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.

A Fiery February Reading List

Sunday Spotlight

Ok–we are headed shortly towards the end of the month so I know this post is hella late but I swear I have really good reasons why I’m posting this just now.

I’m still adjusting to the rhythm of the new year (as in slowing down) and to be completely transparent, I’m just about finishing the last book on the list for January. That’s one, and the other reason is I just the hard copies for almost all of what I intended for this month’s reading list, most notably Tayari Jones’s book An American Marriage from Book of the Month.

Always the ambitious reader, I know I’m not going to be able to read all of these books by the end of the month but I want to show where I want to get started. Just this morning, I was captivated by the light streaming into my bedroom which really reflected the theme of this month’s books. Light, something that we need more of specially during these times, days after the shooting at a Florida high school. Light, in spite of the heaviness we feel when we see how people of color are labeled as opposed to white people committing acts of violence. Light, because the embers of our fiery selves are growing and coming together in the year of the dog (happy Lunar new year!). Light, because the only way we can experience it is by seeing the light in others.

Sunday afternoon light.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
A poetic and powerful memoir about what it means to be a Black woman in America—and the co-founding of a movement that demands justice for all in the land of the free. Raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood in Los Angeles, Patrisse Khan-Cullors experienced firsthand the prejudice and persecution Black Americans endure at the hands of law enforcement. For Patrisse, the most vulnerable people in the country are Black people. Deliberately and ruthlessly targeted by a criminal justice system serving a white privilege agenda, Black people are subjected to unjustifiable racial profiling and police brutality. In 2013, when Trayvon Martin’s killer went free, Patrisse’s outrage led her to co-found Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.

The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs
A world dominated by America and driven by cheap oil, easy credit, and conspicuous consumption is unraveling before our eyes. In this powerful, deeply humanistic book, Grace Lee Boggs, a legendary figure in the struggle for justice in America, shrewdly assesses the current crisis—political, economical, and environmental—and shows how to create the radical social change we need to confront new realities. A vibrant, inspirational force, Boggs has participated in all of the twentieth century’s major social movements—for civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and more. She draws from seven decades of activist experience, and a rigorous commitment to critical thinking, to redefine “revolution” for our times. From her home in Detroit, she reveals how hope and creativity are overcoming despair and decay within the most devastated urban communities. Her book is a manifesto for creating alternative modes of work, politics, and human interaction that will collectively constitute the next American Revolution.

Where the Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward
Where the Line Bleeds is unforgettable for the intense clarity of how the main relationships are rendered: the love but growing tension between the twins; their devotion to the slowly failing grandmother to raised them, and the sense of obligation they feel toward her; and most of all, the alternating pain, bewilderment, anger, and yearning they feel for the parents who abandoned them—their mother for a new life in the big city of Atlanta, and their father for drugs, prison, and even harsher debasements.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

* * *

Are you reading any of these books or have you read any of them? What are you reading this month? Let me know in the comments below!

This Body Is, with Roxane Gay

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

My dad’s signature greeting to family relatives, friends and people he meets has always been, roughly translated from Tagalog: “Looks to me like you’re getting skinny!” It doesn’t matter if it was the first time my dad has ever seen the person, or if they’ve just seen each other the day before.

Cue a hearty laugh, a grateful smile, a relieved sigh; the greeting always yields the intended effect. At an early age, I knew that being skinny was a compliment. It was a good sign. If one was gaining weight or on the heavier side though, one could expect a frown, a hushed tone, a look that implies shame.

So I knew my dad was on to something: losing weight = looking good = feeling good. It’s a brilliant formula, but only if you were actually losing weight. But that doesn’t matter.

When I picked up Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (Amazon | Indiebound) by Roxane Gay, I only had the faintest notions on what it was about. All I know is that I have to read Gay’s work — from An Untamed State to Bad Feminist (I’ve yet to read Difficult Women) as she’s become one of my favorite writers (in spite of that tweet suggesting Lebron join the Golden State Warriors).


Gay’s book is about hunger in many forms: that adolescent need to fit in and be wanted, a yearning to speak the truth without pain, the comforting solace of food, the promise of safety, to being desired and desiring other bodies.

