I have never visited the United States so I am probably a naive white woman to the struggles faced by African-Americans. Yes, I watch the news; I hear about the oppression felt, the mistreatment by those in powerful roles, but I personally have never been witness to such treatment.
I am not saying that the English are not racist. Racism is after all something people experience on a daily basis. However, we do not seem to witness it to the same harrowing degree. If anything, in the UK, I would say people struggle more with Islamophobia at present more than anything else – and I am not saying that is right wither by-the-way, before I get attacked, I am simply trying to highlight where my understanding sits before I commenced reading this book.
To read that the Klu Klux Klan bombers were never charged with acts of terrorism but that Assata Shakur, a woman who’s actions I also cannot condone, is according to the FBI, one of the world’s ten most dangerous terrorists, doesn’t necessarily seem to correlate, and I have to wonder whether it is race related.
An early chapter has got me thinking. According to this book and I do not dispute this; race seems to determine more than just victimisation from the authorities. It also factors in housing and employment. So how does that compare to the UK?
Are Americans more openly discriminatory? Is there a similar trend in my own country that I, being a white female, have just not been subjected to?
Racism in the UK
While it would be unfair for me to imply that I have done extensive research on this topic, to not do any at all after reading When They Call You a Terrorist would have been remise of me. As I have said, when something happens in America it is explicitly shown on UK news channels, however, perhaps because we have different laws on fire arms, the news reported regarding our own country seems far less aggressive. That’s not to say of course, it doesn’t happen, and in fact, when looking at the statistics, racial related crimes did in fact increase by 27% from 2015/16 to 2016/17, with religious hate crime also increasing by 35%.
If I am honest, I knew that people were untrusting of others after Brexit, when so many people voted for us to exit the European Union primarily because they believed it would stop some of the immigration issues.
Maybe I should have been paying more attention to issues that have always been there, but I suppose it is like everyone says, if it doesn’t happen to you personally, if you are not affected, we are not always aware. I think back to my school years when I was so badly bullied, until I spoke out, whether teachers were aware or not, they appeared not to notice.
Now however, being aware I have started to read more and feel disappointed in my fellow Brits. It seems that there is a still large amount of racial inequality within the UK. Black people are six times more likely to be stopped by the police than white people, and white people seem to have better job and education prospects leading to black and Asian ethnic groups needing more social housing.
It seems that we are not so reformed in the UK after all and while I don’t have the answers or any real ability to change how others feel or react, it does make me realise that something needs to be done and that the Black Lives Matter Movement is something that needs much more support.
Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Black Lives Matter
Delving back into the book, I begin to read more and more about the life of Patrisse and her family – mother, Paul, Monte and Jasmine. We learn that her mother has to work several jobs in order to support her children. Paul being the eldest has to take on a parent role after their father leaves and Monte ends up falling not once but over and over again into the hands of law enforcement for numerous different offences. Offences that under other circumstances, say for example if Monte was white, would have only resulted in a warning or a fine not repeated jail time.
We read about the difference in living conditions, and how, because white people get better jobs they also gain better housing. Now of course, I know that this is not always the case, and that there are several white families out there living below poverty lines, struggling to make ends meet and without the support of a well-paid job, but after researching how race plays a part in life in general I understand that this may be something that affects some ethnic groups more than others.
We also explore the injustices of black people and how racial profiling affects their everyday lives.
Possibly the most upsetting element of this book for me however, is the on-going list of names – the names of people whose lives were cut short, not because they were bad people, villains or criminals but because of their race. The fact that a kid can walk home after going to the shops to collect a packet of sweets for his brother and end up getting shot because someone perceived he was a threat is heartbreaking – killed because he was wearing a hoodie and looked like he may cause trouble.
Would I Recommend When They Call You a Terrorist?
This is a book to educate. Not just about race but about life as someone other than a straight white person. For example, I always thought that the word queer was seen as offensive, and yet it is a term that Patrisse uses frequently to describe both herself as well as others. On top of that I have learnt terms like genderqueer and cisgender, words that I have never ever been exposed to before.
Turns out I am a naive white woman after all.
If you want a thought-provoking, eye opening book this is something you need to read. Surely, it’s about time that we all work towards a world that prides itself on equality not inequality.
As this book highlights it is not the colour of your skin or your sexuality that makes your a terrorist, but that ‘torture is terrorism’, and let’s be honest, if we are victimising people because of what they look like, throwing them into prison, beating and killing them for no particular reason they are not the terrorists here.
Have you read this book? Perhaps you have read a different book that educates others on the treatment of people due to race, ethnic background, sexual orientation or gender that you feel passionate about and want others to read. If so, please let us know the titles below so that we too can read them and learn more about the issues others face.
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir was one of my recommended reads for January.
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