Observing the discrimination against Palestinians gives me flashbacks to the ‘Whites Only’ signs in my youth in Mississippi
Interfaith Peace Builders sent an African-American team to Israel and Palestine last month. And on July 27, Gloria Brown filed this report (at the link among others):
Seeing dimensions of discrimination and oppression in Israel/Palestine (e.g., walls, murder scenes, unequal funding for education, class/race separation, hiring practices, gender inequity, etc.) has caused me to have major flashbacks about growing up and teaching in the state of Mississippi where “White” was right. As it relates to Israel/Palestine, Jews are “right.” Despite Biblical references to Jews being a chosen people, I know that is not how God works and I still cannot understand how Jews believe they have the right to oppress others who are attempting to remain on the land they ought to be able to rightfully claim.
I see the walls constricting Palestinians here and am reminded of the “White Only” signs of my youth – just knowing there were places I could not go. One specific example is the underpinning of why I never learned to swim. The White children in my Mississippi community had access to a beautiful swimming pool that African American children could only experience in passing. In order for me to learn to swim, it would have been necessary for me to brave the murky waters in concert with water moccasins, black runners, rattle snakes, and “you name the snake.” As much as I wanted to learn to swim, I did not want to be the main course that assorted reptiles would enjoy for dinner.
Another example of a wall in Mississippi was when I was among 22 African American teachers selected to deliver instruction in an all-White school during court-ordered desegregation. The experience was horrific; two weeks of non-violent attempts to enter the school passed before we could walk through the doors of the all-white DeKalb High School. Day after day, we arrived and were turned back by the KKK in full regalia, mounted on horses, with shotguns drawn. With the help of civil rights lawyers, I was able to file affidavits almost daily to report the wrong-doings in this school (i.e., whites-only bells to change classes, whites-only bells for lunch, white faculty meetings, no faculty meetings for African Americans, and having to teach only African American children, among others).
I loved the African American children for many of them were my cousins or neighbors. The pain in my soul had to do with the fact that illegal makeshift solutions were emerging in the name of integration of schools in compliance with the recent court order to desegregate within 48 hours.
I heard several Palestinians talk about bloodshed and profiling. Those acts reminded me of the civil rights workers who were killed in Mississippi just a few miles from my home. I was reminded of a young man who went to the “Bottom” (a nightclub) on a Saturday night. He had an altercation with a police officer in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and was killed. No one was ever charged for his murder. I am also reminded of my uncles coming home from Cleveland, New York, and other places. They knew that at some point, they would be ticketed for having the wrong “paint job” (black skin/driving a decent car.)
Finally, despite all the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people, they are extremely friendly and giving. At every Palestinian door, I am welcomed with open arms. I want the Palestinian people to know that our struggles are similar. Treatment of African Americans in Mississippi is much better today. Many African Americans are attorneys, engineers, hold political offices, are educators held in high esteem, and are distinguished citizens.
I urge the Palestinians to keep up the non-violent fight, for I believe a brighter day is just on the horizon.