The Thong Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. Sisqo Eliot

[This website explore Cinema (Ci) and Comics + Colonialism + Cop Shows (Co3) but now also, apparently, bad poetry mash-ups. With apologies to Sisqo for associating him with a racist, misogynist, anti-semite. This is dedicated to Feminista Jones & Justin Cohen who said it would be worth their while.]


S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse a la pista da ballo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scuotere.
Ma percioche giammai di questo varco
Non torno vivo alcun, la tua tanga è la verità,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

This thing right here
is letting all the ladies know
what guys talk about
Time yet for a hundred indecisions
and for a hundred visions and revisions

Let us go then, you and I,
I like it when the beat goes
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Baby make your booty go
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Baby I know you want to show
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
All night long
The muttering retreats
Let me see that thong
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
That thong thong thong thong thong

With a look in your eye so devilish,
with a bald spot in the middle of my hair.
See you shaking that thing like who’s the ish?
“Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

My necktie rich and modest but asserted by a simple pin.
She had dumps like a truck, truck, truck.
But how his arms and legs are thin!
Thighs like what, what, what
Do I dare disturb the universe?
Baby move your butt, butt, butt
I think I’ll sing it again

My necktie rich and modest but asserted by a simple pin.
She had dumps like a truck, truck, truck.
But how his arms and legs are thin!
Thighs like what, what, what
Do I dare disturb the universe?
Baby move your butt, butt, butt

Am an attendant lord, one that will do
Baby make your booty go
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Baby I know you want to show
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
That thong thong thong thong thong

Ooh that dress so scandalous
Indeed there will be time
And you know another n**** can’t handle it
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time

In the room the women come and go
Baby make your booty go

You like to dance on the hip hop spots
I have known them all already, known them all:
And you cruise to crews to connect the dots
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
Baby I know you want to show
There will be time to murder and create,
I like it when the beat goes
And time for all the works and days of hands
Baby make your booty go

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase
All night long
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
Let me see that thong.

Streets that follow like a tedious argument
I said I like the way you move that thing
Of insidious intent
I see your body, glistening
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Your thighs, your knees,
Your breasts, your feet
Let us go and make our visit.

Time for you and time for me,
That thong thong thong thong thong

The Herero and Nama Genocide and Germany’s Non-Reckoning

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government announced plans to formerly apologize for the 1904-07 Herero-Nama genocide in the Deutsch-Südwestafrika (DSWA) settler colony in Namibia. Germany’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Sawsan Chelbi said “We are working towards a joint government declaration with the following elements: common discussions on the historical events and a German apology for the action in Namibia.” Chelbi continued, “On the question of whether there could be reparations or legal consequences, there are none. The apology does not come with any consequences on how we deal with the history and portray it.” Instead Germany is considering “development” projects in Namibia.

This is not Germany’s first formal apology for the Herero-Nama genocide. In 2004 Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Germany’s development aid minister, offered “an apology from the German government.” Wieczorek-Zeul said, “We Germans accept our historic and moral responsibility and the guilt incurred by Germans at that time,” and noted that, “The atrocities committed at that time would have been termed genocide.” An unofficial but still significant apology came from Lothar von Trotha’s descendants in 2007.

Von Trotha was the colonial governor who ordered and oversaw the Herero-Nama genocide. He issued in 1904 a Vernichtungsbefehl – “annihilation order” – that read, “The Herero are no longer German subjects,” (“Die Hereros sind nicht mehr deutsche Untertanen.”). Von Trotha then offered rewards for turning in Herero leaders with the highest reward for Samuel Maharero (“Ich sage dem Volk: Jeder der einen der Kapitäne an eine meiner Stationen als Gefangenen abliefert, erhält 1000 Mark, wer Samuel Maharero bringt, erhält 5000 Mark.”). Von Trotha then asserted that any Hereros remaining in DSWA would be massacred. “The Herero people will have to leave the country. If the people refuse I will force them with cannons to do so. Within the German boundaries, every Herero, with or without firearms, with or without cattle, will be shot. I won’t accommodate women and children anymore. I shall drive them back to their people or I shall give the order to shoot at them. These are my words to the Herero people,” (“Innerhalb der Deutschen Grenze wird jeder Herero mit oder ohne Gewehr, mit oder ohne Vieh erschossen, ich nehme keine Weiber und Kinder mehr auf, treibe sie zu ihrem Volke zurück oder lasse auf sie schießen. Dies sind meine Worte an das Volk der Hereros.”). The Nazis named a small Munich street after von Trotha in 1933, thirteen years after his death.


Lothar von Trotha’s annihilation order

Following von Trotha’s order German troops through both direct killing and forcing fatal conditions upon killed around 80% of the Herero population, some 65,000 people, and drove thousands more into neighboring lands. Germans forcibly dehydrated many to death by driving people into the Omaheke desert and preventing them from leaving. In short order the Germans carried out this same process against the Nama people killing some 10,000 more (about 50% of the Nama population).

Survivors were placed in concentration camps. Both women and men endured forced labor in the camps and (mostly though not exclusively) women were raped and kept as sex slaves. These are the events for which Merkel’s government will apologize. While the Herero-Nama genocide is the most well known, it is not Germany’s only colonial genocide in Africa nor even the only one in DSWA.

I am guided by Festus Tjikuua’s question, “Our people’s demand for a structured constructive dialogue aimed at bringing about a restorative justice to the victims of the German colonial wars remains unanswered. Why and for how long should we wait?’” and the late Alfons Maharero’s demands for reparations. In this context, Germany’s position as delineated by Chelbi is multitudinously problematic. Specifically Germany is pursuing recognition of a genocidal event without any accountability for it nor a historical reckoning.


Contextualizing Genocides

The Herero-Nama genocide must be contextualized in both earlier and later German history for Germany’s apology to be meaningful. German oppression of Herero people didn’t begin in 1904 with the genocide. This genocide, like all genocides, did not take place in a vacuum. It is part of German settler colonialism in Namibia that began in 1884.

The late Patrick Wolfe noted settler colonialism has a “logic of elimination.” In short the “logic of elimination” refers to inherent native dispossession under settler colonialism. Every five acres of Virginia is five less acres of Tsenacommacah. Every five dunam of Israel is five less dunam of Palestine. Dispossessing natives for settler land bases was a fundamental part of realizing DSWA. Deprose Muchena notes, “Many Germans who came to settle in Namibia such as ex-soldiers, artisans and technicians, called for the appropriation of African grazing land to obtain sufficient land for their own farms.” The Herero and Nama anti-colonial rebellions that were suppressed with the genocide were launched primarily in opposition to dispossession. Muchena continues, “In 1930, the German imperial commissioner declared that 75% of the land owned by Africans had to be sold to Europeans, and that the remaining 25% had to be proclaimed native reserves.” Dispossession followed by inevitable resistance followed by genocide is as clear a descriptor of settler colonialism’s “logic of elimination” as is to be found.

