I have asked the members of the community if they experienced racism within larger Palestinian society. Some of the older members of the community talked to me about how issues of skin color would come up when a darker African Palestinian would try to marry a lighter Palestinian woman. As one older member of the community told me: “I know they wanted to say no because of my skin color but their daughter, whose is now my wife, was insistent that as Muslims they had no right to deny me.” For younger generations within the community there have been enough marriages between Palestinians of African descent and the larger community to make this less of an issue.
As an American Muslim who has spent more than a decade organizing or living on Chicago’s South Side, I can’t help but feel that the larger Palestinian American community has not celebrated the African part of our identity in the way that we should. Failing to do this has prevented segments of the Palestinian community from making more of a connection to the African American legacy and its struggles against institutionalized racism and white supremacy. Making that connection is imperative, particularly during opportune moments like Black History Month. Most African Americans residing in urban communities only interact with Palestinians through the presence of liquor stores or other exploitative businesses and a growing number of community activists have emerged as increasingly resentful of their presence. By embracing and celebrating their own African heritage during Black History Month, Palestinian and other Arab Muslims may grow to make more meaningful connections to the larger African American community, its rich legacy and its on-going struggles.