DarkMatter – a queer South Asian artist and activist collaboration — spent the majority of Summer 2013 in Palestine (both the West Bank and ’48). We were hosted by alQaws, a queer Palestinian organization that focuses on cultural and social change around gender and sexuality in the context of the Palestinian liberation struggle. With alQaws, we conducted writing/performance workshops around gender, sexuality, and imperialism, and performed in various cities across West Bank and 48.
The original intention of our trip was to advance broader conversations around the ways in which Western queer solidarity work in Palestine is dominated by white queer bodies and ideologies. We were both concerned by how many queer people of color we organized with in the United States did not have access to an analysis of Palestine, let alone transnational imperialism/colonialism. We trace this to a carefully curated strategy to de-radicalize racial justice in this country by curtailing it as a domestic issue. Thus the racial distribution of solidarity activists is not innocuous but results from the dynamics of white supremacy and imperialism in the state, NGOs, and media
In this first thought piece we want to unpack how white supremacy has influenced solidarity work around Palestine and how that negatively impacts movements for Palestinian liberation. We use white supremacy to signify a form of privilege built from legacies of colonialism, enslavement, genocide, and other acts of terrorism and oppression committed by people with access to whiteness against other peoples. White supremacy includes psychic, cultural, economic, and social supremacy.
We trace the domination of Western queer solidarity work with Palestine by white people to four major roots in the material and social realities of White supremacy:
- As a result of (settler-) colonialism and systems of enslavement, white people dominate most material resources and institutions in the West. They frequently have the most access to capital, time, and networks to participate in solidarity work abroad.
- White bodies are generally less scrutinized by states, police, and settlers (including Zionist settlers). They are more easily able to pass through airports and other borders and to be visible without fear of racialized state violence.
- The impulse of white people to ‘help’ the foreign Other comes from a long legacy of a colonial mentality. The ‘white savior complex’ is prevalent throughout social sector work, especially global development and NPIC (non profit industrial complex) work.
White folks (and folks with access to various white privileges) frequently displace systems of oppression and power struggles to the non-West, ignoring the struggles—in which they are more materially complicit—in their domestic spaces. We believe North American queer solidarity work with Palestine, for example, is bankrupt without both an analysis of the histories of settler-colonialism and indigenous genocide in North America, and of criminalization and exploitation of black people and people of color through institutions like the prison.
Furthermore, the work that white queer bodies do (by their very presence) is reinforcing the notion that queerness most genuinely ‘belongs’ to Whiteness. This is in the political context of a gay and lesbian movement that increasingly serves the needs of elite white gay men in the West. Over the past decade we’ve also witnessed unprecedented support for a global LGBT rights movement. Several prominent Pride parades have made ‘WORLD PRIDE’ the theme of the week — discussing the rampant homophobia occurring across the world in Uganda, Iran, Vietnam, Russia, etc. The Obama Administration has allocated millions of dollars to the US State Department to fund emerging LGBT social movements abroad. Hilary Clinton declared to the United Nations that “Gay Rights are Human Rights.”
While such support might seem ‘progressive,’ with further scrutiny we realize that a global, homogenous, delocalized gay movement does not serve the needs of most sexual and gender minorities (who are not white, not financially privileged, etc). And actually, such a ‘global gay’ identity further distracts from Western imperialist and racist violence. We saw a connection here between the radical queer people of color activist movements we aligned ourselves with in ‘North America’ and queer Palestinian activism not in our shared oppression but rather our shared resistance to a white supremacist neocolonial agenda. Indeed, such a movement actually serves the interests of the colonizers: in Palestine Israeli settlers on Palestinian land and in North America white and brown settlers on Native American land.
Among Israel’s colonial strategies is ‘pinkwashing’, in which the state of Israel uses gay rights (everything from Prides to advertisements for asylum to gay tourism campaigns) as a distraction from its occupation. The result of the overrepresentation of whiteness in Palestine solidarity work has a few effects on the efficacy of anti-pinkwashing and queer solidarity work:
- Pinkwashing is about defining a consolidated queer/gayness as a ‘modern’, ‘progressive’ artifact from the West in comparison to the backwards Rest. The overrepresentation of white US queers in anti-pinkwashing movements perpetuates this narrative.
- The colonial impulse to ‘save’ queer Palestine is one that reinscribes the victim narratives about queer Palestinians that actually service pinkwashing. Further, it makes pinkwashing appear as a single-issue device (that only oppresses queers), where in fact pinkwashing is a tactic of occupation that oppresses all Palestinians, of all genders and sexualities.
Anti-pinkwashing is not a ‘queer issue’; it is an issue of Palestinian liberation. We wanted to envision and practice a transnational queer solidarity that is not dominated by white people, is also not complicit in single-issue politics, and is self-reflexive about the racial and class violences that operate in solidarity activists’ domestic contexts (for us, the United States). The erasure of race and class violence and suppression of race and class warfare by gay rights is not an Israel-only phenomenon. Ultimately, though, the goal is to shift the focus away from white and Israeli settler queer bodies, even as ‘allies’, towards sexual and gender justice for all currently and formerly enslaved and colonized peoples.
Southeast Massachusetts Technical Institute, North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, 1963-72
"Is It Better To Be Alone?" photographed by Bruce Weber for Vogue Italia 2005
I-D Magazine Jan 09; "Clean Living" by Collier Schorr