When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoirby Published 16 Jan 2018
|When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir.pdf|
|Publisher||St. Martin's Press|
A poetic and powerful memoir about what it means to be a Black woman in America—and the co-founding of a movement that demands justice for all in the land of the free.
Raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood in Los Angeles, Patrisse Khan-Cullors experienced firsthand the prejudice and persecution Black Americans endure at the hands of law enforcement. For Patrisse, the most vulnerable people in the country are Black people. Deliberately and ruthlessly targeted by a criminal justice system serving a white privilege agenda, Black people are subjected to unjustifiable racial profiling and police brutality. In 2013, when Trayvon Martin’s killer went free, Patrisse’s outrage led her to co-found Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.
Condemned as terrorists and as a threat to America, these loving women founded a hashtag that birthed the movement to demand accountability from the authorities who continually turn a blind eye to the injustices inflicted upon people of Black and Brown skin.
Championing human rights in the face of violent racism, Patrisse is a survivor. She transformed her personal pain into political power, giving voice to a people suffering in equality and a movement fueled by her strength and love to tell the country—and the world—that Black Lives Matter.
When They Call You a Terrorist is Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele’s reflection on humanity. It is an empowering account of survival, strength and resilience and a call to action to change the culture that declares innocent Black life expendable.
"When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir" Reviews
When They Call you a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir isn't like most memoirs. The emphasis, despite the title, is not solely on the BLM movement, instead, it builds the reason for creation and existence BLM through the life experiences of the co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors.
As it is not my practice, commonly, to give a synopsis of the book or provide spoilers that may deter interested readers, I will keep it simple and to the point. Khan-Cullors approach to the creation of this highly respected and equally controversial movement (funny how hue-man movements for the amelioration of a people is tainted with adjectives of anxiety) is in direct response to injustices that span beyond the color spectrum. When They Call You a Terrorist is larger than a title, it touches, without apology or stammer, the core of discrimination, both riotous and subdued, that affects the lives of nearly every life, deemed different, on the tree of humanity.
It is said that we fear what we don't understand. Since the 1865 emancipation of enslaved Africans and people of African descent, there has been a consistent effort to eliminate the race or traces of them, by way of intimidation, deception, denigration, incarceration, and murder. For decades, even to this day, a sector of society is directly ostracized and openly isolated by some of the most abusive practices imaginable. Only the color of skin, their choice of who to love, and the God they understood was enough to make them the dregs of "proper Christian" society, by those who worshipped flags and burned crosses. Through the years, and one century later, the rights of people of African descent (and other who felt or were disenfranchised) came to a head and erupted for the world to see. Still, decades later, the rights of people considered different, remained in the forefront of the American psyche and the hue-man efforts branched off in directions the ruling parties were not prepared to deal with. This is what gave birth to Patrisse Khan-Cullors, whose memoir is revealing, exciting and sometimes confusing (in a nature versus nurture sort of way). And they called them terrorists.
Khan-Cullors, who is a very talented writer, was able to seamlessly blend the complexities of being an emotional automaton and a formidable force. The killings of innocent people by police, the discrimination against the LBGTQ community, and the "turn the other cheek" decisions of elected officials started the clearly missioned but intentionally misrepresented (by those who wanted to besmirch the cause) organization/ movement, BLM.
The book is magic even if its heavy biographical content dominates. It is a history lesson that may never appear in a textbook or on an SAT exam, but can never be hidden or destroyed. It is the single most recognized movement in current history and the reason that so many others, who remained silent for ions, are now raising their voices and donning warrior gear.
Read When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, not for those things that are easily seen, but for the content that encourages you to think. Take from it more than Patrisse intended. Like Black Lives Matter, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, is the blueprint of what's to come.
I could not recommend this book more highly.
Because it was evocative on so many levels, it is difficult to review. Maybe the best way is to acknowledge that I read it with trepidation because, while I felt like it was important to read, I have felt overwhelmed with how broken and wounded our country is in general. Yet from the first few pages of the introduction I knew how important this book is to read. I thought I was pretty aware of the impact of anti-black racism but this book woke me.
