When a newly-elected congresswoman from Michigan, Rashida Tlaib, celebrating her arrival in Washington, made bold to say, “People love you and you win, and when your son looks at you and says, ‘Mama, look, you won. Bullies don’t win.’ I said, ‘Baby, they don’t, because we’re going to go in there and we’re going to impeach the MotherF****r,’” you would have thought the Apocalypse was upon us.
In response, President Trump, reflecting the capriciousness and hypocrisy of power, said he “thought her comments were disgraceful. I think she dishonored herself and her family. I thought it was highly disrespectful to the United States of America.”
What is truly disrespectful is an America that embraces haters and is tolerant of xenophobes, nativists, racists, and misogynists; an America that celebrates ignorance and marginalizes the disadvantaged, the needy, the Other.
Tlaib, the Other, the Arab, Palestinian, Muslim and a passionate progressive, is an elected woman who, among other issues, supports the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) movement against the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — as I do.
When Tlaib, protesting the new senate’s first bill - S.1, an anti-BDS measure - tweeted about the four sponsoring senators: "They forgot what country they represent. This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom and equality. Maybe a refresher on our U.S. Constitution is in order… ” she was accused of anti-Semitism even though she was narrowly targeting an attack on fundamental American rights which lawmakers have presumably sworn to uphold.
Last week, in timing that parallels attacks on Tlaib, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) rescinded its decision to honor legendary civil-rights activist Angela Davis with its highest award — the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award - and canceled the ceremonial gala scheduled for February.
Davis - known for a life of resistance, activism, and scholarship that included memberships in SNCC, the Black Panther Party and the Communist Party USA - is an Alabama native who grew up in Birmingham’s Dynamite Hill neighborhood, so-named because it was the target of over 50 bombings by Klan activists trying to preserve segregation and white supremacy.
In the 1970s, after she was accused of purchasing weapons used in a 1970 courtroom takeover and police shooting, Davis became the third woman ever listed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. After being arrested, placed in solitary confinement and tried she was acquitted of all charges.
Notably, those aren’t the reasons Davis is being marginalized.
Although BCRI president and CEO Andrea Taylor had, in October, described Davis as “one of the most globally recognized champions of human rights, giving voice to those who are powerless to speak,” the BCRI board ceded its legitimacy when - after members of the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center Board of Directors sent them a letter to expressing “concern and disappointment” with honoring Davis and urged BCRI to “reconsider your decision” - withdrew the award.
In their letter to BCRI the organization cited Davis’s “recent outspoken support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, [which] is very troubling as it targets the Jewish people excessively.”
In response, Davis who spoke of her “long-term support of justice for Palestine,” called the rejection “regrettable” and “not primarily an attack against me but rather against the spirit of the indivisibility of justice.”
Such attempts to marginalize and disenfranchise Davis - and Tlaib and others who speak Truth to Power - is deeply-entrenched in our national psyche and rooted in patriarchy and racism and inimical to the interests of oppressed and occupied peoples.
When white, overwhelmingly male, Republican congressmen, sitting in our hallowed halls of Congress, boo Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez - an anti-establishment, democratic socialist, educator, and political activist who is the youngest congresswoman ever elected - as she is being sworn in, when Rush Limbaugh calls Rep. Ocasio-Cortez “some young uppity,” such actions are rooted in patriarchy, racism and misogyny.
When prejudice and ignorance are deployed by people who believe that their privilege entitles them to have a say over what values communities of color and minorities should embrace - that is deplorable and racist.
And in the face of that racism what Davis, Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, and others are demanding is space and authority for their narrative, to communicate their story on their terms, in their vernacular, in their language.
Thankfully, Thursday, in repudiation of the intolerance that today consumes so many, Tarrant County, Texas Republicans overwhelmingly voted to retain a GOP official, Dr. Shahid Shafi, after a small group of bigots, claiming Shafi’s religious beliefs were disqualifying, tried to unseat him.
“As an immigrant to this great country, I am honored and privileged to receive the support of my fellow Republicans,” Shafi said. “We need to learn to trust each other so we can create a more perfect union every day.”
Any less, on all our parts, is disrespectful to the United States of America and contrary to the spirit of the indivisibility of justice.
Robert Azzi, a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter NH, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com