Monday, January 20, 2020

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

My Lutheran-Catholic church Spirit of Grace has been studying two books: When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by artist, organizer and freedom fighter Patrice Khan-Cullors and minister, theologian, and civil rights leader Howard Thurman's Jesus and the Disinherited. I just finished When They Call You a Terrorist today on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

I was particularly inspired to pick it up when I saw a friend open our worship service by sharing her thoughts of the book. This white woman has worked for social justice her whole life and has traveled to the important sites of the civil rights era in the south. As she described what she learned in this book, she was brought to tears. I knew I had to read it right away.

When They Call You a Terrorist is the beautifully written story of a Black girl growing up in inner-city Los Angeles by a hard-working single mother and a father and stepfather who come and go. Although raised in poverty, she and her family fiercely love and protect each they have to do big time when her beloved brother Monte is repeatedly targeted, beaten, and incarcerated for his mental illness.

Patrisse emerges from her childhood with a feisty, creative, and confident spirit in spite of the fact that she sees firsthand the destructive damages of racism every single day. And when Trayvon Martin and so many other Black children and adults are gunned down and their assassins go free, she knows she has to act. With a team of other Black women and people in the queer community, she starts a movement, #BlackLivesMatter. Not only do they fight against racism and hatred, but they also take care of each other's mental, physical, and spiritual health because so many of them have been traumatized by racist violence on a daily basis.

And what do these committed activists get for their efforts? They are called terrorists. They are terrorized by police departments. They are killed in their cars. They are the ones called racist.

Today, on this holiday when we celebrate the greatest civil rights leader of our time, people will be sharing his quotes freely on social media. But as author/activist Ally Henny wrote on Facebook,

"You might be seeing a lot of activists telling you not to quote King today
unless you’re standing up for black folks every day.
Maybe you’ve been confused or bothered by this. “But shouldn’t we be honoring Dr. King today?,” you might be asking yourself. And yes. We absolutely should be honoring King today.
The issue is that, if you’re out here sharing quotes and whatever else by Dr. King, but you’re not living the principles that he stood for, your “commemoration”
rings hollow to the black folks in your circles.
Today is a “safe” day to talk about race. It’s a day where a lot of folks want to get sentimental and talk about race in America as if we’ve somehow arrived. We haven’t.
What are you going to say the next time white supremacists march?
What are you going to say when the next black persons is murdered by the police?
What are you going to say when black kids in your community
 are trying to learn in inferior environments?
What are you going to say when your coworker does something racist?
What are you going to say when your company, church, school, or other institution that says they’re “committed to diversity” but they’re an unsafe place for black, brown, and indigenous people?
Posting a quote, picture, or speech doesn’t mean crap if you’re not out here every other day fighting white supremacy."

Here's who needs to read When They Call You a Terrorist:
  • Every white person who thinks we've transcended racism.
  • Every person who has ever uttered "All Lives Matter" or "Blue Lives Matter."
  • Every white person who thinks they are "woke."
  • Every white person who has never had to fear their children being arrested for just existing.
  • Every white person who looks away when #BlackLivesMatter comes up in discussion.
  • Every white person who voted for Trump.
  • Every white person who voted for anyone else but Trump.
  • Every white person who thinks that police are always fair and friendly.
  • Every white person who believes people should "pull themselves up by their bootstraps."
  • Every white person who thinks there are more drugs in Black neighborhoods than white ones.
  • Every white person who thinks that people in prison deserve to be there.
  • Every white person who lives in a predominantly white neighborhood or community.
  • Every white person who has never been pulled over and questioned because of their race.
  • Every white person who can conveniently stop thinking about racism when they want to.
  • Every white person.
And everyone else too. 

Patrisse Khan-Cullors is our modern-day MLK Jr., and she needs to be heard. What will you do on this day of commemoration? I am going to start by listening.