Book review: When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir, by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

Khan-Cullors, Patrisse and Asha Bandele. When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir.  “Advance reader’s edition.” St. Martin’s Press, [released January 16, 2018]. [272 pages]. $24.99. ISBN 9781250171085. Ages 14-up. P8Q8

Activist Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, explores racism in the structure of American society by revisiting her younger life in racially segregated suburban Los Angeles.  Contrasting the treatment of students in schools in a racially segregated  neighborhood with treatment of students in the nearby largely white, upper class school she attended points out the many ways that dominant society structures itself to keep minorities poor and incarcerated.  Stories about police and prison abuse of her schizophrenic brother bring a human side to what is more and more often the stuff of headlines.  Weaving a highly effective analysis of the lack of social justice and the active use of force against minorities with her personal, lived experiences makes this memoir memorable.

Verdict: This memoir comes at a time when structural racism is coming to awareness of all Americans.  Khan-Cullors repeats some of her stories, often to illustrate slightly different aspects of societal problems, and uses her life to humanize what would otherwise be a polemic.  This work not only reflects the life of an articulate black woman, but can also be a window into the effects of structural racism and economic inequality for white students. I hope that future books will talk more about the Black Lives Matter movement and her community building activities. Highly recommended for high school and public libraries.

May 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

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