When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele
This was such a spectacular read. I don’t mean that in the flippant casual sense… it was a book that hurt me to read, that triggered my own sense of fear for the folks that I could lose at the hands of police violence. There were moments that were beautiful and tender, juxtaposed by the stories of what should be unconsciounable and unimaginable harm and neglect being done to the people whom Patrisse loved most in the world. Neglect — that is the overwhelming sense I gathered from this book. Patrisse, her brothers, and the community all around them in Los Angeles were simultaneously left to find their own way in a world that was built to destroy them. This is a country that does not allow room for black folks, and Black men in particular, to be anything less than perfect. There is no room for mental illness or instability or youthfulness or mistakes.
It is spot on to call this book a memoir; I did not expect such personal details from Patrisse’s life. She brings us into her story at early childhood, and we follow her to present day. It was insightful to see how closely Black Lives Matter as a political network is an outgrowth of her own lived experiences and is thus even more necessary. I expected it to be wholly a book about the creation of BLM… and in a sense, I suppose that it was. Her life is what led her to create this network alongside Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.
Reading and Discussion Guide:
- Consider your own history with the police. Have they occupied a space of protecting and serving in your community? Or, did they incite terror and fear in your life and the lives of your loved ones? This line from the text rocked me to my core:
…torture is always intentional. It is always premeditated. It is planned out and its purpose is to deliberately and systematically dismantle a person’s identity and humanity. It is designed to destroy a sense of community and eliminate leaders and create a climate of fear. This is the definition used by the Center of Victims of Torture. In a sentence, torture is terrorism. (pg. 157)
- Patrisse returns time and time again to the issue of the American prison system being set up solely to punish, not to rehabilitate. Her biological father, Gabriel, was in and out of prison the entirety of their relationship as a result of his struggles with drug addiction. Monte, her brother was in and out of prison as he struggled with an undiagnosed schizoaffective disorder. The attrocities that Monte endured are inhumane and terrifying to consider. I can’t imagine how I would react to learn that a loved one had been forced to drink toilet water.
- Patrisse gives us a very intimate look at all facets of her life. The book is titled as a memoir after all, but sometimes I wondered if that perhaps took away from the overall impact of her work. But I’m simultaneously aware of that the whole of her lived experiences form the person she is today. What did you think about reading all of the intimate details of Patrise’s life? Did it add or take away from your reading experience?
“Come celebrate with me that every day something has tried to kill me and has failed.” — Lucille Clifton.
- The most powerful parts of the book for me was the opening. “I am a survivor. I am startdust.” I’ll leave you with that. You, Black woman, have stardust in your bones. That is our magic.
I’d love to know what you thought of this read. Let’s chat in the comments below! I hope you enjoyed June’s books! We’re going to get going next month with What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons and So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. Get your books now!