When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter memoir

by Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele

If you want to better understand how systemic racism affects humanity, please read this book.

Here are some specific passages that resonate, for me, and help me see more fully.

On p. 93: Discussing the pitfalls of over/sole focus on personal responsibility as the solution for addiction, within the overarching structure of systemic racism:

“It was easy to understand that when race was a blatant factor, a friend says to me in a political discussion on afternoon. Jim Crow left no questions or confusion. But now that race isn’t written into the law, she says, look for the codes. Look for the coded language everywhere, she says. They rewrote the laws, but they didn’t rewrite white supremacy. They kept that shit intact, she says.

I don’t know if I ever convince my father of this line of thinking. A decade of 12-stepping has ensured that he only really knows how to hold himself accountable. Even with all my speeches and his engagement with me at the Strategy Center, I sense when we talk that everyone and everything else kind of gets a pass.”

p. 98: On the flagrant injustice that is knit into the “justice” system:

“I have never seen him high before but I refuse to turn away. If he matters to me at all then he has to matter to me at every moment. He has to matter to me at this moment. Seeing him like this feels like my soul is being pulled over shards of glass but I do not turn away. His life is not expendable. Our love is not disposable. I will not be to him what the world has been to him. I will not throw him away. I will not say he has nothing to offer.

I tell him that relapse is part of recovery.

I ask, What if we wrote off every person who fell off a diet? We laugh at that, but just briefly.

My father’s addiction and the stigma that attaches to it have made him so deeply lonely, forced him into a world that cannot ever be fully shared by anyone who loves him. I love him. I tell him I want to share his whole life with him. He sighs and expels air. He deflates. I move closer to him. He lets me. I tell him I won’t leave him and I don’t. We talk or we don’t talk, for the rest of the night. We hold each other on and off. We cry.

Two months later my father is sentenced to three years in prison. He is able to avoid the seven-year bid because he volunteers to go to the prison camp fire, a program where convicts are made to serve as front-line first responders when the California wildfires break out. They are the ones who go in before the trained firefighters do.

My father risks death for a faster shot at freedom.”

And p. 143:

“There is rarely discussion about the trauma that often drives chaotic drug use and addiction. And there is no discussion about the fact that fully 75 percent of the people who use drugs never develop addiction. (For some drugs, like marijuana, fully 90 percent of those who use never become addicted.) They wake up, go to work or school, pay their taxes, raise their kids, make love with their partners. They live. They live regular old boring lives. But for my father, my brother, others I know, chaos was a factor before drugs were a part of their lives. Why does no one ever address that?”

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson

I recently read The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Wheldon Johnson. Johnson was the polymath who (among so many other experiences and accomplishments) wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing” which I hope some day the United States will embrace as national anthem…please enjoy this glorious video presented by 105 Voices of History National HBCU Concert Choir.

About The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, from the Penguin website:

“Originally published in 1912, this novel was one of the first to present a frank picture of being black in America. Masked in the tradition of the literary confession practiced by such writers as St. Augustine and Rousseau, this “autobiography” purports to be a candid account of its narrator’s private views and feelings as well as an acknowledgement of the central secret of his life: that though he lives as a white man, he is, by heritage and experience, an African-American. Written by the first black executive secretary of the NAACP, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, in its depiction of turn-of-the-century New York, anticipates the social realism of the Harlem Renaissance writers. In its unprecedented analysis of the social causes of a black man’s denial of the best within himself, it is perhaps James Weldon Johnson’s greatest service to his race.”

The novel is extremely relevant and feels very modern. When I heard “Lift Every Voice And Sing” growing up, I don’t recall learning about the life of the person who wrote it. The resonant anthem seems almost incidental in Johnson’s life story, just one of his many varied works, although music was central to his existence. I’m grateful to know these things now. How different so much would be if I had been taught more about the writer behind the beautiful song, when I was a child.

May we teach our children and ourselves more fully about what our country is made from, so that we may lean toward what it finally may and will be…

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty…