FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Resisting Oppression

African-Americans’ resistance to police mistreatment is rooted in the history of U.S. capitalist slavery and white supremacy. The group, or class, oppression continues, and is a central feature of the national landscape. This material reality propels When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors (St. Martin’s Press, 2017).

The author, with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, co-founded BLM after a white vigilante shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year-old, in Florida six years ago. Khan-Cullors’ memoir begins in a deindustrializing Los Angeles, Calif. In this place and time, President Ronald Reagan oversees a Drug War.

Its victims are low-income blacks and Latinos. The perpetrators are what the late István Mészáros, a Hungarian Marxist philosopher, calls the Leviathan state of courts, jails, police and prisons. Khan-Cullors provides a personal and political lens to this history.

For instance, the author’s older brother battles mental health issues. That occurs in and out of incarceration. His inhumane treatment for mental illness is a factor igniting her political consciousness.

In the first of the two-part-book, General Motors Corp. lays off Khan-Cullors’ father. He joins the ranks of low pay, unstable work arrangements. The author’s mother labors union-free and thus by definition precarious, well before the term existed. What is new is old.

The author and her siblings, two brothers and one sister, are latchkey kids, in an under-resourced neighborhood. The police here harass and hurt the nonwhite mainly male teens in the community. The impacts on the author, her family and neighborhood cut deep.

She comes to understand the social forces at play through her experiences in and out of her household. The author flourishes in the classroom, where female teachers mentor her. This experience paves the path for her blossoming in social justice nonprofits.

At the base of class, gender and race oppression is corporate globalization of production. Investment capital flees the U.S. for the Global South of low pay and lax environmental laws. As nonwhites become superfluous to the labor market, they experience daily police violence. This policy of criminalizing low-income national minorities is a hallmark of neoliberalism, the policies and politics of state discipline for a part of the working class.

BLM forms out of this hell. Khan-Cullors describes this personal and social process. Spoiler alert: a four-letter word: love, is central to BLM, contrary to fear mongering of the movement as a threat to public safety.

Many are the moving passages that describe the healing processes to overcome the layered familial and social challenges Khan-Cullors experiences. To this end, she humanizes people on the front line of a gendered and racialized class conflict. Its impacts lead to trauma for her family and the broader community.

A major theme in the memoir is finding and nurturing the space and time to heal. We see the influence of Eve Ensler, activist, author and playwright, on Khan-Cullors. Finding a haven in a heartless society is vital to freedom struggles.

The second of the two-part memoir focuses on the formation of BLM. It is a striking narrative, with far-reaching ripples, from the recent rise of teens against mass gun school violence to women generally rising up against sexual mistreatment. Becoming conscious of others’ oppression can and does help others to understand and act on their second-class treatment.

Khan-Cullors chooses action and thought, or praxis, as the way forward. The choice shapes her and others. (Wo)men do make history under living and working conditions not of their choosing, to paraphrase Karl Marx.

The author’s relationship with her mother, born into a Jehovah’s Witness family, is rich in nuance. Several passages convey the rock-solid role of single-mothering four kids in a community beset by too few resources, save for policing and prosecuting youth. They are a politically powerless demographic unless they organize to make demands on the capitalist state. BLM forms a clear demand to the police: “Hands up don’t shoot.”

At points, the author verges on a critique of what Glen Ford, executive editor of the Black Agenda Report, calls the African American political mis-leadership class involved in the corporate-state backlash against national minorities and the working class generally, but steps back from that. Perhaps this stance is due to the Democratic Party’s impact on BLM, as Margaret Kimberly, Ford’s colleague, suggests.

Nevertheless, Khan-Cullors’ memoir is a compelling read on many levels. I commend it to readers.

More articles by:

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Emailsethsandronsky@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail