“Hello, is this Jama?” said the voice at the other end of the receiver.
I had just come home from taking pictures. It was Aug. 27, a usual Thursday afternoon for me sorting through photos for my street photography blog. But on this particular Thursday, I suddenly got a random phone call. Out of curiosity, I stopped editing and picked up the call.
“Yes,” I replied.
“This is the FBI calling,” the voice continued. “We visited your house, and you weren’t there.”
My mind starting racing. This hadn’t happened to me before. The FBI agent added that my younger brother, 16, was home and that he got my cell phone number from him. He then stated that he wanted to question me about an article I recently wrote for The Seattle Globalist, “Black women don’t matter enough in Black Lives Matter movement.”
The thing is, it was always in the back of my mind that the FBI could come knocking on my door some day. I have ideas to cover a variety of different topics that would expose officials and use my voice as a tool to tell marginalized groups’ stories. It was only a matter of time that they would try to censor me, I thought. And on that Thursday, Aug. 27, that’s exactly what happened.
“Why would you want to question me about that article?” I asked the FBI agent. He responded vaguely and asked me to meet him over coffee.
Overwhelmed, I suggested we could schedule for the next week. If this wasn’t the beginning of some form of interrogation, I didn’t know what was. I knew for sure that I hadn’t done anything wrong. Why is it that me speaking out about the value of Black life resulted in the FBI knocking on my door? It couldn’t have anything to do with my religious beliefs or the color of my skin, could it?
A lot of young journalists of color already feel terrified to write about issues that matter to them as is. They fear being deported, being put on a “no fly” list or even jailed. They shouldn’t feel intimidated for wanting to speak their minds. I want aspiring journalists to feel empowered and know that they have rights, and that no FBI official should be able to censor them or intimidate them from using their voices.
For me, this began with reaching out to my editor and my college advisor. They helped me get in contact with the right people to protect me as a journalist. Through our state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Washington (CAIR-WA), I was able to get connected with an attorney.
Organizations like CAIR-WA exist to protect rights of those who are underrepresented. The voice of underrepresented groups — especially in media — are important. There’s a lack of representation of young Black individuals and Muslims in government, media, and leadership positions. What narrative are we going to hear when the voice of the oppressed is cut off completely?
As soon as a young person of color starts becoming politically active and engaged in democracy and speaking their mind, the FBI comes knocking on their door. That needs to change.
Until then, it’s important for young journalists of color to have a strong community.
I was fortunate enough to have a community that had my back when the FBI came knocking on my door. But that began with reaching out to the right people. Asking for help can go a long way.
If you have reason to believe you are being unfairly targeted by the FBI, please contact CAIR-WA’s civil rights staff at (206) 367-4081 or firstname.lastname@example.org.