CONTENT WARNING: disturbing image of anti-Black brutality and discussion of state violence

A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on September 19, 2021. (Paul Ratje/AFP)


I could not sleep. I was haunted by the images of armed white officers on horseback, using cords like whips, as Black people and their children ran for safety at Del Rio. Many were trying to return with food and water to their families. They are refugees escaping a horrific humanitarian crisis in Haiti, only to be met by the U.S. with cruelty and terror.

I was haunted not by the shock of the images; I was haunted by their familiarity.

How many times has our nation corralled Black people like animals? We have seen images of lynchings and sneers and beatings and firehoses for centuries, from the era of chattel slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration. We are a nation that has grown accustomed to images of Black people gasping for breath from knee-on-neck cruelty.

We have long extended this cruelty to Black immigrants, Haitians in particular. I will never forget my trip to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba a decade ago. I was a legal observer at a military base that incarcerated Muslims without charge or trial in the war on terror. But long before that, Guantanamo was used to detain thousands of Haitian refugees intercepted on the high seas in the 1990s. They were seeking asylum in the U.S., but the first Bush administration corralled and detained them at Guantanamo, asserting that Haitians who were HIV-positive had no right to asylum in the name of public health. Candidate Bill Clinton decried this inhumane policy and vowed to end it. But once in office, the Clinton administration continued the argument made by its predecessor, claiming that Haitians at Guantanamo had no constitutional rights whatsoever. Years later, this position made it possible for President George W. Bush to reopen Guantanamo as a site to detain people indefinitely after 9/11, a practice that continues today.

Thirty years later, history repeats itself. The Biden administration was elected into office to end Trump-era policies of cruelty toward immigrants and refugees. Candidate Biden vowed to uphold our moral and legal obligation to asylum. Yet now the Biden administration invokes Trump’s Title 42 to expel thousands of Haitian refugees from seeking asylum in the United States. Once again, public health is used as a pretext for mass deportations and inhumane treatment of Black immigrants.

Anti-blackness transcends political party; it permeates our culture and becomes visible in moments like this.

In my book See No Stranger, I declare revolutionary love as the call of our times and present core practices to “see no stranger.” It begins with wonder: We can look at faces on the street or on the screen and say: “Brother. Sister. Sibling.” It’s a way to counter our unconscious bias and retrain the eye to see others as part of us, priming us to take action that leaves no one outside our circle of care.

What does it mean to “see no stranger” now?

This brings me to the images from Del Rio. I focus on the face of the Black man running from the horse. I am numb. I want to look away. But I look into his eyes and say “Brother” in my mind a few times. The word “refugee” melts away and slowly his full humanity comes into view. I imagine his children, the home he left behind, why he has risked everything to seek asylum, the fear in his heart as he runs. I wonder if his children will eat tonight. I feel hot rage in my veins at what our nation is doing to him; my numbness melts and my rage is stirring me to act.

Rage taps into our fullest power to protect ourselves and those we choose to love. We do not need to suppress our rage, or let it explode. We can learn to process our rage in safe containers – emotional spaces that are safe enough to unleash our body’s impulses without shame and without harming ourselves or others. Then we can ask: What information does my rage carry? How do I want to use this energy for what I do in the world?

Donate, sign the petition, make the call. And if you, too, are feeling a surge of rage at the way our nation continues to harm refugees and wish to harness this energy into nonviolent action, I invite you to stop reading here and explore the guided inquiry at the bottom of this email.

When we are ready, we can take the practice of “seeing no stranger” even further. Once I tend to my own rage, I slowly turn to the sneering white officer on the horse. I say “Brother” in my mind. My body immediately seizes with disdain and revulsion. Such a man could not be my brother. I take a breath. I choose to wonder about him as a human being. What makes him cruel? Then it happens: I see a frail white man driven by illusions of duty, power, and aggression that permeate the culture of the institution he serves. He is severed from his capacity to see another’s humanity. As a result, his own humanity is diminished; his light is dim. It’s the same dullness I saw in the prison guards I met in the supermax prison, or the white supremacists who spill my people’s blood, or the slaveholders in the old photos — treating other human beings as animals day in, day out comes with a cost. The shrinking of one’s soul.

Choosing to see the humanity of our opponents is a hard practice, one to try only if you feel safe in your body. We all have different roles in the labor of revolutionary love at different times. When I must tend to my own anger and trauma, I let others wonder about my opponents. When we come together to practice seeing no stranger in the big picture, we can gain information for how to respond.

