleaver later became a conservative Republican and ardent Zionist.
However, Abo-Basha’s argument is not diminished by the omission—because battles over history always in some way relate to battles over the present, and the present situation for human rights in Israel is bleak. Israel just re-elected as its prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who ran an intentionally racist and Islamophobic campaign capped by the promise that Palestine would never become its own state under his leadership.
Months after the latest flare-up that resulted in Gazans dying by the hundreds, Netanyahu’s campaign broadcast a television advertisement featuring him as a babysitter—the only man “who will care for our children.” The normalization of violence and repression, followed by an appeal to Israelis based in mongering of fear and war, revealed the contemptibility of a common American practice to see no evil and hear no evil when it comes to Israel.
In some ways, the phenomenon of willful (and passionate) blindness is even more extreme than that which exists in America related to Ferguson.
“Once we added the Palestinian part, that part scared them because it meant we were putting Ayotzinapa and Black Lives Matter, and we were going to make them morally equivalent,” panelist Jessie Sandoval from Black-Brown Solidarity said. “And they’re not ready for that because Palestine is such political fodder for so many people…it’s too hot to handle.”
The topic is certainly heated, but institutions must make an honest effort to handle it, and that includes Wash. U. The question is whether we are capable of listening to voices in a context that also represents their narrative. The history museum and Wash. U. will host debates about Israel and Palestine but fail to acknowledge a solidarity movement between marginalized communities that has lasted for decades.
Perhaps in the American social and political climate, expecting powerful private institutions (Wash. U.) or public-private partnerships (Missouri History Museum) to recognize the coalition on its own narrative terms is a naive hope.
Yet rejecting its existence is not only selective history but a selective interpretation of our present world.