Patrice Khan-Cullors said yesterday that being an African American in the U.S. right now is to be “hunted.” She was speaking on her new book collaboration with asha bandele, When They Call You a Terrorist (Young Adult Edition): A Story of Black Lives Matter and the Power to Change the World. This was part of an interview she was giving for this year’s virtual Schomburg Center Literary Festival. You can still view many of the readings and panels at https://www.schomburgcenterlitfest.org/rewind. It is really a fantastic lineup of artists and thinkers, and a refreshment to what so many of us are consuming online these days.
The word “hunted” was such a simple word — and it hit so hard when she said it. As a historian, the word being associated with African Americans made so much unfortunate sense. We kind f learn about this hunt in our history classes, from an early age. It’s just not called a “hunt.” We learn about the enslaved Africans appearing on the New World’s shores, but not necessarily about the ways in which they were hunted down in their own countries. We learn about the cruel American owners of these human bodies who sometimes toyed with their prey like wild animals, before torturing or killing them in the name of punishment for bad behavior.
Maybe we even learn about the Fugitive Slave Act, which actually paid people to hunt down the escaped — and anyone else who looked like they might be — and bring them back, for money. It is called bounty hunting. In fact, the Fugitive Slave Act is a parallel I often call upon when arguing against today’s ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) — and the ways in which the officers regularly kidnap Black and Brown folks through coercion and force. These immigrants (and “suspected” immigrants) are in the cross hairs of ICE. Well, of course, our government puts it a little differently, claiming that they “…promote homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration” (https://www.ice.gov/). However, the word “hunt” is found regularly throughout their website, in reports, and updates. Of course, ICE’s prey is the “bad guys” so we are supposed to feel grateful for this protection. Except I (and many others) have heard firsthand the stories of what ICE officers do to immigrants, and just how blatantly ICE officials lie to the public and the press. So no gratitude here.
I was talking to my friend recently and she said that being a Black parent was to always be in a state of anticipation of “the phone call.” Imagine (some of you don’t have to even imagine) that every time your phone rings you are seized with the fear that this is the moment you will learn of the death of your child. Black people (who are always someone’s children) are clearly being hunted by law enforcement right now. It’s the season apparently, a very long season with no end in sight. Black people’s children can be in their beds; taking a jog; or protesting the killing of their peers, and they are prey to the hunters-in-uniform. No camouflage needed, it happens in broad daylight, in the middle of busy streets… This is all in the name of public safety, of course, for “us,” we’re told. The thing is that so many of us would be happy to exchange this alleged safety and security for the lives of our brothers and sisters. That’s where the whole Defund the Police movement comes in. And the word is “defund,” not “abolish.” Although…
In her interview, Kahn-Cullors also foregrounded the Breathe Act. It’s a bill that “divests our taxpayer dollars from brutal and discriminatory policing and invests in a new vision of public safety—a vision that answers the call to defund the police and allows all communities to finally BREATHE free.” It was initiated by the Electoral Justice Project of the Movement for Black Lives. They are sponsoring a Breathe Day, too, on September 29: “a day of unapologetically Black programming on the day of the first Presidential debate.” The website is very informative and inspiring, offering many ways to take action. Because people are often stumped as to what actions they can take — especially White people. So check out the website, and share it with any of your stumped friends (https://breatheact.org/).
Many of us are familiar with that African Proverb, often attributed to the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, that goes, “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” African Americans are the lions here, and the hunters keep getting the story told their way. Allies must become the lions’ recorders, truth tellers, supporters, and megaphones. Black Americans don’t need us to tell their stories, but they do need those who can to provide platforms, shine lights, echo facts, and amplify voices. Black. Lives. Matter. We have got to stop this hunting season once and for all, before this race of people becomes extinct.