What Terrorism Is & Isn’t, with Patrisse Cullors

Book Reviews, Call to Action, Soul + Spirit

“Terrorist” first rang in my ears upon being politicized at 18, a young immigrant from the Philippines trying to make sense of the U.S.

I didn’t know much about geopolitics but this I knew: I was vehemently anti-war and after 9/11, the scale of militarization and violence brought on by the U.S. in the Middle East unsettled me. Suddenly, “terrorist” became synonymous with Muslim.

Power was a concept that always intrigued me and in my mind, it was a huge indicator of who/what gets to label another person, country or entity as the enemy.

It doesn’t matter that you’ve committed countless acts of terror, explicitly or insidiously, towards other countries, or that you’ve orchestrated regime change in your favor across the globe — at the end of the day, whatever your posturing in the geopolitical sphere is, you have the final say.

Last week, a 25 year-old Moro (Muslim) human rights activist from the Philippines was detained and tortured at San Francisco International Airport. Jerome Succor Aba was invited by church and human rights groups in the U.S. to speak, until Customs and Border Protection agents stepped in and robbed him of his rights and humanity.

 

CBP agents accused Aba of being a terrorist, a communist. Twenty-two hours later, after being detained, tortured, held incommunicado and denied access to a lawyer, he was sent back to the Philippines.

I think about all of these things after finishing Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele’s book When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir (Shop your local indie bookstore). I think about how the word “terrorist” has been historically used to label people whose actions challenge the status quo. How the term strips the accused of their own struggles for justice, how it erases the context of their suffering in the first place.

In the book, Cullors recounts being called a terrorist in 2016:

There was a petition that was drafted and circulated all the way to the White House. It said we were terrorists. We, who in response to the killing of that child [Trayvon Martin], said Black Lives Matter.

[…]

The members of our movement are called terrorists.
We — me, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi — the three women who founded Black Lives Matter, are called terrorists.
We, the people.
We are not terrorists.
I am not a terrorist.
I am Patrisse Marie Khan-Cullors Brignac.
I am a survivor.
I am stardust.

The Power of Homegoing, with Yaa Gyasi

Book Reviews, Fiction

Reading Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing at the time of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s deaths was surreal, as if I was looking at the lives of these two black men from a generational perspective, with Gyasi’s historical fiction lens.

Over the weekend, protests across the country and around the world erupted as yet again, the lives of black people were taken by the police. Both deaths were captured on video, making their demise even more infuriating. We were witnesses to the violence wrought by the state and to the brutality of white supremacy.

And still — after Alton, after Philando (and after Tamir, Rekia, Trayvon) — we are still faced with questions like: but don’t #AllLivesMatter?

If there is anything that Gyasi’s book offers, it’s precisely every counter argument and every explanation possible to explain why #AllLivesMatter is problematic. It all goes back to something that Homegoing explores: the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

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1. smoke above the burning bush
2. archnemesis of summer night
3. first son of soil
4. coal awaiting spark & wind
5. guilty until proven dead
6. oil heavy starlight
7. monster until proven ghost
8. gone
9. phoenix who forgets to un-ash
10. going, going, gone
11. gods of shovels & black veils
12. what once passed for kindling
13. fireworks at dawn
14. brilliant, shadow hued coral
15. (I thought to leave this blank
but who am I to name us nothing?)
16. prayer who learned to bite & sprint
17. a mother’s joy & clutched breath

alternate names for black boys, Danez Smith

There’s something about the way I found out about Alton Sterling‘s death Tuesday night: through a hashtag on Twitter. Sterling was a 37-year old man from Baton Rouge, Louisiana who was pinned down by two white officers wherein one of them fatally shot him.

Clicking the hashtag led me to the video of his gruesome and unjust death, as those recording the whole incident screamed and cried in disbelief. It was jarring. The scrolling came intuitively, as I read varied testaments of emotions, photos of protests and articles about the murder of black people by the police. One link was a Washington database of people killed and shot by the police in 2016. Sterling is the 114th black man listed.

His crime? Selling CDs outside a convenience store.

The next day, Philando Castile was shot to death during a police traffic stop in Minneapolis — all of it captured by his girlfriend on video as well.

At the last BET Awards, Grey’s Anatomy actor and human rights activist Jesse Williams gave a searing speech about the need to organize and mobilize for black lives. He memorialized Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Dorian Hunt. He called out whiteness. He called for action.

We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil – black gold, ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is though… the thing is that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.

For the full transcript of the speech, click here.

To stand with black people is to recognize how deep racism still runs in the country. To stand with black people is to defy the culture of violence perpetrated by the state, by the police. To stand with black people is to understand the pervasiveness of white supremacy. To stand with black people is know that the roots of their oppression are the same roots of global imperialism that continue to oppress people from the Third World. To stand with black people is a fight for humanity. To stand with black people is to be ready when coal meets spark and wind.

* * * 

Moved to action? Here’s how:

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Donate to Alton Sterling’s children’s scholarship fund
Donate to Philando Castile’s family
Get involved with the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

For Alton, For Philando

Sunday Spotlight

#GetLit: Standing Strong with Orlando

#GetLit

We didn’t take no shot from nobody. We had nothing to lose. You all had rights. We had nothing to lose. I’ll be the first one to step on any organization, on any politician’s toes if I have to, to get the rights for my community. -Sylvia Rivera

The last time I celebrated Pride was back in 2010. Since then, I’ve associated Pride with Backstreet Boys (who performed at Civic Center that day) and rainbow tutus (wearing one isn’t really gay solidarity, if you ask me).

