Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele – When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir
- Arusa Qureshi
- 29 January 2018
An emotional and powerful memoir which opens up conversations about the state-sanctioned hostility facing black Americans today
Brought together by a collective goal of dismantling the shackles of systemic racism, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Khan-Cullors are the founders of Black Lives Matter, a movement that has reverberated around the world. Despite an emphasis on love and justice, they (and indeed the movement) have been routinely labelled as extremists. But the movement's origins and the context in which it was founded are vital to any understanding of how privilege can shield people from the cultural drivers that demand the reiteration that Black Lives Matter. For this reason, When They Call You a Terrorist is not only a memoir (written alongside author and journalist Asha Bandele), but a vital piece of education and an emphatic call to arms to fight against police brutality, institutionalised racism and anti-blackness at all costs.
Tracing the movement through Khan-Cullors' account of her own upbringing and journey into activism, the book provides an insight into life in America via the perspective of a black, queer, female from an underprivileged background. Khan-Cullors' early contact with law enforcement through the heavy police presence in her neighbourhood and her dad and brother's stints in jail results in a weariness of the criminal justice system, which is emphasised by the very real fear of violence and death that lurks over her shoulder.
Certainly, her sobering experiences help to contextualise the need for BLM but the beauty of the writing and the vital emotion and strength behind her words underline its very tenets. That it is the work of women that has led to this global movement is largely unknown due to the widespread erasure of women's voices. But When They Call You a Terrorist places women of colour, as well as queer and trans women at the heart of its conception, all the while opening up conversations about the state-sanctioned hostility facing black Americans today.