Been there, Read that

Assata Shakur – An Autobiography

Just like Bell Hooks’ book on class, Assata Shakur’s autobiography was an eye opener, to the intricacies of racism, what it means to love ourselves, as individuals and as a collective. We are going to tell these black stories, disrupting the narrative and letting our children know that we were here, we felt, we loved and we died. And all of it is valid. Struggle sometimes blinds us to the moments of joy inbetween. Shakur’s pregnancy was that light in the dim circumstances thrust on her, how she fought to hold on to it, a resilience many of us are all too familiar with. We feel it in the spaces we find ourselves in, where they try to squeeze every bit of blackness out of us. Save for our skin, which holds on and serves as a reminder to us of our pact with the universe. How we are not easily conquered, how these stories will outlive us and echo affirmation to the generations that will come after us and refuse to bend. Her pain, her strength, her refusal to overlook the happy moments is my story. Of what it means to find yourself in a place so violent to your black body, constantly squeezing out metaphors as a way of raging against erasure.

“Only a fool lets somebody else tell him who his enemy is.”

I love Assata. I love every word of her book, her thoughts on revolution and accountability, intersection and education. I love her. I want to share this book with everyone I know. I want you guys to meet Evelyn, her mother, the women she was with in prison, the black panthers, Stanley Cohen, her daughter. I want you to meet every part of her, from her convictions to her thoughts on revolution and freedom.

Reading this cemented my view of the importance of narrative. We need to flood libraries and bookstores with words like these. Words our children can use as mirrors, and, in times of desperation, as a compass. We are going to tell these survival stories, because to be black is a revolution, a constant search for belonging, and sometimes we need to call ourselves home. This book is home. Assata Shakur wrote home for me years ago, she articulated my struggles and put my paranoia suspicions at bay. Everything you feel as a violent thrust against your humanity, your womanhood, is valid.

The context of being black and a woman in 2017 is flooded with propaganda about how it’s in the past. My convictions are dismissed as nostalgia, get over it is the prescription for every form of oppression I speak up against. Disheartening as it may be to find myself dealing with the same struggles decades later, I hold on to the parts that affirm that everything I’m feeling is valid. Every moment of choosing me is valid. Every bit of my blackness I hold on to matters. I loved reading this book, each page was like water to my parched soul, each poem a love letter, each paragraph an awakening.

“Every day out in the street now, I remind myself that Black people in amerika are oppressed. It’s necessary that I do that. People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.”

I was worried I’d grow tired of how the book kept alternating between her older and younger self with each chapter, but I ended up loving it. I’d be so caught up in her adult life and wishing that that would continue, but as soon as I got to the younger part, all of that vanished and I now wanted this one to continue. Assata is a great storyteller, she paints person, becoming and politics in such a vivid way. I saw myself in her book.

What stood out for me was how important it was to her not to be self absorbed, to look at not just the struggle of one but the struggle of all.

“Any community seriously concerned with its own freedom has to be concerned about other peoples’ freedom as well.”

Did I mention how much I love her? Drop your email in the comments section and I’ll send you the book.

Image source: Good Reads

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4 thoughts on “Assata Shakur – An Autobiography

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