Fight Your Family

Are you in the right headspace to receive information that might hurt you?

Hillel would say: Do not separate yourself from the community. Do not believe in yourself until the day you die. Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place. Do not say something that is not readily understood in the belief that it will ultimately be understood. — Pirkei Avos, 2:4

So the stakes are enormous, absolutely enormous, in denying that there could be any parallel, that the Muslim is alive, against all odds, and still dying, in Israel and Palestine. That thought, I would argue, is simply unthinkable, and more: unbearable. — Gil Anidjar, The Jew, the Arab: an Interview with Gil Anidjar

To indulge in irresponsible criticism in private instead of actively putting forward one's suggestions to the organization. To say nothing to people to their faces but to gossip behind their backs, or to say nothing at a meeting but to gossip afterwards. To show no regard at all for the principles of collective life but to follow one's own inclination. This is a second type. — Mao Zedong, Combat Liberalism

Hi there,

It’s been too long since I last wrote you. If you follow my work, you know that a pretty big piece of mine just came out (I’ll link it below), and that this has taken up a significant portion of my time. As well, come January, I’ll be writing more regularly for Xtra, turning my occasional pitches into a monthly column of cultural criticism. I hope you’re all looking forward to it as much as I am.

This time of the year is very strange, because it is so very Christian. Time seems to collapse and coagulate around certain key Christians occurrences, events I know nothing of and therefore view with deep hostility. And so, at all times but especially now, I like to remind myself even more aggressively of my Jewishness — to insist upon it, to read it deliberately into everything that I do. My writing is Jewish, my politics are Jewish, my relationships are Jewish. For me, it is a primary fact, a foundation. Thus, it is often very difficult for me to be so consistently confronted with the denial of this Jewishness, often by other Jews, as a direct result of my engagement in Palestine solidarity work. In the eyes of many within my own community, I am a political enemy.

I want to talk about this idea: dissidence, disavowal, and dismissal. Because as hurtful as these events have been, they have also been oddly generative. The incidents that led to my consideration of this issue emerged for me roughly contemporaneously with the yearly cycle of “fight your racist uncle” Thanksgiving discourse.

This is a trend I absolutely can’t stand, largely because I think it mostly just amounts to masturbatory white self-victimizing. What is the strategic role of the “racist uncle” as a figure, a sign, a displacement of white violence outside of a zone of culpability? I wonder, has any intervention with this figure ever worked? Does he even exist?

A related point: In more left-leaning Jewish spaces, I have often been criticized for my “hardline” stance, one which others seem to interpret as my calling for them to cut off their Zionist family. I’ve never suggested as such (and I’ve certainly never practiced as much, not that I think it would even be possible). But the implication is interesting; why, on the one hand, must we fight our “racist uncles,” and then, on the other, refuse ruptures with our communities? What is the space where this entanglement becomes not only possible, but preferable? The strategy here, it seems, is to be a political dissident without being a political enemy. To remain in the conversation.

I get it, I do. And thus, I have found ways to disagree productively with those I love. But I think there is also significant merit in saying that while a conciliatory role may be necessary, it is rarely productive — not only in terms of material political change, but also, in approaching the question of dissidence. I love being Jewish, and I love other Jews, but in truth, I am a political enemy of many in my community, because my community has been organized politically in support of goals I find morally unfathomable. I don’t believe that I am losing anything by refusing to relinquish what is good, right, and fair. Perhaps this means severing relationships. But I would argue that relationships are never truly severed; no breaks are ever clean, nor are they permanent. Just because a difference is insurmountable doesn’t mean it must be fraught. Still, it is insurmountable. What we differ on is not a matter of policy or preferences, but of fundamental visions about the world and its bettering.

In truth, what I am asking is a question about complicity and relationality. It is absolutely necessary that we move from an understanding of ourselves as individuated, fixed, unobligated, to one that recognizes our collectivity and culpability, and the radical potential of refusal. What does it mean to refuse to be represented, to refuse to be reduced, to refuse to become a bargaining chip, a political pawn, a token? To be an enemy? To take a stand on the other side?

I’m not saying we must refuse reconciliation outright; rather, we must not pretend that we want anything less than a different kind of world. We must not allow ourselves to forget that that better world is possible, and that we have a role in its making. If the “racist uncle” continues to exist outside of our families and ourselves, we have excused ourselves from the difficult task not of fighting him or of convincing him, but of excising whiteness from our own minds, of developing a political vision that is not predicated on its legibility to white power. Maybe we cannot always come together for a meal; that in itself deserves investigation. Not all tables are going to have seats for us, and that’s why we create our own. Similarly, not all conversations are going to be productive, and even those moments of rupture can be recognized as illustrative of the stakes of the issues at hand.

I think there’s merit in refusal, in being unrepresentable, in not answering the question, and in building a kind of politics that goes beyond talking points and mediations, and asks instead, What do we want this world to be? And what are we willing to do to make it so?

Aren’t you tired of being nice? Don’t you just want to go apeshit?

If you’ve read this long, thank you. With love, here’s more.

Lose Your Kin / Christina Sharpe, The New Inquiry

White people are searching for ways to show solidarity to people of color and some have landed on the performative symbol of wearing a safety pin. Symbols are important and a safety pin is not enough. A safety pin is a temporary fix for a rend in the fabric. One must be willing to say this is abhorrent. One must be willing to be more than uncomfortable. One must be willing to be on the outside. One must refuse to repair a familial rift on the bodies cast out as not kin.

Trans Visibility Won’t Save Us / Alex Verman, Buzzfeed

If my diagnosis is correct, then I’m a symptom of the same problem that my prescription seeks to address. But I believe the privileged among us should be more willing to commit to a political program that strips us of our unearned privileges. If this particular vision for trans politics is going to work, it requires those of us with platforms and power to join arguments in favor of our own undoing.

Whatever our individual stakes in this conversation, when we look at the real conditions in which trans people live or die as a class, any debate over trans identity that’s limited to questions of visibility and individual experience will always feel wholly inadequate. Though ContraPoints, for her part, is a victim of this overemphasized identity–visibility matrix, she is also a perpetrator of it.

The Unlocked Turnstile of Palestine Solidarity / Dr. Steve Salaita

I was recently chatting with a Palestinian friend about the propensity of outsiders to accumulate credibility (and often rewards) while ethnic Palestinian nationalists suffer various forms of punishment.  In the course of my comments, I proffered a disclaimer conditioned by years of academe:  “Of course I don’t think we should use a litmus test…”

“Why not?” she interjected.  “Why shouldn’t we have a litmus test?” 

It wasn’t a rhetorical question.  The term “litmus test” is too loaded to inspire calm discussion, but it conveys a sensibility always in use among the dispossessed.  My friend had snapped me out of old habits of professional decorum, which obscure how people uninvested in civility organize their loyalties.  

Everything Burns / Joan Summers, Jezebel

I should be more angry than I am, considering that so many people with so much more power than I will ever have made choices knowing it would ultimately rob my generation of a functioning planet that has fostered life for millions of years. But that burning hatred has, in recent weeks, transformed into something else. A weapon; a solid, material mass I can feel inside of me. It doesn’t fill my throat, or grip my heart, or keep me awake. Instead, it fills me with an uncharacteristic peace. Despite the hopelessness around me, I’ve never felt more that things can be saved than I do right now.