haji firooz

Don't Blame Your Anti-Blackness on Palestine.

In March of every year, Iranians get together, young and old, to reflect on the past twelve months and to usher in the new year with friends and family.  Norooz is a joyous time.  We take part in centuries-long traditions that symbolize happiness and well wishes.  We create the Haft Sin and stand around the table awaiting blessings for the new year.  It’s customary to receive a small portion of blessed money to hold onto.  It’s a joyous time and a beautiful one too.  Old man winter has given his last huffs and puffs and spring is officially here.

The man charged with ringing in the new year?  Haji Firooz.  Every year, Iranians gather around, clapping like seals and laughing at a man take part in foolish behavior while donned completely in blackface.

Haji Firooz is a blatant example of racism excused under the guise of “tradition” but to understand the Middle East, one must recognize that this is not an exception.  Anti-Blackness in the Middle East and North Africa is the rule.  Anti-Blackness is a Middle Eastern and North African tradition.  What is the common slur for Black Arabs?  Abed, the Arabic word for slave.  Iranians refer to Black skin as “burned”.  Afro-Iranian?  Afro-Palestinian?  You’re not considered FULLY Iranian or Arab.  "She must be mixed", “we don’t have Black people here”.  No honest Middle Eastern or North African person can say that anti-Black racism does not exist in their community.

And so it is unsurprising that this type of oppression manifests itself in solidarity work.  In work surrounding Palestine, there exists a pervasively ugly phenomenon of comparing the struggles of Palestinians to that of African-Americans.  On the surface, this may not seem particularly insidious.  African-Americans have fought for basic humanity for centuries and have lost and continue to lose so much in the struggle for equality.  Unarmed Black men in America are considered a very real threat to White people.  Similarly, in Palestine, being Arab means that you have a very real risk of losing your home, access to food, and your life.  It is hard to ignore an obvious parallel between two marginalized peoples.  All oppression is linked, right?  I get it.  But when you take the logic behind comparison of struggle and perpetuate it in life and activism, that’s when a very clear problem arises.  In theory, it makes sense to draw a link but in practice it allows for Black people to be used as an example of how bad things can get, a forewarning of what can happen to a people if colonialism wins.  In so doing, it erases the humanity behind the rhetorical talking points.  It allows for Black people’s role in society to be deemed an inevitable ugliness.  A lesson.  A fact of life.  Black people will be oppressed, tiny violin, now let’s focus on the Brown people.  It’s a white flag of surrender of the life of Black people.  Mike Brown died but think about how many Palestinians are being killed!  Focus over there on the people who matter.  The people who have a chance.  Those Black people don’t. Native-Americans don’t.  Western imperialism won.  Focus on us now before we become like you.  It sets up a paradigm where Black people are told that they owe solidarity to the Free Palestine cause, in part because there is a Black President of the United States.  After all, it’s the Black President ordering these drone strikes on Brown children.  Maybe Black people are The Real Racists.

At best it relies on the white supremacist practice of casting Black people as the lowest common denominator and at worse it reinforces proximity to whiteness as the goal post for humanity. That is to say that the more you can appeal to whiteness, including distancing yourself and dragging Black people, the better your chance of survival is.  When you continue that line of logic and allow it to exist, actively rely on it to exist, you are cosigning white supremacy.  You are perpetuating anti-Black racism.  You are being an anti-Black racist.

What makes this all the more frustrating is that actual Palestinians voices are largely being drowned out of this.  Instead we have pseudo-intellectuals, non-Black, non-Palestinian Middle Eastern and North Africans, and white dudebros blaming their anti-Black, settler colonial behavior on Palestine.  This behavior perverts the cause and erases any chance of meaningful solidarity.  

Bullies often pick on weaker people to take focus away from themselves and to ward off bigger bullies by using the same tactics the bigger bullies employ.  Perpetuating anti-Blackness is shoving Black people to get White people to side with you and to let you live – for now.  You can perpetuate racism against Black people to argue for your right to life until you’re blue in the face but recognize that what you are doing is engaging in white supremacist settler colonialism.  You will be called out.