Native land dispossession was policy before and after the genocide. Killing uncooperative natives was policy before and after the genocide. Gendered violence was practice before and after the genocide. Before and after the genocide DSWA created a labor regime that forced native populations into the settlers’ capitalist economy creating a cycle of poverty, further institutionalized during decades of South African occupation, that persists today. Muchena writes, “Between 54 and 60% of [households where Khoisan-languages and Rukwangali are spoken] are affected by poverty. On the other hand, German and English-speaking households are hardly affected by poverty at all. In terms of consumption, the poorest 15% of Namibians account for only 1% of national expenditure while the richest 5.6% account for 53% of expenditure.” Restricting the window to just events in the DSWA settler colony, the Herero-Nama genocide has causes and legacies. It is not a stand-alone aberration during settler rule in Namibia. It is built into settler colonialism.

Germany’s apology does not account for any of this apart from naming the killings. Instead it starts and ends the historical harm with the mass killings and leaves the structure that mass produced Herero and Nama death uninterrogated. Here Germany denying reparations is especially acute. The present tense of past German settler rule demonstrates the historical harm of German policies, including but not limited to the genocide(s). There is perhaps no clearer example of the Herero-Nama genocide’s structural presence than the present day fight for descendants of those driven out during the genocide to return to their ancestral lands in Namibia from Botswana and South Africa. To repeat Tjikuua, “Why and for how long should we wait?”


From Namibia to Treblinka

Walter Benjamin killed himself near the France-Spain border in September, 1940, choosing his manner of death rather than be turned over to the Nazis. Not long before he died he composed his Theses on the Philosophy of History which has important lessons for contextualizing oppressive systems. Benjamin writes,

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “state of emergency” in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. […] The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are “still” possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge-unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable.

Benjamin didn’t refer to the Herero-Nama genocide but his offering can go places he does not. In this read German fascism’s practices, including the holocaust, can only be surprising, can only be an aberrant moment, if one’s view of German history does not include German colonialism in Africa. Benjamin was not the first nor last to argue that subaltern perspectives, the “tradition of the oppressed,” should be the fundamental units of social and historical analysis. Here he is in the same ballpark as Gayatri Spivak’s famous question “Can the subaltern speak?” Or Edward Said’s demand for “permission to narrate.” Or bell hooks’ call for feminism “from margin to center.”

Anti-colonial activists and scholars contemporary with Benjamin noted this gap in understandings of Nazism as it was unfolding and in its immediate aftermath. Aimé Césaire noted in his 1955 Discours sur le colonialisme that what the European Christian “cannot forgive Hitler for is not the crime in itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the ‘coolies’ of India, and the ‘niggers’ of Africa.”

W.E.B. DuBois wrote in The World and Africa in 1947 that “there was no Nazi atrocity – concentration camps, wholesale maiming and murder, defilement of women, or ghastly blasphemy of children – which the Christian civilization of Europe had not long been practicing against colored folks in all parts of the world.” Hannah Arendt and Frantz Fanon would more famously make this connection, as would Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault in their formulations of the ‘boomerang effect’. Despite these interventions both popular and scholarly understandings of Nazism including the holocaust rarely link Nazism and European colonialism.

For this reason scholars and pundits represent the holocaust as something mystical, aberrant or incomprehensible. As one example, Volker Berghahn, author of Imperial Germany, 1871-1914 (1994), writes that, “There may have been times when students of the Holocaust thought they were getting a handle on the incomprehensible; yet the more detailed the evidence that continues to emerge, the more difficult it seems to be to comprehend it.” Julia Klein noted in The Forward last year that, “In two generations, we have witnessed a massive shift in our attitude toward the Holocaust: from regarding it as incomprehensible, defying human understanding, to trying to construct rigorous, often competing historical explanations for its causes and contours.” The examples she gives do not touch upon European colonialism and some, like Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners, obfuscate from structural understanding entirely seeking explanations in mass German pathology instead. Many of these are distinctly neoliberal (mis)understandings that treat anti-semitism through metaphors of viruses, something that spreads through individuals rather than being produced by a system and discourse. The supposed incomprehensibility has increased, rather than decreased. The further analysis of European fascism and the holocaust gets from anticolonialism, the further it gets from the “tradition of the oppressed,” the more incomprehensible the holocaust becomes.

German imperialism and settler colonialism in DSWA did not create anti-semitism, not even its racialized version. Variants of Judeophobia predate European colonialism by centuries. Nor is DSWA unique in using genocide (or mass killings less than genocide) to suppress anti-colonial revolts. But the connection between DSWA and Nazism is not limited to generalized genocidal practices. Mahmood Mamdani writes that the link between the Herero-Nama genocide and the holocaust is “race branding, whereby it became possible not only to set a group apart as an enemy, but also to exterminate it with an easy conscience.” Benjamin Madley writes more specifically.

In 1908, while Herero and Nama were dying in concentration camps, [Eugen] Fischer arrived in German South West Africa and began a pseudo-scientific study of 310 children. He aimed to gather two kinds of data from each child: physical characteristics, like eye and hair color, and measurements of intelligence. Fischer then compared these two data sets and fabricated correlations between physical traits and intellectual acumen. The children Fischer studied were Basters, members of an Afrikaans-speaking Namibian minority descended from intermarriage among Boers, Britons, Germans, and Khoikoin. His findings, published as [Die Rehobother Bastards und das Bastardierungsproblem beim Menschen (The Rehoboth Bastards and the Problem of Miscegenation Among Humans)] in 1913, had a tremendous impact in Germany. According to Henry Friedlander, ‘This study not only established [Fischer’s reputation] but also influenced all subsequent German racial legislation, including the Nuremberg Laws’.”

Fischer stole Herero body parts for his eugenics research and still today Hereros are fighting, successfully, to have the remains repatriated. He also co-wrote what Friedlander calls “the classic text of the science of race, the Grundriß der menschlichen Erblehre and Rassenhygiene (Outline of Human Genetics and Racial Hygiene).” Friedlander continues, “The Grundiß deeply influenced the development and application of the science of race. [Julius Friedrich] Lehmann, the publisher, gave a copy of the 1923 second edition to the imprisoned Adolf Hitler, who read it and used its ideas in Mein Kampf, and later the authors of the official commentaries on the Nazi racial laws quoted the work as their scientific basis.”

