Originally posted March 1st on Medium
Patrisse Cullors interviews Maytha and Future to Discuss No Ban No Walls, No Prisons No Cops. This is an exploratory conversation on why our movements, especially the movement to end mass criminalization, should center Blackness.
This is a transcript of the conversation.
Patrisse: Hey everybody. It is February 26 on a Sunday. Um, my name is Patrisse Cullors and I am with Maytha Alhassen and Janaya Khan. We are here to talk about this current historical moment under the 45 Regime and the many executive orders that have been signed by his regime and the impact they have had on our communities. We are specifically having a conversation about the Muslim ban in a way that actually is trying to talk about anti-Blackness and talk about the role of the state and the role the state has had in expanding criminalization. So, this is an interview. Excited to be sitting with these two folks. Today I’m in my living room and we’re hoping that this can be an exploratory conversation around how we build more authentically in our solidarity movements. So I’m just going to open up with having May and Future and have you two do a quick background on yourself, how you identify. Because I think that’s important. And how you’re understanding this current Muslim ban. So one more time: who you are, how you identify, and how you’re currently relating to the Muslim ban. And I’m gonna hand it to May first.
May [1:56]: Um, hi. I’m May. Thank you for this. I was born in southern California. Both my parents immigrated here through different ways. My dad came here from Syria in 1968 and my mother came here from, she was born in Syria but lived her life in Lebanon and then moved to France because of the civil war in Lebanon and married father and then came here. So, I was definitely raised with Syrian Muslim background. So, I see myself connected to Syria, Lebanon, my father’s Bedouin ancestry and I consider myself a person who practices Islam. And I’m also informed by growing up in Southern California with so many different groups of people and also understanding a lot of what America is like through the story of Black history. So, I like to think more deeply about America through what Black folks have been writing about this place for centuries. What I think about the Muslim ban is it’s a continued legacy of the kind of orientalism that we’ve seen from America. And it is also… it’s very interesting, because they picked countries that we either are at war at or are sanctioned or sanctioning. And so I’ve been trying to think deeply about what these places are. Their geography are in place that we call the Middle East and in Africa. But the bigger story of this is the fact that a ban is part of the logic of white supremacy in this moment. So, I always want to try to anchor it in that. I don’t know, folks were trying to anchor it to Homeland Security which it is, but we can’t just stop there because it’s tied to other sort of systems that put a hold on migration and movement. And the way that migration and movement are put a hold on is through these militarized structures. So, it’s really important to think about how militarized structures are so rooted in policing. And they’re so rooted in the ways that we keep bodies captive. And that takes us back to pretty much the history of America. But we can go deeper into that. I know I’m being my continued long-winded self.
Patrisse [4:43]: No, no. That was really beautiful and that was perfect. May, thank you. Future, if you could tell us who you are, how you identify and how you’re currently relating to this Muslim ban.
Future [5:00]: Well, I was born in Canada to immigrant parents. One from Trinidad and one from England, British-Jamaican lineage. My mother struggled with mental health and the Canadian system really failed her on multiple levels. I was a combination on anti-Black racism and misogyny. And my father was incapable of securing work for a lot of reasons. Much of which is around racism and so that really framed my understanding of Blackness. You know, most of the Black people I grew up with in Canada were not from North America. The majority of folks were actually Somali, that I grew up with and Black Caribbean. And, you know, many of the people in the Somali community were also Muslim and my father is Muslim. And when he was around, we were raised Muslim. And so, to suddenly find myself in the United States at this particular time, as a almost practicing again Muslim, with a last name like Khan, on my Black and queer body, I think it makes for a really complicated experience. I have always taken for granted my western passport and only recently was shocked. Two years ago, I believe, was it two years ago Patrisse?
[Patrisse responds, “Year and a half ago.”]