Reading about the treatment of her mentally ill brother was agonizing. As a psychologist I'm struggling with the inability of my profession to have a collective voice against the warehousing and abuse of the mentally ill and vulnerable. That Patrisse could hold those feelings around what she witnessed with her brother, and write about it, is remarkable. The author is an amazing human being.
The book is beautifully written. Of course it is memoir but it is also a collective memoir. We can't heal as a country until we come to terms with the cancer of systemic racism and its impact. Again, it needs to be read.
I saw a review by Kirkus which said something about how the narrative could drag on and might be for a select audience - and I thought that the reviewer could not have read the same book that I just finished.
Oh man, a difficult, but powerful book.
So, I want to start this review by saying how much I appreciate the incredible dedication Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele have to black people both in and outside of this country. I had the pleasure of hearing Khan-Cullors speak back in my freshman year of college, and so when I found out she was releasing a memoir, it was quickly added to my TBR.
When They Call You a Terrorist is an incredibly brave book, filled with deeply personal experiences I’m sure took years to process. Nowadays, people often talk about doing the therapeutic “work” they need to thrive in this world, as well as the movement “work” that helps ensure others can do the same. In this memoir, it is clear that Khan-Cullors has done both, probing her life’s challenges, heartbreaks, and joys for their greater purpose and for her greater calling (BLM activism.)
This dual “work” allows Khan-Cullors to seamlessly travel between her personal experiences and systemic issues, in a way that made this memoir seem like her own story, but also so much more than just that. For example, she’ll begin with an anecdote about her her harsh punishment in a local school, and then extend it to the educational plights of black girls across the country, referencing books like Monique Morris' Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools. Though she has a formal acknowledgments section, I felt like this whole book was an extended one—she is always citing her intellectual and political sources, as well as her emotional support systems throughout different stages of her life. I was most moved by seeing all the ways she learned to not just care for others, but to be cared for and supported by her chosen family members.
With that said, I didn’t really find this book to be a great start to my challenge for Pride month. I’ve always been inspired and encouraged to know all of the founders of Black Lives Matter are black queer women, and so I expected a BUNCH more from her memoir where sexuality is concerned. To be so very reflective in many other places, I felt like her discussion of sexual identity was pretty lukewarm—she constantly mentions how many of her co-organizers are queer, but she rarely delves into their experiences of oppression with equal energy. To be honest, I was really shocked to find that the romantic relationship she most passionately and extensively describes is her marriage to a cishet man. I understand that this is a memoir, and she can’t change her life story, but it just felt a bit disjointed, since her current marriage (to a genderqueer activist from Canada) gets much less attention.
I found this (cishet) male centrism in many other places in the memoir, and I think a couple of times, it really felt like she was becoming an apologist for some inexcusable behavior. When discussing her brother’s struggles with mental illness, she casually mentions how it caused him to become abusive towards his girlfriend and child (once destroying many objects in the woman’s home in a fit of rage), but doesn’t really focus on the wrong in his actions. She takes a lot of care to explain to us that her brother, Monte, is led to such actions because of very traumatic and unjust violence inflicted upon him while incarcerated, but I think she doesn’t account for the fact that he still harmed people, even while being a victim himself. There are many other places where it seems like she’s once again overlooking toxic masculinity and the pain it causes black women, in order to show sympathy for black men (“calling the cops is a worse option than getting your ass kicked.”) Due to Khan-Cullors’ extensive work on behalf of black women and queer folks, it was just really strange to feel this memoir prioritizing black cishet men in this way.
One of the biggest internal critiques of BLM is how the movement has been co-opted away from its feminist origins. Many times, I don’t think Khan-Cullors addresses the ways in which the (predominantly) cishet men she organizes this book around don’t necessarily return the favor. While still incredibly powerful, I don’t feel that her story really embraced the complexities and harm black organizers who are also queer, (or female, or gender non-conforming, etc.) experience within their own activist circles. I would’ve loved to hear more about what she had to say about these issues, but sadly, I didn’t this time around.
I want to end by focusing on some other BLM activists who are releasing memoirs soon. One thing I appreciate about the current black literary scene is that more than one activist’s story can be published, so we have more than one opportunity to delve into these topics. Darnell Moore’s No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America came out earlier this week, and Charlene Carruthers' Unapologetic: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Our Movement drops in August, so maybe they’ll pick up where Khan-Cullors and bandele left off.