Thursday, 20 August 2020

When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors

When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
Published in America by Canongate Books in January 2018.

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook via Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, three women – Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Khan-Cullors – came together to form an active response to the systemic racism causing the deaths of so many African-Americans. They simply said: Black Lives Matter; and for that, they were labelled terrorists.

In this empowering account of survival, strength and resilience, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and award-winning author and journalist asha bandele recount the personal story that led Patrisse to become a founder of Black Lives Matter, seeking to end the culture that declares Black life expendable. Like the era-defining movement she helped create, this rallying cry demands you do not look away.

Prior to spotting this autobiography in Amazon's recommended reads for me, I had never given much thought to how the Black Lives Matter movement had actually started or to the individuals who had been inspired to first shout the compelling slogan. In When They Call You A Terrorist, Patrisse Khan-Cullors recollects her impoverished childhood and the years of blatant racial injustice which gave her the impetus to bravely stand up firstly for herself and her tribe, then for black people across America and the world.

When They Call You A Terrorist is a very readable and powerful work. Khan-Cullors writes with such clarity and vision that I would struggle to believe anyone would not be moved by her words. That the double standards practiced by the police, judiciary and politicians across America are intended to continue a form of Jim Crow segregation and provide ultra cheap labour for greedy corporations who profit from slave labour via the prison system is a shocking reality for thousands of people. Reading this personal account of the effects of divided families, inhumanely low wages, slum landlords and no effective healthcare system really brought home to me how vital BLM is and how important it is that the people making a stand are not ignorantly dismissed as 'terrorists'. As a child, I was told that the Black Panthers were just violent terrorists 'like the IRA' and had no idea until I read a biography of Assata Shakur of the positive contributions Panthers made within black communities. Khan-Cullors family were recipients of essential food parcels, for example.

Khan-Cullors talks extensively about the need for healing as much as change, about the importance of truly equal access to education, art and self-care programmes, and that communities be allowed to exist for themselves without an oppressive police presence that insists on seeing (and overreacting to) wrongdoing in innocuous situations that would be ignored on white streets. Her demands, and those of Black Lives Matter, seem so basic that it's difficult to understand how they cannot be simply granted. I fervently hope that this decade will see real and lasting change.

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