A review of a Bristol Festival of Ideas event on the 12th March 2018
The words Black Lives Matter must have reached the ears of most in Britain by now. Comparatively few, however, will know that the global civil rights movement of which they are the name and reigning idea, was founded by three women – two of whom identify as queer. Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, Patrisse Khan-Cullors. That so many of us who are acquainted with their ideas do not know their names is symptomatic of the racialised sexism faced by black women everywhere, but also testament to the particularly democratic nature of the fight that these three founded. ‘We do not want to control it. We want it to spread like wildfire,’ writes Khan-Cullors in her recent book When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, co-written with journalist asha bandele.
Khan-Cullors was with us this week in Bristol to speak about the memoir and the movement. In fact, memory and movement may be said to be the two pillars of the Black Lives Matter approach, for as Khan-Cullors puts it, we need to talk about the trauma that black people have faced and still face, “but we also have to talk about the resistance.”
Thus her book falls into two parts: first, a record of childhoods (hers, and of all the black kids termed “super-predators” by a racist state but “the forgotten generation” by Khan-Cullors) damaged by the repeated message – coming from schools, from police, from the mass incarceration of people in their community – that their lives did not matter. She writes with devastating clarity of the harm done to young people for whom “there is nowhere that they can be or feel safe. No place where there are jobs. No city, no block, where what they know, all they know, is that their lives matter, that they are loved.” She writes of how the state’s staggeringly unjust war on drugs effectively targeted black people over and above whites, and of the “external factors” such as a lack of supports and resources, “including the general sense that their life matters” that “exacerbate chaotic drug use, send people into hell.” …