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News > World

The Trump Silver Lining: Black, Muslim, Native American Unity

  • Black Lives Matter activists stand in solidarity with the Dakota Access pipeline resistance.

    Black Lives Matter activists stand in solidarity with the Dakota Access pipeline resistance. | Photo: Facebook / Red Warrior Society

Published 23 February 2017

Under Trump’s sweeping attacks, marginalized groups reflect on how to learn from each others’ struggles and forge united resistance.

While marginalized communities from Native Americans to Black people to Muslims and Latino immigrants have suffered under successive U.S. governments for decades and centuries, those groups are now up against a new aggressive and blunt attack by President Donald Trump who, aside from rolling back a slew of rights in just weeks in office, has also stoked the sparks of a new resistance across identity lines with the potential to draw on diverse histories of oppression and struggle.  

Trump Brings Chaos and Pain

In just one month, Trump signed executive orders that gave more power to law enforcement officers across the United States, revived the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, hurting Native Americans and their lands, and placed a ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees worldwide.

Several Trump directives are specifically targeting undocumented immigrants in the country and will see millions of people deported for the sole reason of having entered the country without papers.

In the face of such unapologetic aggression, a newfound unity is being born between Black, Native American and Muslim communities in the country in order to stand up against the Trump administration, activists and experts from those communities say.

“This is, in many ways, already happening,” Alicia Garza, one of the three cofounders of the anti-police brutality movement Black Lives Matter, told teleSUR when asked about a unity between these historically-oppressed communities. “Black people are undocumented immigrants, we are Muslim, we are Indigenous, and more.”  

Indigenous communities from across the globe are joining forces with the Black diaspora, Garza asserted, adding that Black people are an essential part of “every fight that we see today and every fight that we can anticipate.”

Earlier this month, Trump signed three executive orders to crackdown on what he called the “threat of rising crime” in the U.S., giving more power to federal and local police. One executive order seeks to “define new federal crimes, and increase penalties for existing federal crimes, in order to prevent violence” against state and federal police.

Isolated attacks on police officers over the past few years have been used by right-wing groups to discredit movements like Black Lives Matter, which are fighting and protesting against the continued police killings of Black people.

“Trump's executive orders are deceptive and disingenuous,” Garza said, adding that Black Lives Matter is already pushing back against the Trump administration through “building relationships with other communities impacted by the Trump administration, and devising strategies to bring more people into the movement.”

During his presidential campaign, Trump said increasing police presence in Black communities would help end crime and better their lives in New York, Chicago and other major U.S. cities.

How Whites Can Fight for Multiracial Collective Liberation

But achieving any justice or progress for African-Americans is impossible under this administration as Trump “has surrounded himself with corporate CEOs, billionaires and retired military personnel, none of whom have any track record whatsoever in solving the problems that exist in our communities,” said Garza.

Meanwhile, as Trump targets Muslims, Black Lives Matter sees the so-called Muslim ban as targeting “the Black diaspora,” Garza argued. “We must remember that in the case of the Muslim ban, Black and Muslim are not separate categories.”

Trump signed the now-suspended travel ban in his second week in office, barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries as well as all refugees from entering the country.

People with green cards and valid visas were stopped at airports across the country, which sparked massive protests and saw a federal judge in Washington state suspend Trump’s executive order.

The Black Lives Matter cofounder further argued that Black-Muslim solidarity against Trump’s xenophobic and Islamophobic policies is being threatened by the rarely-highlighted issue of “anti-Black racism within Muslim communities” in the United States.

She said that such tendencies must be eliminated in order to realize a true unity between the two communities.

Khaled Beydoun, a Muslim-American professor of law in the U.S., seemed to agree that the Muslim community needs to educate itself about the past and current struggle of the Black community.

Facing a new level of persecution in the U.S., Muslims can show active solidarity “by aligning themselves with organizations that have deep histories with state persecution and targeting, particularly in the Black, Latinx and Native communities,” he told teleSUR.  

