When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir

by Patrisse Khan-Cullors

Other authorsAngela Davis (Foreword)
Hardcover, 2018


Checked out


St. Martin's Press (2018), Edition: Reprint, 272 pages


A memoir by the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement explains the movement's position of love, humanity, and justice, challenging perspectives that have negatively labeled the movement's activists while calling for essential political changes."A poetic and powerful memoir about what it means to be a Black woman in America--and the founding of a movement that demands restorative justice for all in the land of the free. Raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood In Los Angeles, Patrisse Khan-Cullors experienced firsthand the prejudice and persecution 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. Championing human rights in the face of violent racism, Patrisse is a survivor. She transformed her personal pain into political power, giving voice to a people suffering inequality and a movement fueled by her strength and love, to tell the country--and the world--that Black Lives Matter. [This book] is Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele's reflection on humanity. It is an empowering account of survival, strength and resilience and a call to action to change the culture that declares innocent Black life expendable."--Dust jacket.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member jessibud2
This was a tough read. Cullors is one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matters movement. She describes in stark and graphic detail how she came to that point, what happened to her brother, as she was growing up, and to her father. And to so many others in her community in California. How the police could and would target young Black boys and men, for the mere fact that they were black and therefore, vulnerable. How can people live in such a constant state of anxiety and fear, and hope to be healthy? It reminded me of what we read about during the Civil Rights era and before; the brutality, and the hatred and discrimination. It reminds me of what refugees fleeing horrific conditions in their former homelands must feel every day they are on the run, and sometimes, maybe often, when they arrive in a new place and try to begin again. It reminds me of what the lives of Jews and other minorities must have been in the time of Nazi Germany. That kind of hatred and discrimination was the law of the land then. It isn't, now, but it is very much an unwritten law, in some places. Many places, as it turns out.

The treatment of the mentally ill, the imprisonment of men and boys and their treatment in the jail system, for seemingly minor infractions (that would never be tolerated for whites), made me sick to read about. I applaud Cullors for exposing the truth and for being brave enough to devote her life to trying to remedy what to me just sees so hopeless a situation. It's so much larger than one person or even a group of people, can *fix*. Sadly, Canada is not exempt from this problem. I hope and believe that it is not as rampant here as it is in the States, but we can't pat ourselves on the backs at all, as this is a very current problem here, as well.

I would be in a constant state of fear and anxiety and tension if I had to live like that. It makes me feel so hopeless that things will change, despite the best intentions of a few. It also fills me with rage that humans treat one another this way. Why??

This is such an important book. I think it ought to be compulsory reading for so many: social workers, social justice workers, police, lawyers, educators, politicians, and just so many more
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LibraryThing member Othemts
This memoir depicts Patrisse Khan-Cullors life growing up in a poor neighborhood in Los Angeles, where her family and community were under constant surveillance and harassment from the police. Her father was in and out of prison and her mentally ill brother was also imprisoned and tortured by the police. As Cullors grows older she also deals with her disillusionment with her mother's church, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and grows to understand her queer identity. She became an artist and an activist in her teenage years, advocating for reform and abolition of prisons. In 2013, responding to her friend Alicia Garza's post about Treyvon Martin, she created the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and has been active in shepherding the movement. This memoir is both harrowing and hopeful in depicting the lives of people of color and LBGT people in America that is under assault, but also the positive gains that come when people stand up for their rights, equality, and dignity.

Favorite Passages:

"I cannot help think that the drug war, the war on gangs, has really been no more than a forced migration project. From my neighborhood in LA to the Back Bay to Brooklyn, Black and Brown people have been moved out as young white people build exciting new lives standing on the bones of ours. The drug war as ethnic cleansing."
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LibraryThing member streamsong
The author is one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement.

She vividly recounts her childhood, where black teenagers and men in her neighborhood were routinely questioned and harassed by police. She also describes how her father was in and out of prison, destabilizing the family.

The final straw, however, was when her brother, diagnosed with bipolar disorder but off his medicine, was in a minor traffic accident. Because he yelled at the other driver, a white woman, he was charged with terroristic activity and imprisoned.

She vividly explores the prison system, with its over-representation of black men.