Madley draws out further connections. For example Hermann Göring, founder of the Gestapo, head of the Luftwaffe and leading Nazi official said at his trial at Nuremberg after World War II that “’the position of my father as the first Governor of Southwest Africa’ as one of the four more important ‘points which are significant with relation to my later development’.” Other prominent Nazis too had first and second-hand connections to DSWA like Nazi Reichstag member Franz Ritter von Epp who was in “one of the first waves of volunteer soldiers sent to suppress the Herero Uprising.” (emphasis mine)

It is impossible to say whether the holocaust would have happened without the Herero-Nama genocide. What is indisputable is that the racial formations developed during German colonialism in Africa informed those deployed against Jews, Roma and other Others during the Holocaust. Anti-semitism preceded German colonialism but the prohibitions on interracial relationships in DSWA were developed during a period of partially successful, albeit tenuous, Jewish assimilation and emancipation struggles in Germany. The way the “boomerang” returned fed colonial racial formations back into Germany’s already existing anti-semitism which the Nazis then embraced as their core ideology. An honest reckoning with the Herero-Nama genocide would necessarily transform Germany’s holocaust education and change how we contextualize it. Listening to the Herero and Nama revolts against DWSA and the genocide that suppressed them answers Arno Mayer’s theological query, “Why did the Heavens not Darken?” The heavens did not darken come the holocaust because they could not, they were already dark. Nothing in the described apology for the Herero-Nama genocide points in this direction.


Willful Ignorance

Munich’s Von-Trotha-Straße was, “after a fierce and emotional discussion,” renamed Hereroßtrase in 2006 as part of Germany distancing itself from Lother von Trotha. The Munich city council has since heard debate on renaming more streets that “recall leading persons or villainous events from the German colonial era.” Many citizens support the renaming but only the Left Party voted for it in Munich council. One opponent to the renaming said, “If one were to go by today’s standards everywhere, one would have to rename every fifth street in Munich.” This symbolizes exactly the kind of reckoning Germany seeks to avoid.

What exactly a German apology should encompass and which Herero and Nama narratives should be part of German education is not for me to say. These have been made amply clear by Herero reparations activists and leaders. The German government’s insistence though, that the “apology does not come with any consequences on how we deal with the history and portray it,” gives lie to any claimed earnestness. If the apology does not address, through reparations, the harm still being caused today as well as a return of the plundered wealth, then it is empty symbolism. And if the apology does not introduce changes to how Germany contextualizes the holocaust with colonial history then why should anyone believe Germany means it? All those lost to the camps, in Namibia and Eastern Europe, deserve better.

That time Law & Order kinda got it right


Law & Order ran a simple formula. Roughly the first half of each episode followed a police investigation (order) while the latter half followed a prosecution (law). One frequent addition to this formula was adding in “ripped from the headlines” stories. This ensured that topical politics were commonly part of the franchise though normally covered only superficially and from a center-right perspective. Yet on occasion Law & Order put out an episode that really captures something sharp, perhaps unintentionally. One such episode is “Burn Baby Burn” which aired on 22 September 2000 and examines an ex-Black Panther who kills a cop in self defense.

“Burn Baby Burn” builds on public sentiment after the NYPD murder of Amadou Diallo in 1999 and acquittal of the cops who killed him earlier in 2000, followed by the NYPD killing ten more people, mostly Black and most notoriously Patrick Dorismond, prior to the episode’s airing. But the headline that most guided the episode was the killing of two cops in Georgia for which former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader and Black Panther Jamil Al-Amin (formerly H. Rap Brown) was arrested and later convicted.

The episode opens with two young Black men finding a white cop shot dead in a hallway outside an apartment. The cop had accidentally gone to the wrong address as part of following up with a witness. Detectives Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin) and Lenny Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) arrive on scene to investigate. The apartment is rented to Selina Watts (Sandra Daley). Watts is a Black Muslim woman who works at an anti-eviction group in Harlem led by Lateef Miller (Clarence Williams III), an ex-Black Panther. Miller is suspected to be the shooter and is taken into police custody by Green at a mosque in Harlem after Friday prayers.

selina watts

Green and Briscoe question Selina Watts

Miller and his lawyer Leon Chiles (Joe Morton) initially focus on the how the police in general and the NYPD and dead officer specifically are racist, and hint they might be framing Miller (this is never explicitly accused). After Green and Briscoe find evidence linking Miller to the site of the shooting, Miller and Chiles switch tactics and present an affirmative defense where Miller killed the cop in self defense. They contextualize this in a long history of racist policing. In response Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy (Sam Waterson) presents Miller as long advocating the killing of police and attributes the shooting to Miller’s supposed prejudice against white people. The jury finds Miller’s claim of self-defense convincing and acquits him of the murder charge.

The improbability of the result notwithstanding, this is an interesting and quite good Law & Order episode. Much of the time Black liberation and civil rights activists on the various Law & Order shows are portrayed as cartoonish hucksters, people interested in self-promotion whose advocacy for rights and liberation is at least in part disingenuous. “Burn Baby Burn” does not do this. The closest it comes to sloppy white caricatures of Black liberation is in an early scene right after Miller is arrested where he appears in court and shouts that because he is a political prisoner, the Geneva Conventions do not allow for the hearing. Either the writers did not know what the Geneva Conventions are or they wanted Miller to appear nonsensical. Miller’s quiet, measured narration (from Williams III’s truly terrific performance) throughout the rest of episode show the initial courtroom performance to be unrepresentative in a throw-away scene.

The episode lays out Black grievances against racist policing in depth exceedingly uncommon on Law & Order or any other police show, The Wire notwithstanding. After Miller and Chiles switch to the affirmative defense the judge holds a hearing to consider their request to introduce new evidence of the history of police racism. Miller and Chiles are shown partially obscured by many large boxes representing the evidence. The scene begins with the following exchange:

Judge: What evidence are you seeking to admit Mr. Chiles?

Chiles: Evidence of police violence against African-Americans: Abner Louima, the Amadou Diallo murder–

Assistant District Attorney Abbie Carmichael (Angie Harmon): The police in that case were acquitted.

Chiles: Heh. Not in my client’s neighborhood. The Michael Stewart murder, Eleanor Bumpurs, Rodney King in LA, the Fred Hampton assassination in Oakland [sic].

affirmative defense

Chiles and Miller behind boxes of evidence of racist police brutality

Cop shows simply do not offer long, historical contexts for police racism. Just as importantly, the episode offers this alongside unambiguous portrayals of police racism and police brutality against Black people. In one example, a white cop points his gun at an older Black bartender and shouts, “If you’re lying to us I’m gonna kick your Black ass!” Det. Green confronts the cop outside afterwards.

Cop: Oh aren’t you a big shot? What are you playing Al Sharpton in front of the brothers?

Green: Hey man I’ll take you anytime. Anywhere.

Cop: Oh like we don’t know who’ll wind up all jammed up outta that. Certainly not the brother.

