I would not say motherfucker aloud, even if I were to think it. It’s just not a term I use. And I almost wish Rashida Tlaib hadn’t, not because I don’t share the sentiment, not because it is “counterproductive,” but because she doesn’t need the additional hostility, above and beyond what she already faces.
Tlaib technically represents Detroit, Michigan, rather than the Palestinian or Muslim American communities, but victory set into motion a national wave of Diaspora Palestinian pride, as she announced that she would wear her thobe to the swearing-in ceremony. I am no nationalist, I do not own a thobe, just a shawl I bought for those infrequent occasions, mostly Palestinian fundraisers, when I absolutely have to dress up “Palestinian-style.” And yet I tweeted my embroidered shawl, the closest I have to a thobe. As I posted on Facebook: “#TweetYourThobe was so much more than fancy clothes, femininity, national pride. It was a defiant collective fist bump, a joyful hopeful moment, the social media assertion that we teach life, you motherfucker sir!”
Like no other politician, Rashida Tlaib made me want to be part of that national moment, when women of color, immigrant, refugees, who grew up poor claim their seat at a table that had too long been the prerogative of old white men from privileged backgrounds, men whose crimes and scandals—rape, assault, drunkenness, corruption—seem to slide off like rain on a slick coat of greasy slime.
Our members of Congress may not all use profanity in public, but we have a thoroughly corrupt, amoral cabinet, made up of politicians who have routinely approved illegal wars, funding for illegal occupations, the thwarting of revolutionary movements around the globe. Domestically, they have allowed environmental devastation, the worst healthcare system in the Global North, the stifling of free speech, rampant racist law enforcement violence, and the rise of white supremacists. Even without comparing Tlaib’s expletive to Trump’s seemingly endless stream of vulgarity and offensive utterances, the crimes of our politicians, progressive and conservative, are much greater than the use of a profanity. Even when they are extremely civil, at public events.
So, I am thankful for Tlaib for challenging the pressure to be civil, especially when you have a target on your back. I am thankful for her for breaking taboos, and having the courage to say what many think. Let us remember what else she has spoken, which would be considered a “profanity” by her peers. She said the hitherto unspeakable, about Palestine: one country, because separate but equal doesn’t work anywhere. She supports the Right of Return, and BDS. I would hope that, just as people came forward saying they share her opinion about Trump, some will also say they agree with her on Palestine.
Our national focus on civility and respectability politics is so warped that Professor Steven Salaita was fired for tweeting about Israel’s crimes and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminality, then Netanyahu, the war criminal, received a record number of standing ovations from our embarrassingly corrupt Congress. I am confident Tlaib would not stand up for and applaud Netanyahu, and I am grateful to her for that. I would hope that if he were to address Congress again, she will boo him, loud and clear, before leaving the room. If that’s a package, that comes with profanities, and missteps, I embrace it, expletives and all. Because she ran for Congress, and I wouldn’t, and she won, and because Congress is also where change happens.
Many organizers argue that the best way to dismantle the status quo is by creating an alternative so attractive that people will flock to it. Tlaib has announced she will organize and lead the alternative to the AIPAC junket that even “progressive” members of Congress such as Pramila Jayapal say they go on because it’s their one (expenses-covered) opportunity to travel to the country. For that, I am beyond thankful: I commit to helping Tlaib make the alternative a reality, and hope many of us who appreciate the value of what she suggested will do the same. We know she will face tremendous opposition, and will need all the support she can get.
In 2018, many analysts have noted that popular opinion in the US has changed. Poll after poll indicate that a growing number of youths are joining anti-Zionist, anti-imperialist organizations. So, despite the many setbacks, from the appointment of Kenneth Marcus to that of Brett Kavanaugh, there is a strong sense of anticipation in the air, a feeling we are at the cusp of major change. 2019 should be the year we break multiple taboos that have censored us, stifled progress, from the grassroots to Congress. And Rashida Tlaib, who rose from the most polluted zip code in the country to the locus of national power, will certainly do her part.