“When They Call You a Terrorist” by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

When They Call You a Terrorist Image credit: Front cover of When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele. Macmillan.com

The subtitle to the New York Times Best Seller “When They Call You a Terrorist” is “a black lives matter memoir”. It refers to the fact that leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement have been called many names including terrorist. The book is a stark reminder that we still don’t have true equality in America, not to mention internationally.

This book is ruinously effective at driving home what it means to be a Black woman in America. It also holds a mirror to the blind eye people, especially those in power, turn when injustice is inflicted on those with Black and Brown skin. It is a story of love, hope and resilience. A call to action for all who read it.

A Quick Summary

On 26 February 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was on his way home from the convenience store when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman as he drove through the neighbourhood on a personal errand. In his trial in 2013, Zimmerman walked free like so many have done before. Patrisse Khan-Cullors was done, she’d experienced the inequality and targeting of black people by the law first hand and her outrage at Zimmerman’s freedom led her to co-found the now infamous Black Lives Matter movement.

Alongside Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, Patrisse would be labelled a threat to America and terrorist for this decision. In truth, these women built a movement out of love and a desire for justice. As the books blurb reminds us “protest in the interest of the most vulnerable comes from love.” In forming #BlackLivesMatter, these women put a target on their backs and they have been vilified by press and politicians alike.

The book is mostly a very personal account of what it was like to be on the front lines fighting for justice and how Patrisse transformed her own personal pain into political power. Starting with Patrisse’s own experiences grown up in LA to her first-hand experience of persecution and prejudice at the hands of law enforcement the book takes you on the journey of what led to the movements creation and the countries reaction. It can be difficult to read at times and forces those of us who are white to truly examine our own prejudice and privilege.

“When They Call You a Terrorist” takes you on a raw and difficult journey through what it was actually like trying to champion human rights when faced with such violent racism. It is a reflection on humanity, an account of survival and a call to action to everyone that reads it. This call to action is one we cannot ignore as it forces us to truly look at the culture we have built that has declared innocent Black lives as expendable.

The book was written in 2018 but reading it in 2023 reflecting back on everything a good decade after the beginning of #BlackLivesMatter reminds us of how far we have come but also how far we still have to go. It also reminds us of that age-old adage “if they’re telling you to shut up you’re doing something right”.

About the Authors

Asha Bandele is a journalist who has also written her own memoir “The Prisoner’s Wife” back in 1999. She brought her wealth of experience to help Patrisse Khan-Cullors tell her story.

Patrisse Kahn-Cullors grew up in an impoverished neighbourhood in Los Angeles and was raised by her single mother. A community activist with a degree in religion and philosophy, launched Dignity and Power Now a coalition designed to fight police brutality just a year before co-founding the Black Lives Matter Movement. An artist who has always fought anti-Black racism she has been honoured by several places as a history maker, civil rights leader for the 21st century and a kick-ass woman of color (DLG media).

Patrisse was asked to deliver the keynote address at many universities in 2016 including The University of Notre Dame and Cornell. She also received honorary doctorate degrees from Clarkson University and Chicago’s South Shore International College Preparatory High School.

Audience Reception

The audience reception of “When They Call You a Terrorist” has unsurprisingly been overwhelmingly positive. Being on many lists of Anti-Racist books you should be reading it has taken off and rightly so.

Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow”, calls the book a must read and one that “forces us to face the consequence of the choices our nation made when we criminalized a generation.” Time Magazine said “It is more than just a reflection on the American criminal justice system. It’s a call to action for readers to change a culture that allows violence against people of color.”

It made many best books of 2018 lists including The Root, Paste and Elle. O Magazine, Oprahs magazine, lauded the book with praise and listed it in their “10 titles to pick up now.”

The language used has been described as beautifully poetic and the message has been taken as not just a call to action but a symbol of hope that people want change and will work towards it. Booklist Starred Review called it “page-turning” and Entertainment Weekly described it as “impassioned, direct, inspiring and unsparing.”

It’s reception outside the press has also been overwhelmingly positive with the majority of Goodreads readers (61%) giving it a full five-star rating. The book has been so well received that Patrisse has done several lectures and talks about her book as well as having a fantastic book tour upon the books reliece.

Where to Buy

The book is available to buy from various places including:

  • https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250306906/whentheycallyouaterrorist
  • https://www.amazon.com/When-They-Call-You-Terrorist/dp/1250306906/
  • https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/when-they-call-you-a-terrorist-patrisse-cullors/1138895674?ean=9781250306906
  • https://www.walmart.com/ip/When-They-Call-You-a-Terrorist-A-Black-Lives-Matter-Memoir-Hardcover-9781250171085/56088898
  • https://www.powells.com/book/when-they-call-you-a-terrorist-9781250171085

It is also worth checking your local independent booksellers and second hand bookshops, or even looking in your local library if you cannot afford to buy. It is also available in various ebook forms for those who prefer a digital experience.