Osama bin Laden, codename Geronimo; codename Nat Turner? / "The recognition that our suffering is indeed linked"

{liberatormagazine.com exclusive feature}

What If Operation Geronimo Was Called Operation Nat Turner?
by Jamila Aisha Brown (Guest Contributor, The Liberator Magazine)

Shortly after details of the Navy Seal mission that killed Osama bin Laden revealed the operative name for bin Laden was "Geronimo", American Indians throughout the country asked for a public apology. Jeff Houser, chairman of Geronimo's Fort Sill Apache Tribe, noted in a letter to President Obama, "...to equate Geronimo or any other Native American figure with Osama bin Laden, a mass murderer and cowardly terrorist, is painful and offensive to our tribe and to all Native Americans."

As news of Houser's letter and the American Indian community's response reverberated throughout the blogsphere I was surprised that the reaction of many, in particular people of color was dismissive. "The Navy Seals are heroes, Geronimo was not. Political correctness gone too far..." was an immediate reply. "...Come the fuck on!" one tweeted. "Shouldn't they be worried about getting their land back?" another retorted. Ironic when in fact Geronimo and his memory are representative of the land that was taken.

Historically once viewed as a terrorist by Mexican and United States governments, Geronimo, born Goyahkla (meaning He Who Yawns), has seen his legend grow as a 19th century hero. After an attack by Mexican forces killed much of his family in 1858, Geronimo took up arms leading the struggle to defend the land of the Chiricahua Apache across the American Southwest. As the leader of the Apache Wars, he fought against the Mexican and American seizure of indigenous territories until his eventual surrender in 1886. Though Geronimo became a prisoner of war and was barred permanently from homeland by the U.S. government, he sealed his legacy as an Apache freedom fighter.

A freedom fighter... Now does that not sound familiar?

In 1831, less than three decades before Geronimo’s family was attacked, Nat Turner, a slave in Southhampton County, Virginia, led one of the bloodiest rebellions in American history.

The history of the United States of America is laden with these stories of resistance, particularly in the African-American community. Centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, and oppression produced a multitude of freedom fighters that rose up in the face of captivity, exclusion, and domination. Struggles from Nat Turner’s Rebellion to the Black Panther Party produced many African-American martyrs, activists that bear the scars of their oppression, and a host of political prisoners and refugees. Sundiata Acoli, Assata Shakur, Mumia Abu Jamal, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, Nehanda Abiodun: many of these men and women, most of them now elders in their 60s, sit imprisoned for acting on a desire for freedom that Geronimo may have shared.

After Oprah Winfrey commemorated the 25th Anniversary of the Freedom Riders, groups of Civil Rights activist who rode integrated buses through the American South, on her show, Lumumba Bandele wrote via Twitter, "Political Prisoners in the United States are the unfinished business of the 'Civil Rights Movement.'" Many buzzed around that statement eager to retweet the statement that expressed how far the nation has come and yet how much farther it still has yet to go to reconcile its discriminatory past. That for me is the beauty of social media. At its best it is a forum by which we can organize, rally, and challenge one another on issues of social justice. Millions have taken to the internet to speak out against SB1070, the Birther movement, closing of Detroit schools, and union busting in Wisconsin, but why the hesitancy on this issue? Why the inability to connect Geronimo to the freedom fighters of the present day?

In my advocacy work, I often talk about the need for intersectionality and acknowledgment of how interlocking systems of oppression can serve as a bridge to solidarity between different groups. Born of feminist sociological theory, intersectionality examines how race, class, gender, and disability often work in conjunction feeding off and building upon one another to create what Patricia Hill Collins dubbed as a matrix of domination. The theory, which I find helpful, works to help us look beyond the surface of prejudice to identify the root causes of discrimination and its commonalities. It is in the discovery of the commonalities that movements for social change can be built upon, thru the recognition that our suffering is indeed linked. Such recognition reveals that making Geronimo analogous with Osama bin Laden bares the same resemblance as relating Malcolm X to Adolf Hitler.

As activists move forward in our fight for equality we must be mindful of how these interlocking systems of oppression operate as we work for social change. The –isms and –phobia we struggle against must simultaneously work to be inclusive of American Indians living the realities of prejudice and poverty on the reservation.

So I ask, what if the mission to capture Osama bin Laden had been named for Nat Turner instead of Geronimo? Would you demand an apology?

{Geronimo images via firstpeople.us}

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