Reflections of an American Muslim Mother on Ferguson

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” — Lilla Watson & the Aboriginal activists collective

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 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. WAKEUP

This sisters and brothers is not just about MikeBrown. 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 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’s about a justice system that takes you in as a young person, follows you around as an adult — stunts your progress. You can’t get away from it. Its about lack of opportunity. Its 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 a mentor said yesterday that immigrant Muslims generally speaking had it good in America benefitting from artificial white privilege prior to 9/11, but on 9/11 and the subsequent years after they realized they were just another n*gger. 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 convicted on “secret evidence” (no one knows why they were convicted, not them, not their lawyers) 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, never were a harm to our society — no access to family, media, television — 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 its 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, deal 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 and 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 #‎BlackLivesMatter and stop expecting for 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. Acknowledge your privilege and use it to help uplift others.

By no means should anyone feel guilty about their privilege — I have plenty but I can not 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 #MikeBrown was your son in all his complexities yet 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 vain — 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 — if we do not believe that we each deserve freedom, equality — if we do not believe that we are brothers and sisters and ALL the children of GOD — then it is we that are failing our children, our future, humanity.

I have been saddened by the responses I have been seeing from “friends”. Diverting from the true injustices once again. 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 so should everyone else. We should be against misconduct where ever it is happening.

What’s interesting is that people will support the plight of Palestinians or Syrians or Egyptians to resist by any means necessary but won’t afford that right to others. Not taking a side either way just asking for some consistency for your own credibility.

For me, I 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 join me.

These remarks are adapted from a speech Linda Sarsour gave at an interfaith gathering on November 25, 2014 at the First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem.

linda
linda

Linda Sarsour is an award winning racial justice and civil rights activist, community organizer, every Islamophobe’s worst nightmare and mother of three. She is a Palestinian-Muslim-American born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She is the former Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York and the co-founder of the first Muslim online organizing platform, MPower Change. She is a member of the Justice League NYC, a leading force of activists, artists, youth and formerly incarcerated individuals committed to criminal justice reform through direct action and policy advocacy. Most recently, she was one of the national co-chairs of the largest single day protest in US history, the Women’s March on Washington. She has been named amongst 500 of the most influential Muslims in the world. She has won numerous awards including Champion of Change from the Obama Administration. She was recognized as one of Fortune’s 50 Greatest Leaders and featured as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2017. She is a frequent media commentator on issues impacting Muslim communities, Middle East affairs and criminal justice reform and most recognized for her transformative intersectional organizing work and movement building.