Q&A — Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

When did you decide you wanted to write the book?

Patrisse: Well, I don’t know that I really decided; I feel like it got decided for me. Growing up so disenfranchised, I never thought, ‘Oh, I should tell my story. I should write my story down and write a book.’ But I went to Martha’s Vineyard and spoke on a panel with Issa Rae and Danny Glover, and a book editor came up to me afterwards and said, ‘I think you got a book in you.’

And a year later, as I continued to see the work of Black women in Black Lives Matter be erased, I went to asha and I said, ‘This person wants me to write a book. Do you think you could help me?” and she said to me, ‘We’re doing this.’ Six months later we had a book deal, and three months after that, a book.

It’s primarily been Black women in the last four years who have not only stood up for me, but have taken care of me and have believed in me. asha was one of those people and it’s been a really powerful process with her…

You enjoyed the collaborative process?

asha: I cherished the collaborative process. Having some of the conversations that I did with Patrisse deepened my commitment and knowledge around issues of Black liberation and racial equity. I don’t know that every collaborative process is the joy that ours was, but when we came to the end of it, there was a loneliness in my life.

Patrisse: We don’t get to talk to each other as much! It was almost like being in therapy for a long time. I’m a storyteller, and I understand how much storytelling releases trauma and also builds toward resilience. It was painful, it was joyful, it was powerful, the stories that I was able to tell asha are stories that only my family knows, so that was really a powerful release.

In the first chapter you write, “I was not expected or encouraged to survive.” In what ways did institutional racism invade your childhood?

Patrisse: I grew up in a working class neighborhood. My mother lived in Section 8 housing. I remember – I didn’t talk about this in the book, which is interesting – I remember using food stamps. And I think what’s important about being a child living in poverty and experiencing racism and discrimination is the shame that comes with it. It’s one thing to be discriminated against or to watch your mother unable to feed her children because she has to pay rent; it’s a whole other thing to manage the shame and humiliation that comes with that.

I think what really impacted me, my siblings and other people who I grew up with is that we all internalized the oppression of poverty. We believed that it was our fault that we were poor, and it was our fault that the police harassed us and abused us. And I think that it’s an important to say that this is how racism and discrimination works. People who are most directly impacted by it believe that it’s their fault, and believe that we have to hide it or fix it—alone.

In the face of racism and discrimination, how do you stay optimistic and focused?

Patrisse: One way that I stay optimistic is reminding myself that this is just a blip in history. There’s a long legacy of people, Black people in particular, who have fought for our humanity for 500 years. And this moment is just a moment, and when I can remember that it gives me hope. It reminds me that this is a long haul fight.

Another thing that gives me hope is my child. Watching him laugh and having literally no care in the world reminds of how important Black life is.

asha: Like you, Patrisse, my daughter gives me hope. I am moved and inspired by the clarity of the young people of her generation. And I’m also deeply hopeful because of the Black Lives Matter movement. I can’t overstate enough what the movement did for me, as somebody who loves my people. It reminded me that if we can imagine it, we can create it. I believe in this movement and it encourages me every good day that I wake up.

How has Black Lives Matter affected and helped communities and what do you think the future holds?

Patrisse: Over the last four years, we’ve worked with over 100 families that have been affected by police violence, whether the violence occurred in prisons and jails or outside in the streets. We have over 40 chapters across the globe, and we’ve been able to develop a narrative challenging anti-Black racism and its impact on Black communities, globally not domestically and I think that’s really powerful and important.

asha: The Black Lives Matter movement for somebody like me who has been involved in social justice work for 25 years, since I was in my 20s, made me braver than I had become. Racism and racial hatred is so exhausting and I’d worked on the issue of police violence since the 90s. I think I was a little beat down by it all, including the failures of many who claim to be concerned about social justice.

I watched Black people, including me, be undermined, go unheard, and be erased all by people who claimed to be progressive. So by 2013, it was all I could do to take care of myself and my daughter. But when BLM was born, I was given the space, centered as they are on healing trauma as much as they are on preventing it, to hold both of these priorities—my child’s and my community’s. BLM is a movement is started by three Black women, two of whom are Queer, and all of whom are deeply connected and centered on transformation—not only making legislative change but true cultural shifts.

Who do you hope reads this book?

Patrisse: I hope that little Black girls like I was—16, 17, 18—Black Queer girls in particular—trying to figure out their way - I hope they read the book. It’s important for me that they are able to read the book and see themselves in it. Anybody struggling with relationships with their children, black parents in particular, I think this can help a lot.

asha: This is a book for anybody and everybody who cares about living in a world in which all of our children, all of our elders, all humanity can survive. And so I hope that it shifts the hearts and minds of those who maybe have been peripherally involved but not really understood the fullness of the movement. I think this book is for everyone because no one is unaffected by that which Patrisse talks about.

In this book Patrisse talks about what happened to her family, but not only that. We unpack the policies that have been responsible for the loss of life and the loss of quality of life for millions of people at this point. Millions and millions of people: the drug war in this book. The war on gangs. Mass criminalization and incarceration. This is a book about America’s war on its young, in particular its young Black people. So this is a book for every who has hope for or belief in the American experiment in a multiracial, multicultural democracy.