Green: You say ‘brother’ like that one more time and I swear to god I’mma stomp your ass into the pavement! [Emphases in original]

racist cop

Cop threatens an elderly Black bartender

This is also perhaps the best character episode for Green. In the exchange above Green has demonstrably justified rage as a Black man against racism, something uncommon in cop shows. He later tells Lt. Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) that, “Lateef’s like a living legend, you know what that makes me.” Green is referring to what James Baldwin described in his 1967 essay, “Negroes are anti-semitic because they’re anti-white.” Baldwin writes, “We did not feel that the cops were protecting us, for we knew too much about the reasons for the kinds of crimes committed in the ghetto; but we feared black cops even more than white cops, because the black cop had to work so much harder–on your head–to prove to himself and his colleagues that he was not like all the other niggers.” Van Buren assures him, “Oh I know you’re not buying that.” Green kind of shrugs, as if he’s partially thinks this is true. Later in the episode this idea comes back when, after the initial case is not going well for the prosecution, Green says, “I didn’t come all this way to let this guy go.” The episode’s context suggests that “all this way” refers to Green working semiconsciously towards racist ends. Green is caught between being a Black man who would be targeted by the police as part of the general criminalization of Black people and being a cop, a position that does the targeting. This is true in all of Green’s episodes but it is virtually never acknowledged, much less explored.

One of the episode’s most powerful segments comes during Chiles’ questioning and then McCoy’s cross examination of Miller’s former Panther colleague Rolando August (Chuck Cooper). August lays out the history of police violence against the Panthers noting everything from surveillance to infiltration to disinformation to harassment to murder.

Chiles: What impact did these events have on you.

August: They left me pretty cynical about the police.

Chiles: Even after thirty years?

August: Not much has changed. You recruit a bunch of white, high school kids from up in New Paltz to come down and keep order in the hood. That’s how you end up with forty-one shots in some poor Black guy coming home from work.

McCoy tries to isolate Miller by asking why August had not been in touch with him in recent years.

McCoy: “Was that because you no longer wanted to associate with a person who was still committed to violence?”

August: “I promise you sir, his fear of cops is my fear of cops. And his anger is my anger. Every time a police siren pulls up behind me I still get a feeling in my gut they’re gonna pull over, and mess with me!”

McCoy: “Does that mean you could see yourself shooting a cop who came to your door?”

August: “It means I’m tired of being messed with.”

rolando august

August tells McCoy he’s “tired of being messed with.”

Miller testifies to Chiles about the circumstances of the killing. McCoy’s cross examination consists mostly of gaslighting Miller. Miller asserts that he could see racism in the cop’s eyes and McCoy accuses Miller of something akin to that famous unicorn ‘reverse racism’. Miller, in tears, responds shouting, “It’s my life’s experience!”

lateef miller

Miller is cross examined by McCoy

Chiles then begins his closing argument.

I think you have a very good picture of what the world looks like to Lateef Miller; a man whose suspicions of the police were nurtured by the racism that existed and still exists in this country. A worldview shaped by the political foment of the sixties and then crystallized by current events; a never-ending list of African-Americans that have been attacked or murdered by white police officers.

The jury turns in its vote to acquit. Afterwards, McCoy chats with District Attorney Nora Lewin (Dianne Wiest).

Lewin: Don’t beat yourself up too badly over this one Jack.

McCoy: A guy shoots a New York City police officer in the line of duty and I can’t convict him.

Lewin: Enough of the jury identified with his fear of cops.

McCoy: Used to be fear of cops didn’t justify shooting them.

Lewin: Used to be a lot of things.

It’s worth noting again how uncommon all this is on U.S. television. I suspect the writers still intended to portray this as someone getting away with a murder they should not have. And the show still privileges the points of view of the police and prosecutors. Yet the episode offers context enough for any reasonable people to conclude, “Yes, he was right to be, as a Black person, afraid for his life from the police.” Lewin in the middle of the episode said that Chiles and Miller were “hitching [their] wagon to the anti-police sentiment in the city.” And the episode amply laid out the reasons for that sentiment.

The episode aired to over 18 million viewers initially, this during NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s reign of “broken windows” policing that was much lauded in the local and national media even with the temporarily increased scrutiny that came with Diallo’s murder. In today’s environment with an audience (including white people) significantly more skeptical of prisons and racist policing, thanks mostly to prison abolition groups and authors and more recently the #Blacklivesmatter movement, this episode might read differently than it did at the time. It might read more like it would have in 1968. Miller, a fictional ex-Black Panther, successfully used self-defense to justify his killing of the cop and this is presented alongside descriptions, portrayals and critiques of racist policing. This invokes the Black Panther Party itself which was, after all, originally called The Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

Die Shark! Die!

Thanks to Noah Berlatsky for a much improved title!


Jaume Coller-Serra’s new film The Shallows follows Blake Lively in a test of wills against a great white shark. Apart from an unintentionally farcical and groan-inducing last act, it’s a pretty well shot and acted story. It is one of countless stories about wild beasts threatening the lives of humans. Most of these are, from a statistical or scientific perspective, no less ridiculous than The Shallows‘ silly conclusion. These stories almost always involve absurd science. And towards what end that bad science is deployed tells us a lot, as does the selection of which killer animals are portrayed.

In The Shallows Blake Lively’s character is out surfing when she happens upon a whale carcass. A shark near the carcass sees her as a potential meal and decides to have a bite to eat. Over the next day the shark ignores the massive quantity of food available with the whale carcass while stalking Lively, and during that time eats two and a half other people.

All this is exceedingly unlikely. The shark ate somewhere around 200kg of people over those two days which is, using the most conservative estimates, around two months of food for an adult great white (other studies suggest this is closer to six months worth of soylent green). So the shark ignores (or leaves, it’s not clear) a massive whale carcass which could feed a host of sharks for months and instead goes after a bunch of swimmers and surfers that don’t have the yummy (for sharks) smell of rotting meat. And it does so in order to overeat by quite a bit! For contrast in the infamous 1916 New Jersey shark attacks a shark ate a maximum of .3 people over twelve days (though it killed four).

This is common in these kinds of stories. For example the T-Rex in Jurassic Park should be done eating after she eats the company stooge. That’s (probably) enough calories for a T-Rex for two days. That it keeps hunting seems pretty unlikely. The shark in Jaws eats even more beyond its likely diet. And it is exactly this voraciousness that identifies the creatures as antagonists in these stories.

There is a species power dynamic in play obscured by this. My back of the envelope math says humans comprise about .0000042% of deaths in fatal human-shark encounters. No big surprise here. It’s common enough knowledge that humans kill exponentially more sharks than the other way around. And given the challenge in imagining a shark’s point of view, it isn’t all that surprising that humans with almost no exceptions tell the stories of those .0000042% of fatalities rather than the 99.9999958% percent of them. Sure, the Discovery Channel trots out the annual shark slaughter statistics during “Shark Week” but they’re invariably mixed with stories of shark attacks lending a false narrative symmetry even as the statistical symmetry is denied. Man-eating bear, wolf, lion, snake and other such stories all follow this same pattern.