At this moment, many are rightly decrying the agents on horseback. But calling them monsters lets us off the hook. When we see the culture that drives these men, then we know the solution is not simply to remove a few bad apples, as implied by the administration’s promise to investigate the Border Patrol Agents at Del Rio. The solution is to hold them accountable and reimagine our culture that radicalizes them and the policies that authorize them to inflict suffering on Black and brown bodies with impunity.

So how do we reimagine how America treats refugees?

First, we push for immediate policy steps called for by civil and human rights organizations. The administration must restore asylum access at ports of entry, rescind the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s expulsion order, and issue a new termination memo for the Migrant Protection Protocols. It must also stop deportation flights to Haiti and end its reliance on incarceration for processing immigrants. Together, these steps would end the immediate harm.

Then, we tell a new story. We reject the false story that America’s public safety and public health requires us to sequester, ban, incarcerate, and expel Black and brown immigrants. Instead, we see the humanity of those coming to our border, reckon with our nation’s role in the chaos in their home countries, and dare to reimagine America as a home for all.

What if our America is not dead, but a nation waiting to be born? If the story of America is one long labor, then progress in birthing labor is cyclical, not linear. After a long constriction of civil and human rights, this could be the moment that expands our circle of care beyond what was previously imagined. In the wake of the horror of Afghanistan and Del Rio, this could be the era we begin to make America a safe home for refugees. But only if we show up to the labor with courage.

I breathe with you — and push,

P.S. Forward this post to spread the word on how to help Haitian refugees right now.

How to help immediately

#1 DONATE: Haitian Bridge Alliance is on the ground helping Haitian refugees in Del Rio seeking asylum. Click here to donate now to support their efforts.

#2 SIGN: Families Belong Together has organized a petition to demand that the Biden Administration halt all deportations to Haiti. Sign the petition here.

#3 CALL: Dial 202-224-3121 and use the sample script below to contact your Congress members today to urge them to take action to protect Haitian and other Black asylum seekers at the border.


“Hello, my name is ____________. I am calling because I learned that the Administration is sending planes full of families back to Haiti under Title 42 without offering them legal protection and the opportunity to file for asylum.

This is inhumane and unjust.

The Administration agreed that Haiti is not a safe place for Haitian Nationals to be, and recently granted Temporary Protected Status to Haiti. It’s not right to deport people to the same country deemed unsafe.

Now’s the time to do your part to protect our Haitian neighbors: demand that DHS and ICE stop all deportation flights to Haiti; call for the Biden Administration to rescind the CDC’s expulsion order under Title 42 and offer humanitarian parole to Haitian asylum seekers; and immediately release Haitians detainees in immigration facilities in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and other territories.

Thank you for listening.”

A guided inquiry for this moment

It is natural to see what is happening to our Haitian kin at the border and feel rage. It is a sign you are paying attention, a sign of your bravery.

I invite you into a practice for honoring and harnessing your rage into action. We do not need to suppress our rage, or let it explode. We can learn to express our rage in safe containers – emotional spaces that are safe enough to unleash our body’s impulses without shame and without harming ourselves or others.

First, find your safe container for rage. This may be weeping, meditation, journaling, screaming into a pillow, throwing things on the ground, creating art, music, dance, therapies, rituals or ceremonies. What safe containers do you already have? What do you need now?

Where is rage inside your body right now? Don’t be afraid of your rage. Don’t be ashamed. Just notice it.

Stay with the sensations of your rage. You might notice tension, clenching, stinging, heat. Notice the shape of your rage in your body, wherever it’s living — in your heart, your belly, your throat, your legs.

What does your rage want to do? How does it want to move your body? Invite simple movement. Maybe you are springing to your feet. Maybe you start to cry, or scream, or yell. Maybe you are starting to shake or spin or stomp. Let the energy move through you.

What safe containers do you need to process this rage? Do you need a friend or professional to accompany you?

What information does your rage carry? What is your rage telling you about what is important to you? You may want to write this information down in a journal or share it with a trusted loved one.

How do you want to harness this energy in the world? This is the most essential step. What creative nonviolent action are you ready to take? Who can take this action with you?

This guided inquiry comes from the RAGE portal on our Learning Hub. Explore the Revolutionary Love Learning Hub here.