Well, was denied entry into the United States. Simply for, what seemed like perhaps my, maybe my organizing background if they had a file on me or… What was clear though, the indicators were my last name and my appearance. And this was before the ban. And now with the ban, a reality I find myself unable to feel secure in traveling, even domestically in the United States. You know, I think what we’re seeing is an expansion of the notion of what terrorism is and it’s rooted in white supremacy and the creation of a scapegoat and an enemy. One that we have seen sort of growing since the reality of 9/11 and what isn’t being talked about in this, you know, rising hatred of Muslims is an unfounded fear truly. But what we’re not talking about is the radicalization of white men in America, which is the greatest terrorist threat that I’ve ever come across and I think it’s the greatest terrorist threat in this county when you have around 528 chapters of neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate, KKK, Christian Fundamentalist-leaning groups who have declared wars against Muslims and racialized people and Jewish people. And so, you know, when I’m thinking of this concept of a ban and who isn’t allowed in this country and it’s being framed around terrorism without any reality of what domestic terrorism looks like and the reality that the very notion of terrorism of itself is a racism one. That it is a racialized body that we imagine. And so, when I’m thinking of what the ban means now and moving forward, I imagine that we need to really organize in a very very different way. And if you think about Black Americans, who I am learning and organizing with, 25% of Black Americans identify as Muslims. And so this is a Black issue. And has always been a Black issue and I think the very framing of Muslim and Black as dangerous, you can see a lot of the beginnings of that in the Nation of Islam, in a contemporary way, where there’s a militancy that’s associated with Black Muslims that people are very fearful of. And so the idea that the Muslim ban is sort of expanding into the continent, in Africa, and not just the Middle East, Somali and Sudanese communities are also in that. It’s not actually surprising for Black Muslims at all. You know, and so, in our fight to sort of support Muslims, I think we really… if we’re not targeting and challenging anti-Blackness on every level, I think we’re really intentionally leaving some of the most vulnerable and necessary populations for liberation behind.
Patrisse [10:12]: That was amazing, both of you. No, it’s good. So, I just want to repeat for folks, this is an exploratory conversation. So, this is an exploratory conversation and I wanted to have you both open up with your own lineages and bring us to the moment. But I wanna highlight a few things and ask of your opinion and thoughts. So I think when the executive order came down and folks were super… or folks were sharing it’s a Muslim ban, right? It’s a ban of people who are from Muslim countries. And as we should, folks rushed to airports to ensure that people who were being banned in the country who actually have the legal right to be here could get in or people could be in contact with their families and we saw incredible amount of solidarity efforts. I think something that the three of us have been in conversation about is the limitations that we’ve noticed around this current moment and sort of the call for no ban no wall. Um, you know, May, you had shared with us it’s actually “no ban, no wall, no prisons, no cops”. You really were the one who said that and then Future you made up a chant “no ban, no wall, justice for us all, no prisons, no cops, this shit has got to stop”. And so I wanna actually ask you all to talk a little bit about that. Um, why would we say, why would we add “no prisons, no cops”? And explore it a bit for the audience I think that would be good and I want to start with you May and then I’m gonna give it to Future.
May [12:35]: You know what’s really interesting about that is “no ban, no walls” in the time that we went to the airport, the phrase “no raids” got picked up. So, for me, there’s still this understanding of the immigrant equaling Brown person, as a racialized body, right? And it’s been frustrating to try to open up this category so that we can make connections across the board and not repeat this false line that immigrants are the ones that built up America and America is great because it historically opened its doors to immigrants. That’s not the true history of America. And adding “no prisons, no cops” is actually how we signal to what we’re talking about which, Future was talking about, is the history of white terror and what white terror does through instruments of militarism, right? It creates a ban and stops certain groups of people from coming into this country. It suggests that we need to create a wall to stop a group of people from coming into this country. It builds prisons because it suggests a certain group of people need to be put in captivity and continued to be put into captivity even after systems of slavery have been dismantled on a de jure level. It also suggest certain groups of people need to be kept into certain areas and neighborhoods through intensive policing, right? And I think it does us better to be really clear about how white supremacy sees us as connected even when we don’t. And it also does us better to go to the root of why these systems of separation, like walls, or systems that try to bar entry have come into being. And it’s the logic of white supremacy and to get to the logic of white supremacy, we have to really uproot and go to the root of the anti-Blackness. If we think of another sort of Muslim issue, that is very much tied to the prison system, it is Guantanamo Bay. So we’re not even invoking that, right? And detention centers that are going to be exploding with the increased deportations and raids. So this prison system is going to inflate with, not only how we continue to conceptualize Muslims as these criminalized terrorist bodies but hat we’re going to be doing in terms of targeting undocumented communities. So this is a prison issue and this is also a cop issue because that’s what 45 had promised to bring border patrol jobs. And so, cops! Border patrol. These issues are expanding. When we hear of a ban and a wall. So, like I said white supremacy sees us more connected than we do. And these policies are linked and conditioned on attitudes and systems of anti-Blackness.
