When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele
(Joint review with Austin as part of the Cannonball Read 10 BINGO)
Best for: Those who enjoy deeply personal memoirs.
In a nutshell: Black Lives Matter founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors shares the story of her life so far, including her work as an activist, artist, and founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“For us, law enforcement had nothing to do with protecting and serving, but controlling and containing the movement of children.”
“My father attended schools that did little more than train him to serve another man’s dreams, ensure another man’s wealth, produce another man’s vision.”
“What is the impact of not being valued?”
“No isolated acts of decency could wholly change an organization that became an institution that was created not to protect but to catch, control and kill us.”
Why I chose it: I enjoy memoirs, and I feel like I don’t know enough about the woman who started the Black Lives Matter movement.
Why Austin chose it: I picked this book because Black Lives Matter is a huge cultural touchstone in our nation’s history and I wanted to learn more about one of the founders of the movement.
At times over the past five years, it can seem that Black Lives Matter spontaneously erupted out of the anger at police violence against Black men, women and children. But BLM didn’t just appear from the ether; it was created by three Black women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and Opal Tometi. These women have stories that deserve to be shared, and this book provides insight into the lives of one of these women.
The subheading “A Black Lives Matter Memoir” might suggest that there will be a heavy emphasis on the time in 2013 when the movement began. And that definitely gets coverage, but this book is more about Ms. Khan-Cullors’s life and how that leads to the movement. She shares so much of herself — her pain, her joy, her love, her anger. Some memoirs scratch the surface and present something that feels a bit false. Not here. Ms. Khan-Cullors is vulnerable, and poetic, and unapologetic. She describes experiences that no one should have to go through, making it clear that these experiences are not unique to her.
This book contains so much more than its 250 pages suggest. The writing is fantastic, in a style I am not used to. I’d almost call it flowery, but that implies the words are superfluous. It’s not that. It’s almost lyrical, poetic and times. Ms. Khan-Cullors (with co-author bandele) covers interactions with the police (her own interactions, and interactions her families and friends have), what it is like to have a parent in prison, what it is like to have a sibling with mental illness who is tortured by the prison system. What it is like to not be heard, and what it is like to find a way to fight back.
What struck me most about this book was how open she was about her entire life. She talked about her sexuality, her difficulties with her family, and the ongoing issues with police. Khan-Cullors has had a more difficult life than most, yet she was able to come together with friends to build the most recognizable social justice movement in decades.
Reading this book made me re-evaluate my own life and choices in a deep and serious way. What are my values and how much am I willing to dedicate my life to them? I thank Ms Khan-Cullors for what she’s done and what she’s been willing to share with everyone about the way it’s all come about. I highly recommend this book if you’re at all interested in social justice movements.