BLM co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors in new memoir: “We believed it was our fault that we were poor”
By Erin White
January 18, 2018
What’s it like to be called a terrorist when you’re the embodiment of the whole universe?
Entering the 5th year of the movement she co-founded with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, Black Lives Matter organizer, educator, community activist, and artist Patrisse Khan-Cullors is setting the record straight in her revelatory new memoir When they call you a Terrorist.
The new book, now out in stores, chronicles Khan-Cullors upbringing in a low-income section of Van Nuys, CA. with her three older brothers, baby sister, and their multi-job working mother in a mostly Mexican neighborhood. A neighborhood where police circle the block and the only place for groceries are the 7-11 or liquor store. Like her mother, she writes, she and her siblings were not meant to survive.
Co-written with award-winning author and journalist Asha Bandele, the book is a gripping read that feels more like conversation with a close friend than it does a book in the ways that offers the most intimate view of the trauma, fear, loss of innocence, and despair that comes with being a “disposable”, under-supported and over-policed person in White society.
“I grew up in a working-class neighborhood,” Khan-Cullors said. “My mother lived in Section 8 housing. I remember – I didn’t talk about this in the book, which is interesting – I remember using food stamps. And I think what’s important about being a child living in poverty and experiencing racism and discrimination is the shame that comes with it. It’s one thing to be discriminated against or to watch your mother unable to feed her children because she has to pay rent; it’s a whole other thing to manage the shame and humiliation that comes with that.”
What’s so remarkable about this book is that it’s more than one woman’s story. It is, in many ways, a historical account of contemporary black life and the affects the Prison Industrial Complex and mass incarceration, food insecurity, mental health access, poverty, the education system, homophobia, and many other intersectional issues that play their role in oppressing People of Color and cause detriment to our ability to survive, let alone thrive.
“I think what really impacted me, my siblings and other people who I grew up with is that we all internalized the oppression of poverty,” Khan-Cullors continued. “We believed that it was our fault that we were poor, and it was our fault that the police harassed us and abused us. And I think that it’s an important to say that this is how racism and discrimination works. People who are most directly impacted by it believe that it’s their fault, and believe that we have to hide it or fix it—alone.”
It’s the journey of an out-of-place queer black girl who emerges from soil that was supposed to condition her to be suspected over-policed for the rest of her lie to the leader of a movement the powers the be are terrified of.
“I hope that little Black girls like I was—16, 17, 18—Black Queer girls in particular—trying to figure out their way – I hope they read the book. It’s important for me that they are able to read the book and see themselves in it. Anybody struggling with relationships with their children, black parents in particular, I think this can help a lot.”