At the core of Hunger is how Gay has turned to food and literature among other things to keep herself safe, after being raped by a group of boys when she was younger. She didn’t know how to tell her parents for fear of hurting them, so she buried the painful truth and built herself an armor of defense, a fortress for one.


In a culture run by capitalism, the need to cater to the male gaze and the unending dissatisfaction brought about by the media and so many industries to turn a profit come first. 

What it Takes to Fix a Nation, with Jonathan Tepperman (A Book Review of “The Fix”)

Book Reviews

I was skeptical reading Jonathan Tepperman’s book The Fix (Amazon | Indiebound) at first, because as much as I’d like to say that I’m a pretty open and flexible person, my politics are not. I’ve been invested in a specific ideology for a while now, something that has helped me understand the world, our society and how people function.

With a barrage of economic and political crisis around the world, it’s inevitable to lean into a little bit of idealism. To dream up of an alternative world where the 1% isn’t ravaging the rest of us, where wars aren’t the norm, where governments actually function to serve the people.

The reality is grim. The level of inequality among the world’s population is at the highest, threats of nuclear warfare are imminent, and the political rhetoric is at its most toxic, at its worst. And this is only in the United States.

The Fix - Quotes

But there is hope, as Tepperman writes in The Fix. And even better — there are solutions. As he breaks down the “terrible ten,” most pressing issues of our time such as poverty, immigration, Islamic extremism and political gridlock, he also provides concrete illustrations of how different countries have tackled them.

Ten problems (half political, half economic), ten countries, ten solutions.

But first, it is important to note Tepperman’s premise, as illustrated by the cases he presented. Much of these solutions rely on existing government structures and more specifically, politicians.

Take Brazil for example. In a country where about a third of the population is beneath the international poverty line (defined as living on less than $2 a day), former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva implemented a policy which defied all conventional wisdom (and politicking). He introduced Bolsa Família, a social welfare program which attempted to reduce short-term poverty by providing direct cash transfers provided that families ensure their children’s educated and vaccination.

The Fix - Quotes2

Described by The Economist as an anti-poverty scheme that was winning converts
worldwide, close to about forty million Brazilians moved from poverty into middle class, with the average household income up by 27 percent.

The program is not without fault of course, and also drew criticism from other sectors of the government and Brazilian society. Still, Tepperman was able to illustrate something that many nations are adopting at the moment, like the Philippines and Zambia.

Make America Read Again

Sunday Spotlight

What’s red and blue and *hella* white in Cleveland  (which has also seen an influx of Craigslist hook-up ads)? It could only be one thing: the Republican National Convention.

I usually don’t follow the RNC but it’s pretty hard to ignore when you’re bombarded by clips, photos, headlines and punditry by both traditional and new media.

What I enjoyed finding out about though is this librarian braving the streets of Cleveland:


Harris, a branch manager for Portage County District Library, has been handing out books to protestors and RNC attendees alike since Monday. He is doing so not to support any candidate, but to promote the importance of public funding for libraries (and literacy, of course).


He could’ve given a book or two to Melania Trump while he was at it, following Mrs. Trump’s plagiarism controversy. Her speechwriter Meredith McIver has come out and apologized for the blunder, but what’s really interesting is that McIver nearly co-wrote all of Donald Trump’s books. I think the only appropriate response to this is one of #FamousMelaniaTrumpQuotes: “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” 

There’s a book on that too: Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artistof which I featured on a “Creating as a Must” post along with other great titles that spur creativity. And speaking of titles, The Millions has a piece on the most anticipated nonfiction books coming out for the second-half of 2016.


I’m looking at Jesmyn Ward’s The Fire This Time, Robert Gottlieb’s Avid Reader: A Life, David Hadju’s Love for Sale and of course, Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things: Essays. I’m a big fan of Teju’s work — his photography, his writing, his projects, his perspective of the world really — so much so that I pre-ordered his new book back in March.

Something to add to this wonderful list: the Great Thinkers book from The School of Life which is “a collection of some of the most important ideas of Eastern and Western culture – drawn from the works of those philosophers, political theorists, sociologists, artists and novelists whom we believe have the most to offer to us today.”

If none of these titles excited you at all and you’d rather go Pokémon-hunting, fear not: the Internet has made it easier for you with #PokémonABook.

Now go out and make America read again!