I’ve also come to detest the co-opting of Pride celebration — where companies could instantly attach a rainbow flag to whatever they deem appropriate while failing to address institutional discrimination, class and gender oppression within its structures.

But waking up last Sunday with news of the mass shooting at an Orlando gay club made me rethink of Pride celebrations in a different way, with a heavy heart. Clubs were safe havens when I was in my early 20s, where I knew I could be myself in the dark, against bodies pulsating to the rhythm of music, dancing to the beat of my own queer heart.

The politics of dancing is the politics of feeling good; the politics of dancing is also the politics of willing yourself to feel good. Pop is replete with miniature psychodramas in which memory and desire, subject and object, play out on the dance floor. (Only When I’m Dancing Can I Feel This Free)

The last thing anyone would think of happening after going to a gay club was to be killed. The deaths of 49 gay Latinx and Black folks and the wounding of many others pierces through the soul, a testament to the vulnerability of gay people wherever they are.

While the shooter’s intentions are sliced and diced by the media, while the public is bombarded with Islamophobic messages, it is worth noting that LGBTQ lives suffer under continuous oppressive conditions in immigration, job discrimination, state violence and police brutality, homophobia and transphobia. Rampant racism and xenophobia occur everyday.

Contrary to what the media and mainstream LGBT organizations and publications are depicting: the victims and survivors are Black, Latinx, AfroLatinx, Trans, Gender Non Conforming, undocumented, and working class.

These identities matter.

They matter because of the US occupation and militarization of Puerto Rico and Latin/South America due to US sanctioned economic violence. They matter because our communities have to make separate Latinx nights at clubs due to racism even within the LGBT community. They matter because Black and Latinx club sanctuaries and safe spaces (like Starlight in Brooklyn, Club Escuelita in Manhattan) are routinely shut down due to rampant gentrification and increased policing of our neighborhoods. (Do Not Militarize Our Mourning, Audre Lorde Project)

The lives lost last Sunday brings into focus who we’re fighting for — and the things we must do to prevent the kinds of violence we do not deserve. Audre Lorde once said that we were not meant to survive. We must do everything we can to find the will to fight for our communities, for our friends, for our (chosen) families, for ourselves.

We call on our communities and allies to join us in these conversations and build solidarity together to ensure not one more of us have to live in fear – for the victims and survivors of the Orlando Shooting and the countless others who remain nameless and unaccounted for. (GABRIELA USA Mourns the Massacre in Orlando and Pledges Solidarity for Victims of LGBTQGNC Hate Violence)

nicole-snooki-polizzi-orlando-shooting-victims

All The Dead Boys Look Like Me
For Orlando
(Loma)

Last time, I saw myself die is when police killed Jessie Hernandez
A 17 year old brown queer, who was sleeping in their car
Yesterday, I saw myself die again. Fifty times I died in Orlando. And
I remember reading, Dr. José Esteban Muñoz before he passed
I was studying at NYU, where he was teaching, where he wrote shit
That made me feel like a queer brown survival was possible. But he didn’t
Survive and now, on the dancefloor, in the restroom, on the news, in my chest
There are another fifty bodies, that look like mine, and are
Dead. And I have been marching for Black Lives and talking about the police brutality
Against Native communities too, for years now, but this morning
I feel it, I really feel it again. How can we imagine ourselves // We being black native
Today, Brown people // How can we imagine ourselves
When All the Dead Boys Look Like Us? Once, I asked my nephew where he wanted
To go to College. What career he would like, as if
The whole world was his for the choosing. Once, he answered me without fearing
Tombstones or cages or the hands from a father. The hands of my lover
Yesterday, praised my whole body. Made the angels from my lips, Ave Maria
Full of Grace. He propped me up like the roof of a cathedral, in NYC
Before, we opened the news and read. And read about people who think two brown queers
Cannot build cathedrals, only cemeteries. And each time we kiss
A funeral plot opens. In the bedroom, I accept his kiss, and I lose my reflection.
I am tired of writing this poem, but I want to say one last word about
Yesterday, my father called. I heard him cry for only the second time in my life
He sounded like he loved me. It’s something I am rarely able to hear.
And I hope, if anything, his sound is what my body remembers first.

* * * 

To honor our dead, and fight like hell for the living, we need a new vision for safety that prioritizes human rights and does not facilitate deadly violence. We need a world that realizes that the word “terrorist” is not synonymous with Muslim, any more than “criminal” is synonymous with Black. The enemy is now and has always been the four threats of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and militarism.  These forces and not Islam create terrorism. These forces, and not queerness, create homophobia. These forces unleash destruction primarily on those who are Trans, and queer, and brown and Black, and we are the first to experience its’ violence. These forces create the conditions for our dehumanization and our death, and we will hold them to account, no matter whose face they may wear.

Until these systems are defeated, until anti-Blackness no longer fuels anti-Muslim and anti-queer and trans bigotry, exploitation, and exclusion — we can never be truly free. (In Honor of Our Dead: Latinx, Queer, Trans, Muslim, Black — We Will Be Free, Black Lives Matter)