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Home > English > NEWS AND ANALYSIS > A Letter to the Friendships I Have Lost and Will Lose

A Letter to the Friendships I Have Lost and Will Lose

Tuesday 17 October 2023, by Ijeoma Oluo

This letter is not to those who I do not know, and yet claim to know me. The people who have followed me on social media just to say that they are unfollowing. The people I’ve never met or interacted with who now attest that they have supported me and other Black people for years, but will no more. This letter is certainly not to those who have been wishing me death, who have been spewing their hatred of Black people into my inbox.

This letter is to my friends. To the people in my social circles. The people in my writing and activism communities. The people I know or have felt kinship with online or in person. This is to the people who have sent me messages voicing their disappointment and dismay at what I have been saying. And to those who have said nothing, and are instead deciding right now to fade away from my life for good.

I know that my immediate focus on the safety of people in Gaza in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks seems to be in poor taste to many.

I know that my refusal to include denouncements of Hamas in my posts and videos talking about what is happening in Gaza seems cold and uncaring at best, antisemitic at worst.
I know that the passion I have towards freeing the Palestinian people seems grotesque in response to your pain.

I know this because you have told me, because many of you are sharing such sentiments in your messages and your status updates.

But this is what I must do.

I have been speaking out about what has been happening to the Palestinian people my entire adult life. I have been studying systemic oppression and violence my entire adult life. As a Black woman, I’ve known systemic violence and oppression my entire life. And I’ve dedicated a large part of my life to shining a light on systemic violence and oppression, and demanding that people do something about it.

The moment that news broke of the horrific Hamas attacks, I and many others who have been advocating for Palestinian freedom, knew what would come next. We knew that there would be no recognition of those attacks as part of a cycle of colonial violence. We knew that there would be no acknowledgement of the hundreds of Palestinians killed in the past year, or the thousands killed in recent years. There would be no desire to understand the desperation and rage of people locked in a prison like animals, and what people may do when so desperate and so few options are made available to them.

And it is not just those who were actively grieving their families, loved ones, and community members, who would not see it. Our press and our governments would make sure that no one would see it.

I, and many like me, saw that this would lead to genocide and that if we didn’t act quickly, there would be nothing we could do to stop it.

I cannot equate the Hamas attacks to what Israel is doing, and has been doing for years, to the Palestinians - no matter how much people have been insisting that I do so. Not because I ever support the killing of anyone, “innocent” or not, I promise you that I do not support such violence. But because to do so would be inaccurate and dangerous.

The systemic oppression of a people, the ethnic cleansing of a people, the genocide against a people, is not the same thing as the horrific actions of those acting violently in response to oppression, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.

That does not mean that I am saying that it feels any different to you, my friends who have lost loved ones, who have lost community members, who have been made to feel unsafe by these attacks.

But when we decide on a larger socio-political scale that the personal matters as much as, or even more than, the systemic in issues that are clearly systemic in nature, we will always default to prioritizing those who are more valued in society. We will default to humanizing one, and dehumanizing the other. And we will find ourselves signed on to systemic retribution that does not feel that it is responsible for what it does.

This is what keeps justifying the violent oppression of millions of people for decades. This is what emboldens people to say that the safety of one people must mean the loss of freedom of another. This is what enables the idea that one population has to prove that they “deserve” their freedom, by insisting on staying meek and silent under violent oppression. This carries the fantasy that healthy, liberal, peace-loving ways of organizing and governing can thrive in a space where people are brutalized every day - and the fantasy that it can exist for their oppressors as well.

This idea that an oppressive system is not responsible for the cycles of violence it creates, and not responsible for how it responds to that violence is how a terror attack on September 11, 2001, leads to decades of war and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of human beings. I remember marching and yelling as loud as I could then, and still wishing that I had done more to prevent the death and destruction that we are still seeing today because of our refusal to see and hold ourselves accountable to how our brutal, racist, colonizing systems had created the cycles of violence that so shocked and traumatized us all when the towers fell.

And so, I am desperately reminding people of the systemic. I’m desperately reminding my friends and community members that we know what systemic oppression looks like.

I cannot shield you from that, my dear friends, even in your grief. I cannot make a silo for my words so that they only hit people who will not be hurt by them. I cannot and I should not. Because your grief and our collective fear of adding to that grief is being used to justify a silencing in the wake of a genocide.

And I, as a Black woman, as an African woman, know what genocide is. As do my Jewish friends, my Palestinian friends and family, my Cambodian friends, my Tigrayan friends, my Roma friends, my Native friends, and so many others. And because we know, we must act now, with all that we have, to prevent this from happening again. We do not have time to wait.