AOC’s speech on misogyny and feminist solidarity

AOC’s speech on widespread, normalized misogyny is masterful. I’m not surprised. She’s one of the smartest people in American politics. The fact that she’s a Brown woman, a Latina, deepens the dehumanization and othering that men like Ted Yoho feel entitled to articulate and enact. The fact that she had been lifting the voices of the poor and unemployed in her district also comes into play. As Ilhan Omar pointed out, when you challenge power, it will inevitably strike back.

Without taking anything away from AOC’s eloquence, it strikes me how the Left’s support for another congresswoman of color was less united or clear-cut. When Ilhan Omar spoke up about money in politics and Palestinian human rights, she was attacked with extraordinary violence. Republican George Buck accused her of working for Qatar and recommended that “we should hang these traitors where they stand.” The president didn’t just tell her to go home, he made up stories about her partying on 9/11. There were calls to expel her from Congress and even “put a bullet in her skull.”

Yet so many on the Left felt divided/confused/reticent about taking a stand against misogyny. It seems like advocating broadly for women is justifiable but advocating for Palestinians (including Palestinian women) is controversial, vulgar. It reminds me of Houria Boutelja’s book “Whites, Jews, and Us” which so offended white sensibilities. Nazia Kazi explicates how Boutelja ‘claims this crudeness as a very marker of her social position: “The dispossessed indigenous person is vulgar. The white dispossessor is refined.” What are civility, vulgarity, and manners in a world shaped enduringly by the brutality of empire?,’ she asks.

Ilhan Omar seems to occupy a similar position. She’s a Black, hijab-wearing Muslim woman, a refugee, a self-assured voice in Congress. She provokes powerful structures on many levels: racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, anti-immigration xenophobia and white nationalism. Zack Beauchamp wrote pointedly on Twitter that dismissing a minority community’s concerns as a ‘smear’ was not ‘a great look.’ Yet here we were on much of the Left, happy to throw her to the wolves.

When I spoke at the Rochester rally in support of the Women’s March in Washington, DC, in 2017, I tried to expand the definition of feminism. I reminded all my sisters that we must continue to support one another, march together shoulder to shoulder, but that we must also be cognizant of and respect our differences. Rather than be maternal towards Black and Brown women, we must fight imperial wars and racist machinations here at home, and meet them where they want to meet, on their own terms. Robin D. G. Kelley explains how solidarity is being able to extend the ‘hard love’ MLK spoke of, across differences, to people we don’t recognize ourselves in.

That is true solidarity, or true sisterhood if you will. It’s hard work.

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