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  • Writer's pictureFrances

Patrisse Khan-Cullors In Conversation About #BLACKLIVESMATTER | Manchester Literature Festival

Inside Manchester Central Library, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors and award-winning author, Jackie Kay ask, ‘what does freedom look like to you?’ In a show that raises more questions than it answers, Patrisse begins by examining the systems in place that continue to keep people of colour (POC) under surveillance and under suspicion.

Reports of racial hate crimes have risen since the Brexit vote, and the “post-racial” America that Obama put in place, has since been erased. We appear to have become accustomed to generalising and labelling communities with a presumption of guilt attached to POC.

Patrisse’s memoir, When They Call You A Terrorist, allows the reader to enter a world unexplored. A real-world story that follows the shared experience of many POC whose families grew up in poor communities. It is also a unique story of punishment and containment that shaped the push for a political movement.

Trained as a community organiser from the age of sixteen, as a black queer woman, Patrisse was viewed as living outside of the margins of even the black community. Faith-based discrimination and a constant police presence has forced her to the frontlines to fight discrimination. Speaking about how schools equipped with metal detectors, guards and bars have become indiscriminate from prisons, Patrisse plays with the language used to stigmatise her family at an early age.

The memoir is split into two parts, with the first half exploring her childhood in dept. Patrisse describes how mass incarceration left few behind to nurture, protect and defend families. In a community with limited resources and programs in place, people-powered campaigns become vital. Destigmatising mental illness, Patrisse also addresses overlapping forms of discrimination. Her brother Monty was arrested and charged with terrorism after getting into a car accident. At eighteen he was diagnosed as having Schizoaffective disorder by a prison doctor but was reported to have been stripped, beaten and starved by prison staff for the years he remained behind bars. The second half of the book, focuses on Patrisse’s activism and adulthood where Black Lives Matter has been labelled a terrorist organisation and her home raided in response to her push for justice.

The Black Lives Matter movement appeared in 2013, rallying communities into action after George Zimmerman had been acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin. The question of self-defence was raised over racial profiling, and in the end, it was a Stand Your Ground statute that made it legal for Zimmerman to follow the seventeen-year-old high school student home and fatally shoot him.

The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter spread organically, and Patrisse continues to work with founders Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi to fight discrimination. For women, there remains a larger issue of a lack of representation in leadership and social equality, but Patrisse’s memoir shines some light on the women typically forgotten from their own narratives. Offering a platform for inclusivity and a recognition of shared trauma, this is a movement that has helped the rise of #SayHerName and #MeToo. Organisations started by black women who have strategised and shaped the way for everybody to raise their voice.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Asha Bandele and Patrisse Cullors - Available now

This review was originally written for Northern Soul

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