“Prisoners are valuable. They not only work for pennies for the corporate brands our people love so much, but they also provide jobs for mostly poor white people, replacing the jobs lost in rural communities. Poor white people who are chosen to be guards. They run the motels in prison towns where families have to stay when they make 11 hour drives into rural corners of the state. They deliver the microwave food we have to buy from the prison vending machines.” p 44

“There are more people with mental health disorders in prison than in all of the psychiatric hospitals in the United States added up. In 2015, the Washington Post reported that
'American prisons and jails housed an estimated 356,258 [people] with severe mental illness. . . [a] figure [that] is more than 10 times the number of mentally ill patients in state psychiatric hospitals [in 2012, the last year for reliable data] . . . about 35,000 people.'
” p 61

And finally, she recounts how she herself, was labeled as a terrorist and had police bursting into her quiet home due to her work in organizing Black Lives Matter.

This is an eye, opening, important book; it's another one very valuable for those wanting to get beyond their white bubble and have a better understanding of black life in America today.
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LibraryThing member VivienneR
This is a passionate, moving memoir about racism. It's a heartbreaking, but common story, of poverty, excessive police surveillance, everyday prejudice, and hopelessness. There are many conditions of black lives that are not commonly known, making this book a must-read, but not an easy one.

Along with friends, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, Khan-Cullors founded Black Lives Matter in 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted of the shooting of Trayvon Martin.… (more)
LibraryThing member willszal
Although, like any book, there are critiques I could offer, I won't go there this time; this book demands respect.

Khan-Cullors tells her story, the story of an average black woman in America. Her brother is imprisoned, facing a life-sentence for mental health challenges, and he is refused treatment or care. Her father struggles with addiction throughout his life, to die at 52. Her mother works two jobs, but still can't afford to keep her children fed. And KC, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter—an organization simply aiming to evaluate the value of black life above zero—is called a terrorist.

The tone is anything but sensational; KC is simply telling her story. And that is what is so powerful about this book. Black people have been living in America as long as white people have. Supposedly, slavery ended over 150 years ago. And yet, for the average black person in America, every day is a war zone. They're just trying to survive. This is wrong, and it is up to all of us—especially the most privileged and those in power—to begin treating black people with the respect that their humanity deserves.

This book is not as heavy on statistics and analytical analysis as others on systemic black oppression (such as "The New Jim Crow"). But this is not a shortcoming. This book is accessible, and deeply human.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
Here's an unusual political memoir - there's much more about the childhood of author Khan-Cullors than there is about the essential group she co-founded: Black Lives Matter. Patrisse grew up in Van Nuys, CA, a predominantly black and Mexican community. Her heroic mother worked double shifts constantly to care for her four children (one of whom suffers from mental illness and is tortured in jail), without financial support from the fathers of the children. Patrisse becomes aware of her own father Gabriel, who was not the dad she grew up knowing, not the same dad of her brothers and sister. She is happily enveloped by Gabriel and the warmth and acceptance of her Louisiana-rooted relatives. Lucky enough to attend a progressive school out of her neighborhood, Patrisse broadens her life experience, meeting and aligning herself with fellow social justice warriors. She moves into St. Elmo's Village, an artist's colony in Central LA, but has to leave when the police conduct constant incursions based on "fitting the description" raids. Even before Black Lives Matter, Patrisse helps to found organizations such as The Strategy Center, Dignity and Power Now, and Dream Defenders, recognizing the role of incarceration in the lives of all the males in her ambit. She's the quintessential community organizer whose brush broadens to encompass the world. Patrisse tells a blunt, heartening story that's just getting started.

Quotes: "How many skinny, short, blond men were rounded up when Dylan Roof massacred people in prayer? How many brown-haired white men were snatched out of bed when Ted Bundy was killing women for sport? How many gawky white teens were stopped and frisked after Columbine?"

"[Re:Ferguson, post Michael Brown's murder] All the money put in to suppress a community. We'd need far less to ensure it thrived."
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LibraryThing member mootzymom
Incredibly powerful. I learned so much more about the origins about the movement that I never knew.
LibraryThing member ajlewis2
This is a memoir and is written pretty much chronologically, but does skip around quite a bit. The title says "A Black Lives Matter Memoir," but the story doesn't cover a lot about that movement. What it does give is a deep understanding of why Patrisse Khan-Cullors co-founded the movement. It's not an easy story to hear, but after hearing some of the negative talk about the movement, I am thankful to find this book to hear the thoughts of someone very deeply involved, someone who knows a lot about it. I didn't count the words most used in the book, but "love" might be the one most frequently seen of the nouns and verbs. Of note is that women and people the LGBTQ community have been very much involved in BLM.… (more)
LibraryThing member ASKelmore
Best for: Those who enjoy deeply personal memoirs.

In a nutshell: Black Lives Matter founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors shares the story of her life so far, including her work as an activist, artist, and founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Worth quoting:
“For us, law enforcement had nothing to do with protecting and serving, but controlling and containing the movement of children.”
“My father attended schools that did little more than train him to serve another man’s dreams, ensure another man’s wealth, produce another man’s vision.”
“What is the impact of not being valued?”
“No isolated acts of decency could wholly change an organization that became an institution that was created not to protect but to catch, control and kill us.”

Why I chose it: I enjoy memoirs, and I feel like I don’t know enough about the woman who started the Black Lives Matter movement.

Lollygagger’s Review:
At times over the past five years, it can seem that Black Lives Matter spontaneously erupted out of the anger at police violence against Black men, women and children. But BLM didn’t just appear from the ether; it was created by three Black women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and Opal Tometi. These women have stories that deserve to be shared, and this book provides insight into the lives of one of these women.

The subheading “A Black Lives Matter Memoir” might suggest that there will be a heavy emphasis on the time in 2013 when the movement began. And that definitely gets coverage, but this book is more about Ms. Khan-Cullors’s life and how that leads to the movement. She shares so much of herself — her pain, her joy, her love, her anger. Some memoirs scratch the surface and present something that feels a bit false. Not here. Ms. Khan-Cullors is vulnerable, and poetic, and unapologetic. She describes experiences that no one should have to go through, making it clear that these experiences are not unique to her.

This book contains so much more than its 250 pages suggest. The writing is fantastic, in a style I am not used to. I’d almost call it flowery, but that implies the words are superfluous. It’s not that. It’s almost lyrical, poetic and times. Ms. Khan-Cullors (with co-author bandele) covers interactions with the police (her own interactions, and interactions her families and friends have), what it is like to have a parent in prison, what it is like to have a sibling with mental illness who is tortured by the prison system. What it is like to not be heard, and what it is like to find a way to fight back.
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LibraryThing member Noeshia
I'm not seeing this book on the lists of anti-racist books to read, but I feel like it is a good addition. I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, which gave that extra little bit to paint the story. This isn't just a book about her forming BLM, but a book about the life that brought her to it, and why she fights. Definitely give it a try.… (more)
LibraryThing member Nancyjcbs
This was such an incredible, important book. Patrisse Cullors is one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement. This memoir explains how her life's experiences led to this role.

She grew up in a poor area of Los Angeles where laws made it incredibly difficult for Blacks in this country to lead successful lives. Children were stopped and frisked, people were imprisoned for small crimes, wages were low, rents were high, men were missing. She speaks of prisons where inmates are tortured, mentally ill are mistreated, and fear is rampant.

Patrisse had some very positive experiences particularly in a school she attended. As a teen she was able to develop her skills as an organizer. Working in small communities and large she helped others to effect change. Black Lives Matter was a reaction to the unbelievable actions following Trayvon Martin's murder, Michael Brown's killing by an uncharged White policeman, and Sandra Bland's questionable suicide among others.

Much of this memoir focuses on Patrisse's family and family of friends.

I recommend this to all looking for greater insight into the Black experience in America.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
There's a lot of misinformation floating around about the Black Lives Matter movement, some of it clearly intended to discredit their push to hold law enforcement accountable and to draw attention to serious issues, but also some based on inadequate reporting and system bias. When They Call You a Terrorist is a memoir by one of the three women who founded Black Lives Matters and her account of her own life, as well as of the beginning months of Black Lives Matter is a good start to learning about what is really happening.

Patrisse Khan-Cullors grew up in Van Nuys, California, a part of greater Los Angeles inhabited by low income and middle class Hispanic and black people. The father who was around during her childhood had had a good job at an auto manufacturing plant, a job which gave him both a solid paycheck and a sense of pride. When the plant closed, the only work he could find was intermittent and badly paid, which put strain on his family and he eventually left. When They Call You a Terrorist is both starkly honest and clear in depicting how policies and events had direct impact on her family -- here showing how changes in manufacturing hurt not just white people, but also other members of the working class. Throughout the book, Khan-Cullors shows through incidents that shaped her own life, how mental illness is treated when the person suffering is a young black man of limited means, how the policing of young black boys is harmful, how housing policy hurts families, how hard it is to navigate life as both a black woman and as a queer woman and how a person raised in this environment can nonetheless rise into becoming a community activist and how important that role is.

I learned quite a bit from this book, but I also enjoyed reading about Khan-Cullors herself and how her life shaped who she is today.
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272 p.; 5.37 inches


1250171083 / 9781250171085

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