When They Call You a Terrorist

by

Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

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When They Call You a Terrorist: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back in high school, Mark Anthony and Patrisse first connect over Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled. The film is about a Black man whose racist white boss at a television network abuses him and claims to be Blacker than he is because he’s married to a Black woman. In an attempt to be fired, the man pitches a racist minstrel show to the network as a joke—but they end up loving it, and he comes to embrace it, too. Many of the film’s characters die in the end, bolstering the message that the media has taught Black people to hate themselves and that this internalized hatred can lead to death. Patrisse and her senior friends all love the film, and she decides to share it with the juniors (including Mark Anthony), who are studying the “isms.”
Patrisse shares the plot of Bamboozled because it relates to her overarching belief that anti-Black racism can have fatal consequences (beyond police killings)—the main character in the movie dies in the end, after years of internalizing the racism he faced at work and in the wider world. In this sense, Patrisse implies that having the public and employers treat you every day like your life doesn’t matter is a subtle yet very real form of violence.  
Themes
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All of the Black juniors in the humanities program come to the screening, including Mark Anthony. The room is silent afterward; the students absorb the pain rather than the satire. People start to leave, but Mark Anthony stays, his head in his hands. He and Patrisse have never spoken before, but Patrisse asks if he’s okay. She holds him as he cries, and students leave the room so they can have privacy. As they sit in silence, the intimacy feels natural, though Patrisse is also confused by her attraction to him. These days, she is only interested in “studs,” or masculine women of color. But more than that, she loves imperfect and beautiful people like herself.
The way Patrisse sits with Mark Anthony—someone she doesn’t know—as he cries about the brutality of racism is one example of how she supports other Black people in her community. Rather than turning away from Black people in her life who are hurt or struggling, she moves toward them, showing them that they can heal from their trauma together.
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After this day, Patrisse and Mark Anthony form a deep friendship not based on sex. Patrisse is still dating Cheyenne, though they are starting to grow apart. Mark Anthony is also reserved, which helps. Their chemistry is undeniable, but they channel it into reading about race together and writing in a shared journal. After graduation, they see each other every day and connect over their shared sense that they can change the world. Mark Anthony’s consistency helps Patrisse heal her relationship with Black men—after all, both of her fathers and Monte disappeared. She doesn’t yet understand how social forces (job loss and the war on drugs) rather than personal failings led to both Alton and Gabriel’s struggles.
While Patrisse initially emotionally supported Mark Anthony, he is also offering her healing and support by showing her that she can trust Black men (like Monte, Alton, and Gabriel) who have disappeared from her life at various points. Patrisse notes again that she knows they did not disappear due to personal failings or malicious intent, but because of external social forces, like high unemployment and racist policies.
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External Forces vs. Personal Responsibility Theme Icon
No one talks about how trauma drives addiction, or how 75 percent of people who use drugs don’t become addicted. The unacknowledged truth is that drug policy is race policy, laws put into effect to demonize Black people who, after the civil rights movement, had won the moral upper hand. After cutting jobs, school budgets, and welfare laws for Black people, policymakers criminalized them for the choices they made out of desperation. Black people started being framed only as criminals; after Hurricane Katrina, for example, news outlets were sympathetic to white people “finding” food while calling Black people “looters.” Harm to Black people is framed as their own doing.
Here, Patrisse lays out an argument that policymakers intentionally wrote and implemented war on drugs policies to control and repress Black people who had gained too much after the civil rights movement. This is part of her larger claim that policymakers have historically treated Black people like their lives do not matter. They painted Black people into a corner—taking away social services and then criminalizing them for trying to survive in a country that did not offer them any form of support. Patrisse also talks about Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 hurricane that hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005. The disaster caused unprecedented flooding and at least 1,800 deaths; many of the victims were poor Black people. Patrisse brings this up as an example of how anti-Black racism is baked into all layers of society, including the media.
Themes
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Prisons and Policing Theme Icon
External Forces vs. Personal Responsibility Theme Icon
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Despite all of Patrisse’s structural analysis, she is just a teenager with a broken heart. This feeling is compounded when, out of the blue that summer after graduation, she doesn’t hear from Mark Anthony for two weeks. She writes him a long letter and gives it to his brother. Two days later, Mark Anthony calls and asks to talk. Patrisse is still angry but agrees to it because their “little tribe” is “committed to courageous conversations.” Cheyenne had recently left her for one of Patrisse’s friends, and Patrisse doesn’t want any relationship to end painfully like that again.
Patrisse’s use of the phrase “little tribe” shows that, as she grows up, she has started to build a community of people who, in the face of police violence and racist policies, are determined to accept and love one another. Their commitment to one another is apparent in how Patrisse and Mark Anthony engage in “courageous conversations” to process his disappearance. Even though he has caused her harm, she wants to understand rather than drop him from her life.
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When Patrisse and Mark Anthony, meet up, Patrisse looks different—she has a shaved head and a new tattoo, physically demonstrating her feminism—and Mark Anthony looks at her approvingly. Mark Anthony has grown out his hair. They are playful at first, and then Mark Anthony apologizes, stating seriously that he will never disappear again. He was feeling too vulnerable with her; she could see parts of him others couldn’t. They talk about Black men and how they are never allowed to be afraid—this is the first relationship in which Mark Anthony has cried.
Here, Patrisse and Mark Anthony again show their commitment to working through tensions rather than abandoning each other. They also address how Mark Anthony navigates the pressures of masculinity alongside racism, intersecting identities that make it hard for him to be vulnerable.
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After this, Patrisse and Mark Anthony start dating, though it is non-sexual and non-monogamous. The other people they date have to accept that they have a special connection. One of the writers Patrisse and Mark Anthony study together is Emma Goldman—a Russian-born American who wrote in the late 1800s about feminism, homosexuality, and how gender exists on a spectrum. She also believed that “relationships do not come before community liberation,” and that people who want freedom must challenge their jealous instincts. The goal is freedom and challenging the American culture that teaches Black people they don’t matter.
Patrisse and Mark Anthony continue to exemplify what healing communally can look like for two Black people who have been wounded by their racist society. Their decision to be non-monogamous (meaning that they date other people) is another way that they center community in their lives. To Patrisse, this is related to challenging all of the other oppressive parts of American culture—Black people deserve to be free, which means having the types of relationships they want.
Themes
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Intersectionality of Identity Theme Icon
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The U.S. shows that Black people don’t matter in many ways: no updated history books in Black schools, no safe places for Black kids to play, no grocery stores or decent hospitals in Black neighborhoods, racist media, and bogus arrests. In the face of this, Patrisse and Mark Anthony are committed to a different way of life, including being platonic and radically honest. They don’t kiss until 2003, four years after they met. They go to a powerful Talib Kweli concert and, the next day, kiss for hours in his bed. It feels perfect, and Patrisse realizes they are in love. They date for six months, and then Mark Anthony disconnects again, breaking his promise to never disappear. They stay in touch, but their romantic relationship ends.
Patrisse continues to describe how her honest and loving relationship with Mark Anthony challenges American culture teaching Black people (through policy, the media, over-policing, and more) that they do not deserve to have good lives. When Mark Anthony disappears again after promising not to, Patrisse ends their romantic relationship but stays in touch with him—showing that even after being hurt, she does not believe their relationship should be thrown away.
Themes
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Mark Anthony’s abandonment is not as painful as the first time, and Patrisse soon starts dating Starr. They are a stud and a musician, and Patrisse feels at home with them, though they yell together more than they laugh. They are together for five years, but their relationship is volatile. Patrisse misses Mark Anthony’s healing energy, and she starts to see him as a friend again. Both Patrisse and Mark Anthony are part of the Ifa tradition, an African spiritual practice that believes in a benevolent supreme being, all elements of nature possessing interconnected souls, and Ancestors who act as guides. Both of them receive divinatory readings around the same time that they are meant to be together.
After experiencing a volatile relationship, Patrisse craves the healing relationship that she had built with Mark Anthony. Their commitment to the Ifa tradition that stresses benevolence and love also points to how healing and care are at the center of Patrisse and Mark Anthony’s lives.
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As a queer woman, Patrisse feels like a fraud—how could she be destined to be with a man? Ifa also has some heteronormative aspects. Still, Mark Anthony tells her that they always knew it would come to this. Patrisse breaks up with Starr, and Starr’s reaction turns abusive: they sends angry texts and leave notes on Patrisse’s car. Patrisse reflects that there aren’t enough resources for queer people of color when it comes to non-police-involved interventions for partner violence. So many Black women (queer and straight) suffer abuse because calling the police is worse. Patrisse finally blocks Starr fully from her life and restarts her relationship with Mark Anthony, who has agreed to be emotionally available.
Here, Patrisse looks again at how queer Black women exist at the intersections of multiple oppressed identities—fearing violence (and potential homophobia) from the police, queer Black women often stay in abusive relationships. Still, with the support of Mark Anthony (and likely her extended community), Patrisse ends her relationship with Starr.
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Intersectionality of Identity Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Healing Theme Icon
Patrisse and Mark Anthony move into a cabin in Topanga Canyon, the place where she learns that Gabriel has died. Mark Anthony carries her through that loss, facilitating a year-long healing group with their friends where they meet every week and make art together in honor of Gabriel. In September 2010, they have a commitment ceremony, surrounded by family and friends. They jump the broom, and 15 of their friends jump it, too. After a night of dancing, they go to their favorite diner with all of their friends and then peel off to spend the night alone at a hotel. They each have to go back to school the next day, but they spend the night giving into their unordinary love.
That Patrisse’s community participates in a year-long healing process with her in order to collectively process Gabriel’s death shows how committed Patrisse’s chosen family is to healing together. The joy of Patrisse and Mark Anthony’s wedding also highlights the healing power of community. They jump the broom at their wedding, a traditional act performed at Black weddings in which couples jump over a broom after taking their vows to symbolize their union.
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