This is how power generally works, both between our species and others and inside our own species. The oppressive relationship is inverted no matter what the science says. So despite all populations using and selling drugs at nearly identical rates, it is Black people who are portrayed as the drug-dealing criminals thus positioning them not as victims of racist mass incarceration, but as justifications for the oppressive system. Despite Israel dispossessing Palestinians on a daily basic, it is Palestinians that are portrayed as the violent aggressors, much as natives are commonly portrayed in US Western stories. The dynamic is analogous to how the tv show Zoo tells of a worldwide animal revolt that threatens humanity while we are in the midst of an anthropocene/capitalocene mass extinction event. The bad science of insatiable predators is deployed justifies the bad practice of exterminating them.

The inter- and intra-species analogies are, of course, imperfect even as the racist narratives invoke a certain dehumanization. But the racialized component of which killer animal stories are told tells us just as much about inverted narratives of threat and power. For some animals do kill, and even kill and eat, vast numbers of people every year. Blake Lively will likely never star in one of these stories.

Nile crocodiles kill somewhere between several hundred and several thousand people every year in Africa throughout their range. We don’t even have sound estimates because relatively few resources are dedicated to tracking African deaths. Crocodiles eat people on a daily basis because people have to spend so much time in crocodile habitats with minimal protection. This isn’t a problem of reptilian predation, this is a problem of capitalism and colonialism. The stories told of crocodiles eating humans are instead like Lake Placid, a fun film that is science fiction both because of the vast numbers of people consumed and because of which people are consumed. Out of some three dozens feature lengths films about killer crocodiles and alligators, I know of only one that takes place in Africa, 2006’s Primeval, a racist story of white people in constant danger from both Burundians and the crocodile.

Though not eating us, snakes kills tens of thousands of people every year, predominantly in South and Southeast Asia (and to a lesser extent in Africa and parts of South America). These are predominantly tied to poor labor and housing conditions which are, again, a problem of racism and colonialism. The Anaconda tetralogy and Snakes on a Plane do not tell these stories.

Dominating both of these are mosquito-related deaths which number in the hundreds of thousands every year despite malaria being, for the most part, easily treatable were resources dedicated to the task.

These killer animal stories are not told on screen because the victims aren’t fully human in the eyes of those choosing what stories get produced. And those stories with fully human victims like The Shallows invariably invert the material world predator-prey relationship. The exceptions are exceedingly rare and even then are told with circumscribed or regressive politics. The Ghost and the Darkness and Prey for example, are pro-colonialism stories of animals preying on humans based upon the man-eating lions of Tsavo. The body count is attributed to lions and not the colonial railroad project (a dam in Prey‘s version) that brought people into the lions’ habitat in the first place. But telling such stories can illuminate vast political economic problems and indicts the systems that produce the death tolls. Capitalism and colonialism continually produce horror stories of animals killing people with body counts beyond all but apocalyptic imaginations. Jaws simply cannot compete.

The Atlanteans and the Middle Passage

This essay was inspired Nijla Mu’Min’s extraordinary film Deluge. Thanks to Amrah Salomon for feedback on the draft.


Superheroes have celebrated origin stories. Gamma radiation gives rise to shapeshifting rage monsters. Extraterrestrial parentage provides biological powers. A magician’s curse or a nibble from a radioactive arachnid can turn one superpowered. The story of how one gets one’s powers is a defining part of superhero stories. It is, after all, the sine qua non of any superhero’s existence. But what about the universes in which the superheroes operate? Why don’t we look at their origin stories? And what can those origin stories tell us about the comics universes and popular discourse? What follows explores the origin stories of the DC and Marvel universes through their respective Atlantean populations, focusing on a missing narrative fundamental of the world in which virtually all stories in the DC and Marvel lines happen: African Slavery.

The Marvel and DC universes take place, with some exceptions, in the United States settler colony. The United States has two systemic structures without which it does not exist: African Slavery and Indian Removal (or at least it does not exist in anything remotely resembling its current form). These are the bedrocks of settler colonialism on the continent. The simultaneous destruction of the native world and construction of the anti-Black one define everything from many colloquialisms in White American English to property and land law to policing to the names of sports teams to holidays and comprise the preponderance of U.S. history, not to mention the entire physical geography.

Can this be less true in the Marvel and DC universes? They both have Black characters, albeit relatively few and poorly drawn – often in both senses of the term. Black as an identity (or, per anti-Blackness, a site of capital accumulation and location for gratuitous violence) is tied to the legacy of settler colonialism’s African Slavery. If there was African Slavery then there was transport of enslaved peoples from Africa to colonized Turtle Island (North America). So where were the Atlanteans of the respective DC and Marvel universes during the Middle Passage? Where were Aquaman’s and Namor’s ancestors when the first rebelling or newborn enslaved Africans were tossed overboard to drown, be eaten by sharks or drift slowly to the bottom of the Atlantic?

Exploring these ideas identifies dramatic narrative gaps in between the worlds where these stories purport to take place and the world in which they are told. That they are missing from the Marvel and DC universes exemplifies settler normativity, how the destruction of the native world and construction of the settlers’ anti-Black one is naturalized in and baselines politics and society. Settler colonialism is the organization of power that accomplishes this simultaneous destruction/construction. It is how native Turtle Island becomes the anti-Black North America for example.

It also creates a worldview for its inhabitants. In the same way that men struggle to see sexism, instead just seeing ‘normal’, settlers struggle to see settler colonialism. This settler normativity is one of our very frames of reference. It is basic to our understanding of the world. It is why when we hear about the 49ers we think about the football team or the miners of the gold rush, not the populist genocide the actual ‘fortyniners carried out, despite the depopulation of native California by far being their most enduring and impactful legacy. To question settler colonialism is to question the very world the settlers make. We don’t ask where Aquaman’s ancestors were during the Middle Passage because African Slavery is naturalized in society. It, like men not seeing sexism, is a level below the observable because it is the frame through which observations are made.

So where were Aquaman and Namor’s great-great-great grandparents when they first encountered African Slavery? What was their reaction? How would those reactions change the DC and Marvel universes? I explore some potential scenarios in the paragraphs that follow. Some of these fit inside the current DC and Marvel continuities, namely, the more horrible ones. Others disrupt the current continuities, including those that stop African Slavery in its infancy.


Scenario 1: Hotlantis

Those thrown overboard are rescued by Atlanteans and form an Afro-descendent Atlantean population or are assisted in returning home. This does not require significant adjustment of current continuities.

Scenario 2: Successful Anti-Slavery Intervention

The Atlanteans intervene against the slavers and prevent the Middle Passage from happening. Scenario five can work in conjunction with this. This is, in the DC universe term, an Elseworld and is irreconcilable with the current continuities. Scenarios 3 and 4 show why it is irreconcilable.

