Self-identity is more than just a concept. It’s a right, and the struggle to maintain it transcends all racial, geographical, and ideological lines. Whether you’re from the olive groves of Palestine or the Black communities of America, the struggle for a self-identity is one and the same. Sometimes, it takes an awkward and unexpected situation to realize that, but only then can you appreciate how universal the struggle for an identity really is.
Not too long ago, I joined my laboratory supervisor for a pick-up basketball game at the campus athletic center. As I entered the locker room, I mentally recited my one and only rule: keep your eyes down and your mouth sealed. Sorry, but skimpy white towels mean ultra exposure, and ultra exposure makes me uncomfortable.
I tried my hardest to keep to myself, but a man sitting silently on a bench behind me overheard my brief and somewhat political conversation with my supervisor and asked if I was Egyptian. I told him I wasn’t and that I was Palestinian. He chuckled and called me an Arafat-guy. Figuring this conversation wasn’t going anywhere, I waved goodbye and made my way to the door. But he caught me at the last second.
I’m with the Palestinians. They’re fighting for their self-identity. Nothing wrong with that. See we… we already lost ours.
For the next ten minutes, we discussed the similarities between the Black struggle in America and the Palestinian struggle in the Occupied Territories. He reminded me of prominent Black leaders paving the way for social equality. I reminded him of prominent Palestinian leaders speaking out against Apartheid. He reminded me of Black American citizens non-violently protesting segregation and exploitation. I reminded him of entire Palestinian cities rallying against oppression and occupation. He reminded me of White police officers attacking Blacks with dogs, batons, and high-pressure water hoses. I reminded him of Israeli soldiers attacking Palestinians with tear-gas canisters, drones, and tanks.
He stressed the importance of unification and activism, and how without them, Blacks might still be forced to live under Jim Crow laws. He’s right, of course. If it weren’t for the noble activism of thousands of like-minded and passionate Black Americans from the North and South, I wouldn’t be speaking to him right now. Only until recently, the Black struggle for equality was won after enduring decades of humiliation, provocation, degradation, and segregation.
But the man quickly countered and expressed his concern that even though the physical struggle is over, Blacks are still stripped of their identity. I disagreed and told him the struggle never ended. As long as peoples’ self-identities are suppressed, whether it be for Palestinians or for Blacks in California or for Armenians in Europe, the universal struggle still lives on.