Editor’s Note: Linda Sarsour is the Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York. This commentary originally appeared on UmmahWide.com and is amended and reprinted here with permission. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author.
Linda Sarsour Marches in Ferguson, Missouri as a part of the #FergusonOctober protests
I do not come as a preacher. I come to you as a mother of a 16-year-old boy. I come to you as a Muslim, as a New Yorker. More importantly I come to you as a human. I also come angry and frustrated. I went to Ferguson. Ferguson taught me that it is okay to be angry. That anger is not something we should be ashamed of when we are working against injustice.
Injustice, sisters and brothers, is supposed to make us angry. It reminds us of our humanity. And that anger can be translated into systemic change. I was proud to be angry — which is something we are told not to be. But in Ferguson it felt good to be angry and we were alongside people who were angry but showed us so much LOVE. It was something I never felt before in my life.
Sisters and brothers, I ask of you today to focus on the real injustices. Don’t condemn and chastise those that chose to channel their anger in ways you deem unproductive. Pray for them. Love them. We may not condone their actions but I am not ready to discard them, disassociate with them — society has already done that to them. Ask more questions, what must happen to a human being for them to behave in certain ways?
What examples of Black American non-violent heroes has our country produced for them? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Reverend George Lee, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X in his later years — what do they all have in common — MURDERED.
They called for non-violence, they marched, they organized their people and they were shot. Understand history — Black American history is your history. American History is your history and it hasn’t always been a history you can be proud of. Pastor Willie from First Corinthian Baptist Church in New York City broke it down. He said America was born with a birth defect. We have never truly dealt with it so it continues to be there. I will add that because we haven’t dealt with it we have exported this birth defect to other lands where we kill innocent people in the thousands through unjust wars or target civilians some of whom are Americans, through our drone policies.
This, sisters and brothers, is not just about Michael Brown.
This is about black men/boys/women/girls across the country including right here in our own backyard. Akai Gurley, Ramarley Graham, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Kimani Gray, Eric Garner, Tim Stansbury, Mohamed Bah, Nicholas Heyward, Jr., and the list goes on and on. This is about police officers who walk free as if the people they murdered were cattle in the street. This is not just about police violence. This is about an education system that is set up to fail children of color. An education system that has been called a monopoly. An education system in which it’s quality is based on the neighborhood you live in. It is about a justice system that takes you in as a young person, follows you around as an adult , and stunts your progress. You can’t get away from it. It is about lack of opportunity. It is about a system that doesn’t believe in your potential and operates that way.
Let us come to a place where we recognize that there is structural racism in our country and that we all do not have to experience it to believe it exists. It exists. Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, prominent Black American Imam and mentor said that generally speaking, immigrant Muslims had it good in America, benefitting from artificial white privilege prior to 9/11. However, on 9/11 and in the years following, they realized they were just another n**ger. This may be a hard statement for folks to swallow. Reflect. Breathe.
We have Muslim brothers and sisters withering away in “Communication Management Units” in places like Indiana – many of whom were convicted on “secret evidence” or under the ambiguous “material support” laws – stripped of every right they have. Some have never had trouble with the law up until that dreaded day. They never were a harm to our society, and yet they languish in small cells for 23 hours a day. Muslims make up over 85% of the CMUs and we are less than 1% of the population. Who marches for them? Is the system working for them and their families?
Don’t tell me about a justice system that doesn’t work in the same way for everyone – a justice system that protects celebrities and law enforcement and too often turns its back on the ordinary person.
Racism is REAL. It doesn’t have to be REAL for you for it to be REAL.
Don’t treat everything as an isolated incident or case. Use your intellect. Analyze. Ask questions. The justice system isn’t a robot or a calculator that always gives the right answers. The justice system is made up of people. People sometimes make mistakes. Humans make mistakes. We all make mistakes.
For some of you it is a story of one unarmed black boy shot on the streets of Ferguson. For others its one small drop in an ocean of dehumanization, discrimination, demoralization that has been passed on from one generation to the next. For some — this is what it is. Some have given up.
I am exhausted hearing people say we are all playing the race card.
Sisters and brothers, these are the cards the system has dealt. Trust me, if we are dealt a new set – a set with equality, justice, liberty and pursuit for happiness for all, a set that values all human life the same, a set that sees the potential in all of our children – we’ll gladly accept it and play those cards.
I am not asking you to feel sympathy for black and brown people, they definitely don’t want your sympathy, I just want you to believe in your hearts that “black lives matter” and stop expecting black and brown people to prove their humanity to you. They are exhausted. Reverend Chloe Breyer, a White Episcopalian priest said what makes her aware of her white privilege is that she doesn’t feel exhausted. She sleeps well at night. That, sisters and brothers, is courage and honesty – acknowledging one’s privilege and using it to help uplift others.
By no means should anyone feel guilty about his or her privilege. I have plenty, but I cannot, in good conscience, walk around in this world with the fallacy that we live in an equitable and just world just because that’s how its working out for me. I ask for some selflessness for a moment. Just imagine for one minute that Michael Brown was your son, in all his complexities and all his simplicities, and the system didn’t think your child was worth a trial. It was never about guilty or innocent for Darren Wilson — it was about his day in court. The system didn’t think it was worth their time. Would you have sat back with the memory of your slain child and took it? Unless you experience the murder of your child in this same vein — you again are speaking from a place of privilege and I will continue to say, “check it”.
If we do not see ourselves in each other or believe that we each deserve freedom and equality and are all brothers and sisters and all the children of God , then it is we that are failing our children, our future, and all of humanity.
This is not about Black and White. This is not about us vs. law enforcement. I am not anti-law enforcement. I am anti-law enforcement misconduct, and we should all be against misconduct wherever it is happening.
I find it interesting that people will support the plight of Palestinians or Syrians or Egyptians by encouraging them to resist by any means necessary, yet they won’t afford that right to others. My choice is to recommit to working for justice for all. I am keeping my eyes on Ferguson, my heart in the movement, and my feet on the streets of New York City because Ferguson is everywhere.
I hope you will join me.