When I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. Like so many others, I have often watched the news in horror when yet another African-American man or woman (or worse, a child) has been killed without provocation, when they were doing nothing wrong. It was horrible enough when the killer was just a regular citizen, but the horror I felt increased ten-fold when their deaths came at the hands of police officers—someone who is meant to serve and protect all of us, regardless of race. (I guess I’m a bit naive, because I always expect justice to be served, punishment meted out for the guilty party—and I’m stunned when it doesn’t happen.)
I remember suddenly hearing “Black Lives Matter” being talked about on the news, seeing the hashtag on social media, and—almost as quickly—seeing negative opinions about it on Facebook. I wanted to know what Black Lives Matter was about, and—rather than take some random naysayer’s opinion as fact—I looked it up. Their mission statement begins:
The Black Lives Matter Global Network is a chapter-based, member-led organization whose mission is to build local power and to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.
I won’t pretend to have a deep understanding of what African-American’s daily lives are like when it comes to racism and all that it encompasses. I don’t, and as a white woman, I can’t—but I am aware of it. And while I will never understand how people can feel that way about someone of a different race, I do want to understand how it impacts the lives of the people targeted by that hatred. I want to understand the anger, the fear, that they feel as a result of being treated in unacceptable—and often terrible—ways.
When They Call You a Terrorist is more than just the story of how Black Lives Matter began. It tells the story of Patrisse Khan-Cullors, sharing significant events that happened throughout her childhood—either to herself or a loved one—that shaped her into the community organizer and social activist she would become. There are many things she shares about her life, but one part that left me feeling especially heartbroken and outraged was reading about how her mentally ill brother, Monte, was abused while in jail. I won’t go into the details in this review, but suffice to say it’s something I doubt I’ll ever be able to forget.
As I always do when reading a book for review, I wondered what words I would use to describe the book. All the way through, I kept coming back to three words:
You can’t help but feel the undercurrents of anger and pain as you read this book. There are many passages where I had to take a moment, stop reading, and reflect on what I’d just read. I wanted to deeply consider the the events that were described. How might I have felt, if the police came to my door—without a warrant, without a reason—and made me stand in my yard, with multiple guns pointed at me and my loved ones, while they spent three or four hours searching my house? Afraid to so much as gesture with my hand as I spoke, for fear they might shoot me? How might I feel, if that happened to me, with a child present who was treated with the same cold disregard as I?
I would feel terrorized. I would feel that they didn’t think my life mattered.
The rallying cry of “Black Lives Matter” will not go down in history as words spoken by terrorists, but rather words spoken by a people who have been made to feel that their lives don’t matter at all—who had the courage to do something about it.
The year has barely begun, but I have a feeling When They Call You a Terrorist will be one of the most important books published in 2018.
If you read only one nonfiction book this year, I urge you to read this book, particularly if you don’t understand what the Black Lives Matter movement is all about. It will open your eyes to a lot of things that—like me—you probably didn’t know about.
I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of St. Martin’s Press.
Title: When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir
Genre: Memoir, Social Activism, Social Justice
Published: January 16th, 2018 by St. Martin’s Press
About the Book
The emotional and powerful story of one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter and how the movement was born.
From one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement comes a poetic memoir and reflection on humanity. Necessary and timely, Patrisse Cullors’ story asks us to remember that protest in the interest of the most vulnerable comes from love. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement have been called terrorists, a threat to America. But in truth, they are loving women whose life experiences have led them to seek justice for those victimized by the powerful. In this meaningful, empowering account of survival, strength, and resilience, Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele seek to change the culture that declares innocent black life expendable.
About the Authors
PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS is an artist, organizer, and freedom fighter from Los Angeles, CA. Co-founder of Black Lives Matter, she is also a performance artist, Fulbright scholar, popular public speaker, and an NAACP History Maker.
ASHA BANDELE is an award-winning author and journalist. A former features editor for Essence magazine, asha is the author of two collections of poems, the award-winning memoir The Prisoner’s Wife and its follow-up Something Like Beautiful, and the novel Daughter. She lives in Brooklyn with her daughter.