Patrisse: Thank you.
Future [16:26]: You know, it’s really interesting what words are associated with what communities. Um, so now, contemporarily speaking, you know I think in a lot of movement spaces you hear the word raids, you immediately link it to deportations. You immediately link it to Brown bodies and undocumented peoples who are often Black bodies but um… You know, my first experience of raids was actually in Black neighborhoods. You know, when police would come in and throw on their sound grenades and their flash bangs and blind people and rush in with their dogs and their weapons drawn, you know, get people on the ground disoriented, handcuff them, drag them out. That is my understanding of raids and so I think something that’s really serious and real is many people, and to know that all Brown bodies have been policed and criminalized in a particular way. But there is a special treatment that anti-Black racial allows, when it comes to Black bodies, and a conversation we were having in many of our communities is there are people who will be treated as Black people for the first time. There’s a reason why movements like BYB100 and Black Lives Matter, to name just two, exist. And why we fight so ferociously. And it’s also part of the reason why we suggest that when Black people get free, everyone get a little more free. This is an understanding of what a de-colonial framework can look like in the role that anti-Black person has in that… I think the other thing is, you know, why there’s a… this notion of “no ban, no wall, no prison, no cops” is the ban and the wall are merely an extension of the prison-industrial-complex and that’s what we need to see it as, that’s what we need to treat it as. And so, if there’s a ban and there’s bodies that are not going to be allowed into the country and there are bodies that are going to be seized in the country, those bodies need to be placed somewhere. And they’ll be placed in detention centers and they will be placed in prisons and entirely new industries within the prison-industrial-complex will be created to house those bodies and it will continuously expand. And I think in understanding that and finally some rhetoric happening around the reality of mass incarceration and when you look at Sessions giving the ok to continue the use of private prisons, what we’re seeing, in purely economical terms, that there is the, in the expansion of private prisons for profit, you are creating a demand. And if you’re creating a demand for criminals then you need to manufacture criminals. And the manufacturing of criminals looks like the expansion of “no bans and no walls”. And so, you know, if you are an abolitionist and if our movements are abolitionist we have to see these particular connections and make those connections. Because if we’re fighting against the ban and if we’re fighting against the wall, understanding that it’s going to lead to a lot… to many more law enforcement jobs and positions. You know, we can’t target those that are also targeting prisons and the reality of mass incarceration and criminalization of particular bodies as we see them now. Because all we would be doing is reframing colonialism is a way that works for some and not for others which is exactly what we live in right now.
May [20:18]: May I also add that, I think what we’re seeing is, you know, not just a motive to lock up… and economic motive to lock up bodies. But it’s also the fix for our bodies that are not absorbed into capitalism. So we have an imperial state, and we have a carceral state. Because it is rooted in a capitalist logic that says we have to go get and capture land to steal resources and we have to make people work… put their labor for free to work for corporations and in order to do that, we have to figure out what to do with the bodies that we’ve destabilized in certain countries. And the ones that we’ve destabilized here to meet those economic profit motives. So the logical fix for this imperial-carceral state is to create prisons and house folks or to just ban people from coming even though we caused wars. So, sometimes I like to also think about it as a bomb and ban, right. In the same way that we think about how we’re still living in the afterlife of slavery and that’s why prisons exist.
Future [21:41]: Prisons being an expansion… so, you know, globalization works in many ways. And we’re seeing globalization and criminalization work hand in hand towards western and American capitalism.
Patrisse [22:00]: That’s super super important. I think what y’all are peeling apart and you both said something that I want to just… have you all like, in more of layman’s term, talk about…which is um… the ban was obvious to people. You know, people were outraged. Um… the wall, people have been outraged, right. And when I say people, I’m actually talking… for me this piece is really an organizing tool to get our movements to be better at…. What I’m talking… What I’m saying is authentic solidarity, right. Engaging in authentic solidarity. So this is not necessary, this piece isn’t necessarily for someone who is sort of… this piece is really for the folks who are… who’ve been in the movement, right. Who’ve been out there, who’ve been doing the damn thing. But still can’t get it together to be in authentic solidarity and so… You know, the ban was, to me, folks just got up out there seats. They’re like, we gotta do this. But that wasn’t the same case for Black Lives Matter, right. It took… and it continues to take a significant amount of organizing to get people out their seats to… you know, we could watch as many Black people get killed in front of our face and people can still have excuses for why that Black person deserved to die. Tell me a little bit about why you think, even in our own movements, it’s hard to make that next connection around the prison-industrial-complex around… you know, “no ban, no wall, no prisons, no cops” why is it hard for our folks to get themselves there. And I wanna, in layman’s terms, yes we know it’s anti-Black racism. But what do you think is happening for people. And I’ll start with you, Janaya.
Future [24:28]: Um. It’s difficult to name it in really simple terms because it feels so complicated but truly, I think can be captured in a semi-quote by James Baldwin which is, I think, “People need to interrogate…” And he was speaking specifically around white people, but the reality is it’s for all people who aren’t Black, “Why they needed the creation of a nigger in the first place.” And I come back to that question often. And I think that there’s a particular function that anti-Black racism plays in that therefore Black people play within this framing of capitalism. And I think it’s when that it’s similar to Native people, you know, which is a… a) is, you know, many of the things that have happened to Black people in North America there is a… and actually, throughout the world there is a deep investment in the narrative that they deserve it. They deserve the things that were happening. Well, whether or not slavery was a good thing is an actual debate. You know, and that’s still exist. And then the other part is, if you have a system that is hierarchal and white supremacists and whiteness at the very top then it needs something to be constantly superior to and so does everyone else that falls underneath it and so that has been the function of Black people and it’s why when we say Black lives matter, it’s considered a controversial term. The idea that Black lives have inherent value and meaning. You know, and we’ve really seen politically there’s a real deep and maturity around engaging with these things. You see it on multiple levels. I think if you’re looking at the NODAPL protest that took place against the Dakota Access Pipeline, you know, Native people were referring to themselves as Protectors. Water Protectors. And I think that that’s an important and historic narrative and distinction in the work that they were doing. But the way that non-Black and non-Native people seized on that to create that distinction, which is, you know, they’re not protestors. Therefore what they are doing is sacred and important as if that hasn’t been the work of Black Lives Matter as if we haven’t been functioning as Life Protectors. You know, and…because our lives aren’t considered worth protecting as Black people. And there’s this… so there’s a real dissociation that takes place when it comes to that and again, it is why the idea of Black lives meaning something is so controversial. Because people genuinely don’t think that they do or that they should. And when we take up space, it’s scary. And it’s, you know, and it’s alarming and um… there’s something else I was gonna say. All to say that… you know, there’s a particular space around… And then the other thing is, prisons and cops have become such an irrefutable truth in our society. There’s still the idea that if you were in jail, you deserve to be there. And though there’s a slight shift around mass incarceration being a real serious issue. There’s still the idea that if Black people weren’t committing crimes, they wouldn’t be in jail. And there’s no real narrative around criminalization and so they’ve become these real immutable truths in our lifetimes. And so the questions are always around fear-mongering, well if we’re not outing them in these places, where will they go? What will we do with all of these violent behaviors and this is what happens when your skin is criminalized, when your skin is weaponized. So that there is no functioning of Blackness in our society that people can imagine that our separate from prisons, and set from the police and from the source of people who are going to keep them safe from people like us, like Black people. Which are police officers. And there’s this immutable truth that police officers are there to serve and protect and they’re just trying to do their job. And, you know, being an anti-police but for now I’ll just wrap up by saying this, what we’re seeing, again to bring it back to the manufacturing of criminals, is in saying we are anti-police. Because we are an anti-police movement because we understand that the very institution of policing is anti-Black that it’s not just about apples but the whole damn tree is rotten. You know, using that bad apple sort of analogy, not only have we had to envision a different reality but we’ve seen the cooptation of our language so legislation and the criminal justice system that was meant to protect Black people, are now being used by police officers and so yelling at a police officer can be considered a hate crime, you know. Resisting arrest can be considered a hate crime and contempt of a cop can be considered a hate crime and then while all that’s happening, you also having a real crack down on protests in this country and so, when you’re putting all of these elements together, what you’re seeing is the attack on protests is the attack on Black bodies. That the cooptation of our language or the very things that are meant to put in place for protections is the cooptation of our experiences. And then they’re being weaponized against us in particular ways. And expanded in particular ways. So, what seems to me is very clear, is the very functioning of western society relies upon anti-Blackness in a way that we aren’t fully comprehending at this point in our movement work.
