Why can’t Black Lives Matter to me?

Yesterday at Loyola University was an emergency day of action in solidarity with the students at the University of Missouri. Hateful, racist threats against Mizzou's students of color were posted on social media following the decision of the university's president and chancellor to resign in the face of mounting pressure from the student body, many faculty members and even the Mizzou football team.

Mizzou student group Concerned Student 1950 sparked the call for the president's resignation due to his failure to appropriately respond to multiple instances of hate speech on Mizzou's campus. This week, concerned for their safety due to the social media threats, many black students at Mizzou have opted not to attend class.

The event at Loyola was one of solidarity. Loyola students were encouraged to walk out of class at 1:50 p.m. on Thursday and gather on the quad to rally. All students, that is, except the ones who were not "welcome."

I went to the rally. I believe that Loyola is one among thousands of institutions who fail to meet the needs of black students. I believe that there is a trend towards systemic racism in American society that values black lives less that white ones. As a white, Jewish woman, I believe it is my duty to recognize my privilege in American society and evaluate how the institutions I am a part of oppress others.

I understood, as I walked out of the quiet hall of classrooms, out to the quad, that this event was not about me. This event was about black students. Recognizing my privilege meant that I recognized there was a black experience lived by some of my classmates that was distinct from my own experience. I could only go as an ally. 

In the hours before the rally, Loyola students, including many Jewish ones, took to social media. They posted screenshots from the popular anonymous social app Yik-Yak (the same app through which threats had been made at Mizzou) that showed members of the Loyola community had posted racial slurs that at best, belittled and at worst, threatened, members of the #blacklivesmatter movement. When I saw what had been posted, what I saw were a few hateful voices being drowned out by a much, larger unified voice, the voice of Loyola students who refused to be deterred by the smallness and bigotry of a small number of their peers. 

But yesterday was not so simple for me. Because at the same time that "Black Lives Matter, and we all stand in solidarity" and other language of radical inclusion was being spread around campus, another trend was beginning, one of exclusion. 

Leaders of Loyola's chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine began posting messages that certain students were not welcome as allies of the protesting black students. 

"Zionists on campus [are] pretending to be outraged," one post claimed. The post went further claiming that "Zionist" students had "fake ass sympathy and crocodile tears" for the Mizzou students, and ended with the declaration, "Your solidarity ain't shit." 

Another student likened the racist slurs against black students to the words of the "Zionists" who had opposed last year's divestment movement.

The use of the word "Zionists" in these post served a simple goal -- lumping a diverse group of mainly Jewish students into a single neat category. Our identity is stripped of its ethnic complexity, its religious sanctity and anything that might indicate our humanity. We are Zionists, and only Zionists. We have only political motivations, and care only about Israel. 

The message was clear, if you were a student who had opposed divestment from Israel, you were not welcome at the rally. This was made all the clearer as I stood on the stone steps in front of Loyola's library and listened to the interwoven chants, "BLACK LIVES MATTER, FREE FREE PALESTINE." The black students leading the chants wore keffiyahs. The Black Lives Matter movement and the pro-Palestinian movement have been linked through this kind of rhetoric at Loyola, a rhetoric that undermines the cultural contexts of both peoples' struggles and blankets the black and Palestinian experiences as one. While intersectionality is a valuable and necessary tool for social justice, so much is ignored by claiming that all oppression is the same oppression. 

My mother was arrested in the 1970s for taking part in anti-war rallies in New York City, my grandmother was a civil rights activist. These are my exemplars for solidarity -- Jewish women who see their place as standing firmly behind those fighting for justice. The message I got at yesterday's rally was that my Jewish, female solidarity was not welcome because it was tainted by a connection to Israel. This, I fear is a new reality for Jewish college students. If you're Jewish and want to engage with Israel vocally on your campus, it will exclude you. Why am I being told that Black Lives can't Matter to me? 

Nicole Constantine is a graduating senior at Loyola University and an Israel intern for JUF's Israel Education Center and Metro Chicago Hillel.


Posted: 11/13/2015 1:38:55 PM

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