COMMUNITY DEFENSE AND THE WEAPONIZATION OF IDENTITY
I joined Redneck Revolt in November 2016, as a first-time organizer. I saw a pressing need for direct anti-racist outreach, so I came into the group as someone willing to do the work, prepared to gauge our impact and then build upon that foundation. I also came to the organization as a first-generation Palestinian-American, Muslim cis man. When I consider the value my involvement adds to Redneck Revolt, my ethnic, cultural, and religious identity don’t immediately come to mind. My commitment, both to my comrades and to securing the greater mission of Redneck Revolt and John Brown Gun Club has borne more on-the-ground impact.
That is not to say that my other non-white comrades and I don’t offer unique and valuable perspectives to Redneck Revolt. On a good day, my perspective, which encompasses the sum of my learned and visceral experiences, bleeds directly into the work and fuses with our greater mission - one steeped in fighting to secure true liberty for all within our community.
As an organization working to stem the tide of white supremacy and nationalism, Redneck Revolt may score more liberal ally points for having a membership comprised of folks of color alongside white folks, but keeping score of our racial makeup brings us no closer to organizing effectively. With the threat we face, we have who we have, when we have them, and the work remains the work.
I say this with no intention to devalue the contributions of folks of color, but rather to double down on the premise that we all hold a shared stake in facing down white supremacist and reactionary elements within our communities. While the direct consequences of this threat may vary wildly from member to member, those among us who stand to lose less must step forward to act as buffers. This is because real, material anti-racist work requires not only acknowledging the blatancy of privilege in our analysis, but putting our own bodies on the line. At the end of the day, we unite around that shared stake in the future we’re fighting for.
Collectively, we reject the weaponizing of identity to construct perceived “assets” within our organizing structure. As folks working directly on the ground, we are accountable to the oppressed people in our communities. We build coalitions with them, cross-train with them on community defense, and build trust via our conduct and follow-through. Often enough, Redneck Revolt receives varying qualities of feedback and critique in regards to two claims: 1. that we are romanticizing the white working class, and 2. we inhibit white folk’s complicity within white supremacy, particularly in regard to our praxis of conducting counter-recruitment from the right-wing. Although our principles explicitly state zero desire to erase the irrefutable complicity among white folks in white supremacy, we also acknowledge the existence of nuance within that complicity.
Redneck Revolt seeks to bring to light and continue the groundwork laid by historical and current campaigns of resistance which emerged out of poor white communities, oppressed and marginalized communities, and the inspiring intersection of those movements. This all falls under our strategy of meeting folks where they’re at - one which has netted us real results in the form of local networks, coalitions, and dependable comrades.
As a Palestinian-American, I have been victim to white supremacy’s ability to bolster and reanimate itself in ways that go way beyond racialized discrimination. In my own socialization as I was growing up, I regularly masked my Palestinian heritage by telling white folks that my family was Jordanian, to avoid confronting the adversarial subject of the conflict between Palestine and Israel. I had concluded that I would rather lie outright about my heritage than potentially upset the perceived bias of white folks, whom I interpreted to be largely in support of Israel and antagonistic towards Palestinian sovereignty.
At times, I am baffled at why I was so timid about representing my true self. Why was I so tense about ruffling white feathers? The worst that was likely to result would have been a disagreement over a deeply contentious political conflict. But the socialization within the suburban bubble I grew up in made me acutely aware of every single way I was different. I looked different. My parents spoke with a different accent. My home smelled different. Why bring another difference into the fold that would further alienate me? I was young but even then, I knew how alienating it was to be Palestinian. If there was one facet of my identity which I could control, why wouldn’t I? One less thing, right?
When I look back at my behavior and social fears with more clarity, I know that I couldn’t have been the only one who buckled to white supremacy. This is precisely the nuance that complicity holds outside of the context of white identification. I failed to allow elements of my identity to add to my experience as I interacted with my community - further upholding white dominance.
In those moments, white supremacy got the best of me, but later in life I came to understand that my identity was not as fluid as I had been treating it. Now, as strongly as I refuse to allow myself to buckle or suppress parts of my identity in the face of white supremacy and in service of a sanctioned brand of American assimilation, I also refuse to allow others to weaponize my identity. The space that exists between these two destructive poles is mine to navigate, but I have confidence that it is where my liberation resides - and where my Palestinian-American identity will thrive.
The picture above perfectly demonstrates why I do work under the banner of Redneck Revolt. I took this picture as I walked up to the entrance of a local Islamic Community Center, which was the venue for a local solidarity rally in Phoenix, Arizona The rally was taking place in the wake of the Quebec City mosque shooting in January 2017, where a far-right, white nationalist terrorist shot 25 worshippers inside a mosque, killing 6 and injuring 19 others. The day of the solidarity rally, there was a group of 3-5 folks camped out in front of the mosque where the community had come to gather together. They ranted about the evils of Islam at passers-by, repeating that Islam “could not be a religion of peace." Two of the gentlemen wore “Fuck Islam” t-shirts, made famous by another local Arizonan, Jon Ritzheimer.
Let’s paint the whole picture here: hostility and aggression being exercised towards an entire religious community in the wake of a coordinated, hate-fueled shooting; all taking place within the closest legal proximity to a place of refuge, reconciliation, and peace for those most directly affected by it. Let that sink in for a minute.
I wish I could say instances like this are uncommon. In fact, the Muslim community routinely expects to encounter folks like this at public events and during times of regular worship. The police are notified, the separation barrier is formed, words are exchanged, both sides go home, and the normalization of the abnormal sets in.
While Redneck Revolt is not the only path to combatting the normalized strains of vitriolic Islamophobia in our communities, it is one of very few which takes reactionary elements directly to task. We do so face to face, and in an equalizing show of force. What I respect so much about our organizing principles is that a good part of this work lies squarely in facing down the most brazen threads of white supremacy that threaten and target folks in our community - because we see it as a shared one.
The other part of the work requires us to hold our own in white-held spaces, which serve as breeding grounds for white supremacy - spaces which liberals and radicals have, in most recent history, steered clear of. Confronting working white folks about their defense of “Fuck Islam” as a political identity is a tactic aimed at causing internal splits, deepening potential fissures, and revealing hypocrisies about the way liberty is defined on the right side of the American political spectrum. This is the twofold nature of our work: we face down the immediate threat and we face down its source - the enablers.
As a Palestinian-American Muslim who witnesses daily contempt for my culture, I see the greatest possible impact in work which dialogues and confronts white supremacy, in addition to agitating it. Furthermore, as someone who routinely hears their culture invoked in monolithic terms from both the right and the left, I know what the visceral reaction is. We tune out. Immediately. This ultimately tells us that, in order to break though, we’ve got to be meeting folks where they’re at. We must start from a place of understanding, context, and nuance if we wish to make dents in the motivations and values that drive white supremacy. Our collective strives to build a skillset where we are agile enough in our rhetoric to pivot to the greater principle of unifying working class communities, even if it means wading through garbage to reach that point.
Even as someone who came out of a tradition of a proud and resilient Palestinian family, I fell victim to white supremacy’s potent social pressures. In my young mind, there were two options: assimilate or face a reckoning. In white supremacy, there is nuance to the disease, the symptoms, and yes, even the cure. With the current state of our nation, there is no time to stand on the sidelines and await direction from those who proclaim themselves “woke”. I say all this as a person of color first, and as an organizer second: The time is now.
Jamil // Redneck Revolt