Review: When They Call You a Terrorist, A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
Where to begin? It's definitely hard to write a review on a book that is so significant in history and so important, but it's safe to say I have nothing negative to say about this memoir.
Raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighbourhood in Los Angeles, Patrisse Khan-Cullors experienced firsthand the prejudice and persecution that 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.
This memoir covers the life of this activist prior to her revolutionary impact into black rights. We delve into her relationships when she is a teen, and the process of her coming out as queer to those involved in her life. These moments are certainly touching and it definitely added to the vigour of Khan-Cullors character; being a queer black woman fighting for equality. It is clear that activism is a huge part of her life: from protesting in Missouri after Michael Brown was shot by a white policeman in 2014, to protesting for the legalisation of marijuana in California, knowing that a minute possession charge is the cause for many African Americans being deported and/or incarcerated.
The book does a wonderful job of demonstrating to the reader the full spectrum of the issue. So many of the unjust deaths by police violence are mentioned. Reading one after the other truly brings into perspective the horrific numbers as well as the ridiculous occurrences. Many of these killings I knew about - some I remember even attending protests for. But it is easy to forget the grand scale when protests often happen after one individuals passing; we focus single-mindedly. When They Call You a Terrorist gives you no breathing room. You are faced immediately with name after name, circumstance after circumstance; from young Tamir Rice who was shot when playing with a toy gun, Philando Castile who shot when out driving with his girlfriend, all the way to Breonna Taylor who was shot 8 times in her own home this year.
The author lays out statistics that can clearly debunk those that decide to chant 'All Lives Matter'. White privilege exists, and these statistics can prove it.
Once you have built up an attachment to the writer, reading about her own hardships becomes even more painful. After her brother is taken to a Californian jail for an unbelievable period of time, she describes the horror of discovering that he was tortured and physically abused by the officers on a regular basis. Bearing in mind, her brother is wheelchair bound and mentally ill. These passages are heartbreaking, but push the cause and support you feel towards Khan-Cullors' activism. We can see that despite her trauma, activism is something that keeps her going and something that keeps her hopeful.
The book is devastating - you are forced to see the reality of police killings in America. You are also forced to see how slow the progress is on racial issues in the supposed leading country in the world. I hope everyone reads this fantastic memoir - you don't need to enjoy non-fiction for this to be essential reading. I also hope that it will forever inspire you to become an activist and fight for justice for all.
Initial Prediction: 4.5 stars
Final Rating: 5 stars
Publication Date: 24 January 2018
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir
# of Pages: 272