Beydoun clearly identified what he called an “institutional exclusion of non-Arab and non-South Asian Muslims” from the “very diverse” Muslim-American community.

In order to eliminate this discrimination, he argued, the Muslims within Black and other communities must be “empowered and granted leadership roles” within traditional Muslim organizations and groups.

Nevertheless, Black and Muslim people in the U.S. have certainly been inspired by the resistance against the Dakota Access pipeline and united in their support for the ongoing Native American struggle.

With the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline reactivated and protesters at Standing Rock Indian Reservation facing mass arrests as their camps are burned to the ground, Black Lives Matter activists have braced themselves to rejoin the action led by Native Americans.

“BLM organizers were some of the first to show up to support the water protectors,” Garza said, referring to the months-long action last year by hundreds of Native American tribes and protesters that succeeded in pressuring the Obama administration to suspend the US$3.8 billion project.

“Members of our team were a consistent presence at the camps, raised money for legal and other support, and continue to be in conversation with Indigenous communities to identify next steps for support,” the Black Lives Matter cofounder added.

Meanwhile, in October last year at the height of the protests against the oil project, a coalition of Muslim groups teamed up to spread awareness about the gathering in North Dakota and raised over US$12,000 online for the water protectors.

A delegation also went to the protest encampment, a move spearheaded by Native American-Muslims converts. However, Beydoun said more work needs to be done within the Muslim community in order to support the struggles of Native Americans.

“It is key that Muslim Americans first learn about the struggles faced by Native communities, both the history and the current struggles, as a first step for building coalitions.”

The law professor and analyst stressed that non-Muslim minority groups have been actively supporting and uniting with Muslim communities against the hostility of U.S. governments. “Yes indeed, I already see that happening in an unprecedented way.”  

Therefore, he argued, Muslim-Americans need to reciprocate that solidarity “or else we miss an important moment for transformative coalition building.”

Sanctuary Cities Have Historical Roots in Slavery-Era US

As they enter a new phase of their fight against the Dakota Access pipeline, Native American organizers say they are indeed thirsty for such a multi-ethnic coalition.

“In these troubled times, when the White House and right wing controlled Congress is generating fear and racist policies, the mutual solidarity between communities of color and Muslims is critical,” Judith LeBlanc, Director of Native Organizers Alliance and a member of the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma, told teleSUR.

Several delegations from the Muslim community and the Black community did go  to the Oceti Sakowin Camp, the stronghold of the protesters at Standing Rock, LeBlanc confirmed.

“Now we need to strategize together about how our solidarity builds our collective strength and not allow the right-wing to ‘divide and conquer’."

Under the far-right Trump administration, the strongest strategy against the Dakota Access pipeline “is to continue to drive public protest to oppose the pipeline especially through the vehicle of divestment campaigning” from banks funding the project, the Native American leader said.

Two U.S. cities, Seattle and Davis, California, have canceled city contracts with Wells Fargo, the major lender to Energy Transfer Partners, the firm building the pipeline.

Native Americans are also working to support the struggles of other oppressed communities in the United States. “Our greatest solidarity is to work in our own communities to become sanctuary communities,” LeBlanc said.

She pointed to how Native American tribes in Arizona are already discussing plans to protect immigrants crossing the border from deportations by taking them into the Native American reservations, which are beyond federal and state control.  

“Our Indigenous cultures have much to teach about how we can live collectively together, how we can resolve differences in the interest of the circle of of the world community and that we can not solve our community's crisis problems without long term, deep solidarity and love for humanity,” the Native American organizer concluded.

While much work needs to be done across racial and ethnic groups, many argue that one of the few silver linings of the Trump presidency will be the emergence of a united progressive movement that not only could take on the hate-spewing administration, but also fight to transform the U.S. into a true democracy and a socially just multi-ethnic state. 

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