Scenario 3: Post-Intervention A

Superman’s rocket lands in Pawnee country since there is no Kansas in which to crash without African Slavery. Superman is now a Pawnee hero. This is irreconcilable with the current continuities.

Scenario 4: Post-Intervention B

Without African Slavery there is no such place as Gotham in which Thomas and Martha Wayne are shot to later be patrolled by their son Batman. They remain British aristocrats. If Bruce Wayne grows up to be a billionaire vigilante he does so in the UK. This is irreconcilable with the current continuities.

Scenario 5: No Response

The Atlanteans first encounter African Slavery through the at sea disposal of newborns or rebelling Africans and either react only to the drowned bodies and not to the act of drowning or simply go about their business. Here the Atlanteans would be concerned with whaling ships more than slave ships (though the ecological damage of African Slavery is in fact substantial!), to the degree they’re concerned with surface dwellers at all. This does not require adjustment of continuities.

Scenario 6: Unsuccessful Intervention

The Atlanteans attempt to intervene and fail and the Middle Passage continues. This is the basis for the Atlantean distance from the surface dweller world for the next four hundred years until the eras of Aquaman and Namor. This does not require significant adjustment of continuities.

Scenario 7: Complicity

Both Atlantean worlds are monarchies of one kind or another which suggests regressive politics. It is thus entirely feasible that Aquaman and Namor’s ancestors were complicit in the Middle Passage in some way. Was a tribute or toll paid to those who control the seas? Thus Atlanteans owe reparations of some kind and direct action at the Justice League headquarters is in order. This does not require significant adjustment of continuities.

Scenario 8: Opportunistic/Humanitarian Intervention

The history of humanitarian intervention is dominated by the interveners integrating a crisis or oppressive system into their own politics rather than ending the crisis or oppression. Alternately put, humanitarian intervention is with few exceptions a tool of empire. Entirely plausible in an intervention scenario is Atlanteans taking over the slave trade rather ending it. This does not require significant adjustment of current continuities.


An honest account of U.S. history means dealing with the ugly truths of settler colonialism. Settler society cultural production helps avoid these ugly truths by producing myths. Not myths as in, superpowered beings in symbolic grand battles. But myths as in, the United States settler colony somehow being post-colonial. As it stands, the most implausible thing about comics is not that some beings can fly without apparent means of propulsion, but that they take place in a United States without Indian Removal and African Slavery. DC and Marvel comics are not imagining a utopia without colonialism even if they may think they are. Instead they imagine a world where colonialism doesn’t matter or doesn’t matter anymore, mountains of facts to the contrary be damned.

Comics can do better. Comics can narrate the colonial present and retcon their respective universes to where settler colonialism, including African Slavery and Indian Removal, happen and impact the universes accordingly. Elseworlds-style stories are one way of accomplishing this. For example there is the as-yet not made story Superman: Alien where the Man of Steel’s rocket is found by Mexican migrant workers on a Kansas farm. He then gets deported with his adoptive parents and grows up to be a Mexican superhero. That is at least as plausible as him being found by the white farm owners. This and the more tragic alternate visions offered above veer away from the current continuities in that they contextualize events as if they take place in the universes they purport to.

The question is one of decolonizing comics. Not as in, comics were colonized and must now be decolonized. That is silly. Nobody colonized comics books. To the contrary, comics in the United States are part of settler colonial cultural production. So in decolonizing comics we seek comics that are decolonizing acts; that are decolonizing narratives and, potentially, tools. Some indie comics and zines already explore this. Yet mainstream comics can too play a role in subverting settler normativity through dealing with the world settler colonialism made, the world in which the comics universes exist. One possible story to tell in this direction is the one that tells the story of the Atlanteans during the Middle Passage. Aquaman’s ancestors have some explaining to do.


France > Détroit > Algérie > Palestine : un large spectre de colonialisme de peuplement

Traduction par Ouessale

Militant de Détroit, universitaire et camarade estimé, Kristian Davis Bailey est en route pour la France afin de faire avancer les solidarités et les luttes unies des Noirs et Palestiniens. Le colonialisme de peuplement français est profondément ancré, tant sur l’Ile de la Tortue qu’en Palestine. Ce bref article est inspiré de son voyage et de ses efforts.

Toute la surface du globe porte les stigmates de l’impérialisme et du colonialisme de peuplement. Ce qui suit expose les liens entre les Noirs aux USA et les Palestiniens (entre-autres) à travers le prisme du colonialisme de peuplement et de l’impérialisme français. C’est sur le thème de la solidarité Noirs – Palestiniens que se tiennent, en France, de multiples conférences pendant l’Israeli Apartheid Week 2016.

Commençons par Détroit d’où j’écris. La colonisation française de l’Ile de la Tortue n’a pas été moins catastrophique que les colonisations britanniques ou espagnoles, bien qu’elle ait été circonscrite par d’autres pouvoirs impériaux au fil du temps. Localement, dans ce que la société coloniale appelle Détroit, les français, sous la direction d’Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, ont entrepris la destruction de la société d’Ojibwe, à travers la marchandisation de la fourrure, l’introduction de maladies européennes, les homicides aux frontières (bien que moins courants que sous les britanniques plus tard) et l’introduction de l’alcool (l’histoire coloniale de l’alcool reste encore à écrire bien qu’elle soit indispensable).

Pendant la conquête, les premiers colons français ont emmené des esclaves africains. De fait, ils ont érigé un monde négrophobe tout en anéantissant le monde indigène. Bill McGraw écrit pour le Deadline Detroit : « En 1750, par exemple, vers la fin du régime français, plus de 25% des résidents de Détroit possédaient des esclaves ». Il poursuit : « De nombreuses routes, écoles et localités dans le Sud-Est du Michigan portent les noms d’anciennes familles bourgeoises propriétaires d’esclaves : Macomb, Campau, Beaubien, McDougall, Abbott, Brush, Cass, Hamtramck, Gouin, Meldrum, Dequindre, Beaufait, Groesbeck, Livernois et Rivard, parmi tant d’autres ».

Les richesses acquises par les colons français sur l’Ile de la Tortue étaient sans commune mesure avec les profits engrangés dans les colonies d’esclaves caribéennes, notamment à Haiti. Cela dit, l’empire français de la fourrure et des esclaves de Détroit fait partie d’un pouvoir colonial et impérial qui – plus d’un siècle après le retrait de la France d’Amérique du Nord suite à son expulsion d’Haiti, au cours de la révolution la plus importante de l’histoire moderne – a rassemblé la France et le Royaume Uni pour l’élaboration des Accords Sykes-Picot. Ces accords ont consisté en un démembrement du Sud-Ouest de l’Asie en vue d’une répartition entre la France, le Royaume Uni et la Russie. Sykes-Picot a jeté les bases du colonialisme britannique en Palestine, régime qui a facilité le colonialisme de peuplement sioniste ensuite. Sans les richesses acquises en colonisant l’Ile de la Tortue et en vendant les africains comme des biens leur appartenant, la France n’aurait jamais eu la possibilité de façonner et de bénéficier des Accords Sykes-Picot.

