Thursday, November 1, 2012

Visible and Invisible Walls of Oppression

  • 25% higher high school dropout rates
  • Huge standardized test performance discrepancies, often reflecting a cultural bias
  • Discrepancies in unemployment and pay rates
  • Few opportunities to escape oppression but with a gun, either in crime or military service
  • Pervasive militarism
  • Unjust and unequal uses of the legal and penal system to perpetuate cultural and real violence
These are some of the common narratives that have been told here in Israeli/Palestine.  Before I proceed further, let me clearly state that this posting is not to excuse any bad and abusive atrocities by the Israeli Military or settlers against Palestinians. But as I hear these tails of injustice, I can't help but think we have these same narratives in the US, and by not seeing these, we are going to be challenged to get to the root causes of division that lead us all the way through the spectrum of violence.

When I have mentioned this to some people in the delegation, they say "well at least we have laws to prevent this in the states."  This provides absolutely no comfort to me.  It feels like we are saying "sorry our society is so unjust, abusive, violent and prejudiced, but we will give a pass on accountability because we mean well."  To take comfort in laws while ignoring the outcomes misses the real hard work - the same work that we seem to be expecting to be done in Israel, as if we are better practitioners.  Our walls in the states are just as entrenched, just more invisible.  Here's my take on how our walls of segregation and prejudice play out in the states, despite our laws:
  • Laws are one thing.  Enforcement and access to laws is another.  Basically one's ability to have the law work for them has a direct connection to how much money they have to pay a good lawyer.  The economic injustice prevails.
  • We may not have blatant walls and checkpoints, but we have rivers, tunnels, bridges and trains.  These often serve as real and symbolic barriers to segregation and access, and used in a myriad of ways.  In DC, there is the "east of the river" concept.  Train stops, as another example, are sometimes lacking (in the case of Georgetown) to keep some people out, while in other places in DC make getting to a low-paying job an ordeal.  
  • Inner-city violence and rural drug addiction have a direct connection to poor funding for schools, high unemployment and racism/elitism (consider how we classify people in the Appalachias as "hicks").
  • Our prison system is another tool of legalized segregation and injustice, where blacks account for 44% of the incarcerated population.  Those corrupt corporate elite who ruin countless lives in the name of greed walk freely (and in luxury), while those who suffer from their greed are stuck in cycles of violence, abuse, unemployment, addiction and debt all over the country. 
  • The cultural violence is also reflected in higher suicides and murders in many places or among certain groups.  The government/military doesn't have to do it because we do it to ourselves while the rich and powerful thrive.
  • Military indoctrination?  Considering that military service is one of the last remaining ways youth can escape the cycles of poverty in their communities all over the world, we have that.  Furthermore, we don't call people dedicated to breaking the cycles of violence in the name of peace "heroes"; we save that for the troops, and do it persistently in everything from sports announcements to priority boarding on airplanes.  Americorps folks don't get that. 
  • While we don't have home occupations and settlements, we do have predatory loans, right of public domain, and suburban expansionism into rural communities that often displace people.  One Palestinian farmer here, for example, turned down a "name your price" offer for his farm.  He could have been rich.  He chose to stay and fight in a very peaceful and honorable way.  It's inspiring, and I wish more in the states would be so principled, but he also could have been rich.  To me, this is less an example of a victim as a noble person.  
This is not a "tit-for-tat" issue to me.  It's an attempt to normalize the all-too-common narrative that takes place in Israel/Palestine, Washington DC, West Virginia, New Orleans, Pine Ridge, you name it.  Internationally, I see the same in rural Kenya.  The oppressor has a foot on the neck of the oppressed.  In places like the US, it is done so brilliantly that we hardly notice it.  This is not meant to say "so just accept it", but to say "let's unite."  To say "at least we have better laws" does not promote that unity.  Let's not look at the laws; let's look at the outcomes and come together with greater passion and wisdom that we are all in this fight together.   I believe the change will come when we stop competing for who has the greatest victim narrative.  When those of us in places of privilege deem that the suffering of a group across the oceans is worse than that of those around us, it raises questions and concerns about what we are saying about the value of all people.  However, when truly start relating as equals with a commitment to move forward together, that's when I think we will see our way to greater global justice.

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