American values include the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of The Black Lives Matter movement and co-author of When They Call You A Terrorist stated:
We deserve another knowing, the knowing that comes when you assume your life will be long, will be vibrant, will be healthy. We deserve to imagine a world without prisons and punishment, a world where they are not needed, a world rooted in mutuality… We deserve, we say, what so many others take for granted. (Khan-Cullors 199)
Throughout the novel, Khan-Cullors describes a world she grew up in that was rooted in hatred towards African Americans explicitly. This gave her the passion to found the Black Lives Matter movement, and fight for equal rights. However, how radical can one movement be, while also remaining inclusive towards other groups suffering from injustices as well? Khan-Cullors, perhaps unintentionally, belittles the mistreatment of Native Americans by saying:
We know that if we can get the nation to see, say and understand that Black Lives Matter, then every life would stand a chance. Black people are the only humans in this nation ever legally designated, after all, as not human. Which is not to erase any group’s harm or ongoing pain, in particular the genocide carried out against First Nation peoples. But it is to say that there is something quite basic that has to be addressed in the culture, in the hearts and minds of people who have benefited from, and were raised up on, the notion that Black people are not fully human. (Khan-Cullors 205)
Reading this sounded the same as when people say “not to be offensive, BUT… (goes on to say something very offensive)”. Just because she acknowledged the fact that Native Americans have been mistreated does not make it okay to say that the focus should solely be on African Americans. Yes, it is unquestionable that our society needs to change for the betterment of black lives. Black lives matter. But Native lives also matter. All lives matter. Therefore, we need to lift up EVERY minority group until everyone is treated equally and has the same access to civil liberties as other United States citizens.
A study of police killings from 1999-2011 showed that “American Indians are more likely than any other racial group to be killed by the police, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice…” (Millet). Yet there is almost no media coverage on this group of suffering people. This is not surprising, however, as Native Americans have suffered throughout the entirety of our nation’s history. “When it comes to American Indians, mainstream America suffers from willful blindness” (Millet). Ever since our Declaration of Independence, even before our country was formally founded, Native Americans were referred to as “merciless Indian savages” (Millet). During the Trail of Tears, in a process of inhumane Cherokee removal, 7,000 armed men escorted 16,000 Cherokees off of their homeland. Nearly a quarter of these Indians died along the route (Faragher). Then, after the Civil War, “the government would undertake a series of Indian wars that ultimately left the remaining Indian peoples penned up on small reservations” (Faragher). Today, only about three million full blooded Native Americans are alive compared to 45 million African Americans (Millet). Also, “Indian youths have the highest suicide rate of any United States ethnic group. Indians suffer from an infant mortality rate 60% higher than that of Caucasions, a 50% higher AIDS rate, and a rate of accidental death (including car crashes) more than twice that of the general population” (Millet). Clearly, Native Americans are going through immense suffering. Something must be done to protect them.
In 2017 Patrisse Khan-Cullors wrote about the mistreatment of African Americans. She said: “Sixty-three percent of (the) people killed by police are Black or Latinx” (Khan-Cullors 186). Khan-Cullors grew up in an impoverished and primarily black community in Los Angeles. She recalls that there was an “…extraordinary presence of police in our communities, a result of a drug war aimed at us, despite our never using or selling drugs more than unpoliced white children…” (Khan-Cullors). Khan-Cullors’ brother, Monte, faced this throughout his entire life. Once, Monte was in a minor car accident with a white woman who called the police. “(Monte) was in an episode and although he never touched the woman or did anything more than yell, although his mental illness was as clear as the fact that he was Black, he was shot with rubber bullets and tased. And then he was charged with terrorism” (Khan-Cullors). In what world is this okay? For an innocent man to be treated like a danger to our society based on no factual evidence and only on the color of his skin and the state of his mental health? Despicable.
Unfortunately, Khan-Cullors and Monte are not the only ones suffering from police brutality and injustice. A boy named Clifford Glover, only ten years old, was shot dead by a cop while walking down his street in Queens, New York. “The killer cop, Thomas Shea, who was aquitted, simply offered as his defense that he didn’t see anything except the child’s color” (Khan-Cullors). This is not uncommon. Many other innocent black lives have been stolen, such as those of Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Trayvon Miller, Mike Brown, and many more (Khan-Cullors 206).
Discrimination in schools for African Americans is disturbing as well. In Wisconsin, 21 percent of black girls receive a suspension during their education, compared to only two percent of white girls (Khan-Cullors). Since the founding of our nation, African Americans have been treated like they are worthless, and people to be pushed around. After all, even some of our founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, bought and sold them as slaves. “In order for slavery to work, in order for us to buy, sell, beat, and trade people like animals, Americans had to completely dehumanize slaves” (People…). This practice is unacceptable, and has left a legacy that unequal treatment is normal and okay… but it is absolutely not.
Patrisse Khan-Cullors has suffered from discrimination her whole life. So have many other African Americans. So have many Native Americans. So have many people of other ethnicities as well. One thing that I have taken away from reviewing both the articles and the novel is that this issue should not be a competition of who is suffering the most. Rather, we must put forth a combined effort to make America a safer place for ALL minorities. We need to focus on not only creating protective legislature, but also fixing social discrimination. As Khan-Cullors suggested, important steps to be taken include providing all citizens with equal access to healthy, organic food. We should be spending more time and effort on introducing these foods into all public American schools, rather than pouring our taxes into sending innocent people like Monte into prisons because of their mental health and a racist justice system. Americans should also have equal access to free counseling and psychiatry to live longer, happier lives (which would have benefited Monte). If we can achieve these things, this will be a big step in the right direction of improving the lives of underprivileged people. It is critical that we ensure that all Americans have the ability to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Because these three fundamental rights of our United States of America should have no limits based on the color of one’s skin.
Faragher, John Mack. Out of Many: a History of the American People. Sixth ed., Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011.
Khan-Cullors, Patrisse. When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir. Griffin, 2019.
Millet, Lydia. “Native Lives Matter, Too.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Oct. 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/10/13/opinion/native-lives-matter-too.html.
“People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.” Braving the Wilderness: the Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, by Brown Brené, Random House, 2019, pp. 76–77.