Patrisse: That’s really good.
May [31:13]: I think in the most simplest terms, um, the… what we’re doing is, we’re buying America’s myth making and racial logic. And, we um… what this means is that the little part of us is still hoping for white middle class to see us. [Others agree]. And more than that, that we’ve accepted, even in the deepest crevasses of our mind, some sort of colonized imaginations of what we mean by all those categories, right. We were hinting about that, the terrorist… lets go back a bit. What do we even think of as Muslim, we think of a Brown person when there’s historical record of enslaved Africans being forcibly being brought here to work on plantations who are riding down in their journal in Arabic. And they are still practicing some of the hybridity of West African Islam here in the U.S. goes back centuries. We don’t think about that. Um, when we think about hate crimes to Muslims, we think about a post 9/11 moment, right. My father, he came here in 1968, and every day that he went to his dorm he was called a camel jockey. And he was also a victim of a hate crime. During that time period, he worked in a cafeteria on college campus, what we think of as a quote on quote “liberal southern California”, one white dude was really upset that he got promoted over him in the cafeteria and so he pushed him to the ground right before work and walked on his back and he was in rehab for six months. So this is all a pre-9/11 moment, right. So we have to also think about as Janaya was talking about, this kind of behavior anti-Muslim attitude existed before 9/11 and also on the state violence level towards Black Muslim communities. So, we have to constantly decolonize the imagination that we have about it. We have a colonized imagination of America welcoming immigrants. And we see that from people within our movement all the time. And this is what also captured the hearts of white liberals was that we repeating the phrase back to them: America was built by immigrants. We should allow immigrants in. This was not the case. It was built by stolen labor from Black folks and it was also a country that banned immigrants for centuries. We didn’t overturn that immigration quota system until 1965 and that was because of the liberalizing effects of the Civil Rights Bill. So, again, Black people were a significant driving force for the fact that immigrants could come here, immigrants that were limited, non-Western/European immigrants. So these are the logics we’re operating with. Like, we’ve been talking about the logic of who is the immigrant. The immigrant’s this Brown person but it’s also substituting that thing that we don’t want to think about which is we associate the illegal with the Mexican, right. And we associate the terrorist with the Muslim, right. And we associate the criminal with the Black body. And we associate the um… the incarcerated with the Black body. So that’s what we mean by the “no prisons and no cops”. We are talking about those two that are always left because we want to think of America as this great welcoming place that will eventually give us white middle class ascendency. But the thing is because America was founded on white supremacy that promise is not afford or extended to Black folks, right. So folks in the middle still think that they can get that white middle class ascendency. And that’s, that’s why, I mean when we went to the protest we saw a whole flood of folks because it went counter to the myth of America in their minds. But we just have to do a… we have to do the job of excavating that myth. I mean, this is a country that in 1790 said that… wrote a law that said that only people who are naturalized citizens are free white people, right. That’s America. Not a place that welcomed immigrants.
Patrisse [36:05]: That is a great place to stop. That was really good, May. That was really good. And I’ll just close with thanking the both of you for being in conversation on this evening. The fifth anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s murder. The evening where the first Black Muslim received an Oscar. The evening where the first Black queer movie received an Oscar. And so we’re in this historical moment where 45 and his regime have taken over every branch of government. And we’re also in this historical moment where the movement is alive and well and it’s going to take these types of discussions, these types of consistent engagements where we’re struggling with each other on purpose so that we cannot just develop better frameworks but develop better practices. We say this all the time and I think we’ll keep saying it until it’s true. But when Black people get free, we all get free. And our movements, as we continue to build them out it is up to us, it’s up to our work to remind each other why we have to center Blackness, why we have to talk about anti-Blackness. Because as you both said so beautifully, you know, we talked about abolition without necessarily talking about… without saying the word abolition but abolition is the ending of prison, the ending of cops the ending of walls, the ending of borders, the ending of criminalization as we know it. And so that’s what I’m looking forward to in this movement moment. And these types of conversations in ways that will create healthier, more supportive, authentic solidarity. So, thank y’all very much.
End of transcript.
Dr. Maytha Alhassen is a Syrian-American, journalist and activist
Janaya Khan is a co founder of Black Lives Matter Canada and the Director of Gender Justice Los Angeles
Patrisse Khan-Cullors is co founder of Black Lives Matter Global Network, and is living and working in Los Angeles, CA