Peu de temps après ces Accords (et bien qu’ils n’en soient pas la cause), l’Algérie, autre colonie de peuplement majeure, doit de nouveau faire face à l’opposition à sa décolonisation et organiser la résistance. Au cours des quatre décennies suivantes, le régime français a écrasé, brutalement mais sans succès, l’agitation anticoloniale et les révoltes, qui atteignirent leur paroxysme lors de l’insurrection menée par le Front de Libération National, mettant ainsi fin à l’occupation française en 1962.

Israël a toujours eu besoin d’un puissant sponsor et la France a joué ce rôle dès 1954. Selon Michael Laskier, en Algérie, le Mossad a créé des unités paramilitaires secrètes qui combattaient activement les actions anticoloniales du FLN visant les juifs algériens (dont le colonisateur français antisémite avait fait une caste indigène privilégiée, « plus proche » de l’européanité que les algériens musulmans). Israël a aussi soutenu l’occupation française à l’ONU, se rangeant systématiquement du côté de la France lors des votes concernant l’indépendance de l’Algérie et les essais nucléaires dans le Sahara.

Pour sa part, la France a fourni des armes de pointe à Israël et l’a aidé à développer une industrie aéronautique, ainsi que des armes nucléaires. La France a fourni les avions qu’Israël a utilisé pour envahir le Sinaï pendant la crise du canal de Suez en Octobre 1956, lors d’une attaque conjointe des britanniques, français et israéliens sur l’Egypte. En 1959, la France a autorisé Israël à assembler le jet Fouga Magister sous licence française, tout en continuant de lui vendre des bombardiers beaucoup plus avancés comme le Mystère. C’est avec des armes françaises qu’Israël a attaqué l’Egypte et la Syrie en Juin 1967. La Jordanie s’est alliée à l’Egypte et à la Syrie, et la guerre s’est soldée par la conquête par Israël du Sinaï et l’occupation de Gaza sur le territoire égyptien, l’occupation de la Cisjordanie alors jordanienne et l’occupation du Plateau du Golan syrien.

Israël s’est empressé de construire des colonies dans le Sinaï, espérant ainsi porter préjudice aux futures négociations par un fait-accompli qui soumettrait à Israël, tout ou partie de la péninsule, en plus de Gaza. La colonisation israélienne a inévitablement entrainé une résistance égyptienne. Les missiles anti-aériens ont lourdement pénalisé Israël pendant cette guerre d’usure. Pour perturber les radars antiaériens, Israël achète ses premiers drones aux USA. Ils servent à la fois d’appâts et d’espions. A cette période, les drones fonctionnent encore avec des pellicules photo qui doivent être extraites au retour du drone, développées et analysées pour obtenir des informations. La résistance égyptienne, ainsi que les avancées en matière de traitement des données conduisent Israël à modifier ses drones pour pouvoir déployer une surveillance en temps réel. Les nouveaux drones émettent leurs vidéos en direct, réduisant ainsi considérablement le temps entre la reconnaissance et l’attaque et permettant des ajustements immédiats sur le champ de bataille. Ces drones n’ont pas beaucoup servi au Sinaï, rendu à l’Egypte en 1981 devant les pressions égyptienne et internationale. Mais tous les drones modernes, partout dans le monde, émanent de la colonisation israélienne du Sinaï. C’est à ce moment que les drones deviennent des plateformes de surveillance en temps réel. Ce sont les drones développés par Israël qui ont conduit les USA à réinvestir cette technologie après l’avoir largement abandonnée.

Bien que la France ait institué un embargo sur les armes à destination d’Israël après la guerre de 1967, elle utilise aujourd’hui des armes israéliennes développées pendant l’occupation du Sinai (et déployées au Liban, en Cisjordanie et à Gaza). La France a utilisé un drone de l’Israel Aerospace Industry Heron, modifié et nommé « Harfang » dans le cadre de la « Guerre mondiale contre le terrorisme », ainsi que lors des invasions et occupations unilatérales ou conjointes de l’Afghanistan, du Mali et de la Libye.

Dans les deux derniers cas, la technologie d’Israël – colonie de peuplement qui doit partiellement son existence aux Accords de Sykes-Picot, largement créés et mis en œuvre par la France – s’est développée consécutivement à ses attaques sur le sol africain menées avec des armes françaises. Israël a ensuite renversé la situation en passant du statut de client à celui de fournisseur, pour les invasions françaises de pays africains. C’est ainsi que la France profite considérablement des actions militaires qu’elle prétend rejeter via ses embargos.

Voilà donc quelques-uns des enchevêtrements impérialistes et coloniaux unissant la France, la Palestine, Détroit et l’Algérie.

Anti-Zionism isn’t anti-semitic, but Zionism is

Thanks to Tom Pessah for editing suggestions to make this coherent.


This week the University of California Board of Regents issued a paper on intolerance that focused on anti-semitism. Early drafts explicitly conflated anti-semitism and anti-Zionism. But as the Electronic Intifada reported , “pressure force[d an] amendment” to the paper whereby only anti-semitic forms of anti-Zionism where to be disallowed. Whether this provides a safeguard for anti-Zionist organizing or is more of a slippery slope for anti-Zionism to be categorized as anti-semitic isn’t yet clear.

Anti-semitism isn’t rare in Palestine liberation organizing because anti-semitism isn’t rare in society and everything wrong in society also shows up in movement spaces, if less common or differently articulated. In the U.S. at least, it is not as common as settler colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism and anti-Blackness in movement spaces but it still shows up enough to notice.

What seems weird at first though is that anti-semites oppose Zionism in the first place because Zionism itself is anti-semitic. Of course in anti-semitism everything Jews do is wrong because it is Jews doing it, no matter what ‘it’ is, even if ‘it’ is being anti-semitic. For anti-semites the mere presence of Jews is sufficient cause for anti-semitism. Thus Israel, a settler colony ideologically premised in part on anti-semitism, can still be worked into anti-semites’ fantasies.

Shlilat ha-Galut

Joseph Massad writes about Theodore Herzl that:

Herzl and his followers insisted that it is the presence of Jews in gentile societies that caused anti-Semitism. Herzl put it thus in his foundational Zionist pamphlet Der Judenstaat: “The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America.” Sharing this diagnosis with anti-Semites, the Zionists called for the exit of Jews from gentile societies in order to “normalize” their “abnormal” situation, transforming them into a nation like other nations.

Rejecting this “abnormality” in Zionist ideology is called shlilat ha-galut, the negation of exile. Eliezer Schweid writes that shlilat ha-galut “is a central assumption in all currents of Zionist ideology.” Ha-galut, exile, is the “abnormal” condition in question. Ha-galut in this construct is what non-Zionist anti-semites simply call being a Jew. In anti-semitism, Jewish presence amongst non-Jews is unnatural, a concept fully embraced by Herzl.

Shlilat ha-galut disavows Jewish cultural production and history outside of Zionism. In its most crudely anti-semitic, shlilat ha-galut perfectly mimics European anti-semitic imagery of Jews as spiritually, morally and even physically weak, parasitical, effeminate and defenseless. Herzl was not alone in this. Prominent early Zionist A.D. Gordon, for example, espoused such views. Zeev Sternhell quotes Gordon:

[W]e are a parasitic people. We have no roots in the soil, there is no ground beneath our feet. And we are parasites not only in an economic sense, but in spirit, in thought, in poetry, in literature, and in our virtues, our ideals, our higher human aspirations. Every alien movement sweeps us along, every wind in the world carries us. We in ourselves are almost non-existent, so of course we are nothing in the eyes of other people either.

Those notions fit comfortably alongside the crudest articulations of the neo-Nazis. Also not neo ones.

Shlilat ha-galut led to anti-semitic riots on the part of the settlers. For example on 27 September 1930 an anti-semitic mob of Jewish colonists gathered in Tel Aviv and laid siege to the Mograbi movie theater for playing a Yiddish-language film. Arthur Ruppin, discussed below, thought Yiddish was a “degenerate” and “impure” language, a view widely held by the settlers. For example, future Prime Minister David Ben Gurion thanked a young Partisan and shoah survivor for sharing her story in with him in 1945 “even though it was told in a foreign and ear straining language,” Yiddish, Ben Gurion’s native language. Zionists frequently characterize the Nebi Musa riots and others as anti-semitic rather than anticolonial but the militant mob actions and later state repression of Yiddishkeit are virtually never portrayed as anti-semitic, no matter their replication of European anti-semitism. Shlilat ha-galut is portrayed as part of a Jewish renaissance instead of destroying Jewish culture.

Zionist anti-semitism’s other Others

Zionist anti-semitism is not just, not even mostly, the suppression of Yiddish culture, but of Mizrachi, Ethiopian and other Othered Jewish populations as well. Here anti-semitism meets anti-Blackness and Orientalism. Arthur Ruppin is a leading figure in Zionist history. He is called the “father of Jewish settlement in Palestine” and there are few important Zionist developments in Palestine between 1905-1940 that he wasn’t involved with at some level. Ruppin was also a dedicated eugenicist whose academic work in the eugenics field was fundamental to his settlement programs in Palestine.

For example, Ruppin rejected Ethiopian Jews as potential candidates for settler colonialism in Palestine. Etan Bloom quotes Ruppin as saying that Ethiopian Jews were:

N****rs, who came to Judaism by force of the sword in the sixth century B.C. They have no blood connection to the Jews. […] [Therefore] their number in Palestine should not be increased.

This was and remains Israeli practice, partially interrupted, though articulated less crudely today. Israelis forcibly sterilizing Ethiopian Jewish women should be read in the context that “their number in Palestine should not be increased”. Bloom writes further about Ruppin’s views on Mizarchim.

The radical decrease in the number of Sephardim is explained by Ruppin as being the result of certain deficiencies in their biological structure. As the most Semitic component of the Jewish race, they came to represent, in his analysis, a degenerate strain in the Jewish Volk. According to Ruppin, not only had the (Ashkenazi) Jews preserved their racial characteristics, they had also succeeded in improving them through a long process of selection which promoted the fittest amongst them: rich Jews married their daughters to the most brilliant students, thus ensuring the mental development of the race. The Sephardic-Oriental (Mizrachi) Jews, Ruppin concluded, were lacking this urge for self-selection, a fact that certainly damaged their “vital force”. Another factor which differentiated the Oriental Jews, according to Ruppin’s assertion, was that most of them were actually Arabs and Moslems who had converted over the generations.

Orientalist and anti-Black ideologies are not relics from Ruppin’s time but present tense phenomena. For example, Israel has stopped Ethiopian Jews from settling in Israel entirely several times and Mizrachim continue to be peripheralized in the settler society. This is not just orientalism and anti-Blackness. Specifically groups of Jews are targeted so it is also anti-semitism.

Yehudon and Galuti

Former Netanyahu advisor Aviv Bushinsky called U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro a yehudon, or ‘little Jew boy’ after Shapiro offered very mild criticisms of certain Israeli policies in the West Bank. Right-wing former cabinet minister Rehavam Ze’evi called former U.S. ambassador Martin Indyk the same thing. Other prominent Israelis called prior U.S. ambassadors the same thing. Sometimes these crude anti-semitic slurs are denounced by high officials. Less crude ones embodying shlilat ha-galut are not.

Israelis use the word galuti, exilic – of exile, as a pejorative often meaning ‘weakness’ or ‘softness’. Having a “galuti mentality” is a common response to criticism’s of anti-Palestinian policies. A typical example is here where the author castigates those in galut for supporting Obama’s very mild opposition to some Israeli policies. Galut is not geographic distance from the supposed homeland but ideological distance from Zionism. Again, the idea of Jews as weak beings is part of European anti-semitism. Tying weakness to ha-galut is tying strength to settler colonial violence in Palestine. Alternately put, in the ongoing nakba, the destruction of the Palestinian world is the construction of an anti-semitic one.

Through forced sterilization, language and culture repression and more, Israel and Zionism have worked hard for decades to destroy groups of Jews. But being a settler colony the first group of Jews Zionism’s “new Hebrews” targeted for elimination were Palestinian. Palestinian Jews were a vibrant community, one of many communities pre-colonial Palestine. Zionism tore Palestinian Jews from their indigeneity, including from their relationships with Palestinian Muslims and Christians, and articulated them instead to the settler society, turning them into Israelis.

Massad wrote of early Zionism, “Much of what anti- Semitism projected onto European Jews would now be displaced onto Palestinian Arabs.” Zionism’s history is first and foremost the history of removing Palestinians and conquering Palestine. But in creating anti-Palestinian geographies Israeli also created anti-semitic ones that rejected Ethiopian, Mizrachi and Yiddish Jewish cultures. None of this is to minimize or forgive anti-semitism in the Palestine liberation movement. Anti-semitism, like any bigotry or oppression, is never excusable. Instead this essay seeks to be a corrective contextualization of the criticism of anti-Zionism as anti-semitic. When Zionists make this conflation they are not criticizing anti-semitism, they are saying it is being done wrong.