When They Call You a Terrorist

When They Call You a Terrorist, Patrisse Khan-Cullors & asha bandele

What is the impact of not being valued? How do you measure the loss of what a human being does not receive?
— Patrisse Khan-Cullors
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When They Call You a Terrorist was introduced to me by a friend.

While I consider myself a decently-informed citizen, I am definitely not an expert in black history or in the Black Lives Matter movement. Besides reading and staying informed in the news, the main other context I had for reading this book was watching two very well-done documentaries, O.J.: Made in America (not the drama produced by Netflix) and 13th. (They actually gave me some pretty good context for the book and are great regardless - I highly recommend!) 

This book was a great way for me to get a little more of an insight into the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. One of the things that was most stressed to me in my courses at UBC was the fact that you should always learn about movements, about history, from the populations who experienced it... "get it from the source." I loved the fact that When They Call You a Terrorist was written first hand by one of the founders of the movement. It's obviously not a history book but I enjoyed the perspective. 

If you are looking for a personal perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement, are interested in learning more about black identity in the United States, or simply are looking for a beautiful read, I would recommend this novel. 

We are a forgotten generation. Worse, we are a generation that has been written off. We’ve been written off by the drug war. We’ve been written off by the war on gangs. We’ve been written off by mass incarceration and criminalization. We’ve been written off by broken public schools and we’ve been written off by gentrification...
— Patrisse Khan-Cullors

What I liked about it:

  • The language. It's beautiful. I would love to hear Khan-Cullors speak because I bet it's as lyrical as her writing, and I could read her writing forever. 
  • The idea of building an "intentional family." I have been blessed to grow up in a loving, close-knit family but at the same time, there are people who have become family over the years. You choose relationships, and put time into them, and being intentional about that is so important. 
  • Understanding of sexuality. Patrisse Khan-Cullors identifies as lesbian, and is currently married to a woman, but had an honest, fulfilling marriage to a man for many years, and, later, a wonderful relationship with another man. The way she described both relationships, they made sense to me. Sometimes souls speak to each other and relationships just work. You don't need to put yourself into a box. 
  • Acknowledgement of the election. "I am angry I didn't realize - or accept at a cellular level - how wedded to racism and misogyny average Americans are. I am angry at my own naivete. Our own naivete." This was exactly how I felt following the election - an intense frustration and disbelief. Khan-Cullors put it into words for me. 

What I didn't like: 

  • Narrow context. The story focuses around Patrisse and her 'family.' While this was deeply personal, there were definitely times when I was hoping for a wider perspective. 

Favourite Quotes:

  • "What could they be but stardust, these people who refused to die, who refused to accept the idea that their lives did not matter, that their children's lives did not matter?"
  • "Honesty was life-giving."
  • "From my neighborhood in LA to the Bay Area to Brooklyn, Black and Brown people have been moved out as young white people build exciting new lives standing on the bones of ours." 
  • "This is what the love of Black men looks like. This is what our Black yesterday once looked like. And I think: If we are to survive, this is what our future must look like.
  • "The goal to end the occupation of our bodies and souls by the agents of a larger American culture that demonstrates daily how we don't matter...they show us when they find money for another war but not for a decent hospital we can go to." 
  • "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." 
  • "If I die in police custody, tell the entire world: I wanted to live."