Today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I finished reading When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele. I often try to read something by King or a related topic on MLK Day, not in a performative way (though blogging about it doesn’t help), but to help center my thoughts.
This year, when things seem calm and quiet (forgotten), when the fury of 2020 George Floyd protests is an aberration, it seemed fitting to read a modern voice.
Too often MLK Day is quotes from 60 years ago, voices so far removed from our current reality that you don’t see the continued struggle.
This year, it seemed important to read about the current struggle. I didn’t intentionally pick it, but reading from one of my contemporaries, someone near to my own age (actually younger), makes it a lot harder to shake with rage at Bloody Sunday or the firehoses or the dogs and think I’d have done something.
Reading these stories, that happened in my lifetime and still happen, make me feel, make me realize, that I am complicit.
This book is really a justification of Black Lives Matter, the term and the idea, as well as the movement. It’s a recitation of all the harms and injustices that from a “hatred that tells a person daily that their life and the life of those they love ain’t worth shit, a truth made ever more real when the people who harm you are never held accountable.” (187)
But All Lives Matter
In all the debates about Black Lives Matter and racism and police violence and gun control, I’ve talked with white people who insist both that Black people have brought this on themselves, but also that it wouldn’t happen to them, that the Second Amendment means they can fight off police. It’s all so ridiculous.
Khan-Cullors tells a story of a police raid on her home, more than a dozen cops, helicopters, riot gear, guns drawn and aimed, no search warrant, no nothing. Someone shot up a police station and we think he’s here.
“Later when I hear others dismissing our voices, our protest for equity, by saying All Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter, I will wonder how many white Americans are dragged out of their beds in the middle of the night because they might fit a vague description offered up by God knows who. How many skinny, short, blond men were rounded up after Dylann Roof massacred people in prayer? How many brown-haired white men were snatched out of bed when Bundy was killing women for sport? How many gawky white teens were stopped and frisked after Columbine or any of the mass shootings that have occurred in this nation, the immeasurably wide margin of them by young, white men?” (194)
And on MLK Day, it’s also fitting to think of the church. There’s the role the Black church played in the civil rights movement, and the role the white moderate church did not play in the civil rights movement (and the role the white supremacist church very much did play).
And what about today?
In Khan-Cullors’ story, she talks about a church in North St. Louis that welcomed her group and gave them a home base during the Ferguson protests in 2014. When the pastor offered the space, her first concern was to point out that her group is full of queer and trans and non-binary folk. The pastor, Rev. Starsky D. Wilson, said we welcome all.
During a service the weekend of their events, Khan-Cullors notes this: “At the end of the sermon, when congregants are typically asked to come forward and commit to Jesus in their lives, Reverend Starsky gives us our mandate. He asks everyone, the entirety of his church, to come forward and commit to the Movement.”
Here is a church stepping forward into a moment, being part of “on earth as it is in heaven.” They aren’t tripped up by LGBTQ bigotry, they aren’t distracted by All Lives Matter, or any of the other political bullshit.
Today, nearly 10 years removed from Ferguson, I’m dismayed that right wing propaganda continues to smear and dismiss the very phrase Black Lives Matter with charges of “communism” and “anti-Christian.”
More than anything, they want an excuse, any reason at all, to ignore the very real, very painful stories that Khan-Cullors shares. They want to overlook how our society may be broken, how our world could be so racist, because doing so means they don’t have to act. If we can dismiss you as a communist, a terrorist, an anything, then we can keep embracing white supremacy.
Of course Martin Luther King Jr. was called a communist as well. It’s the same old song.
Black Lives Matter.