When They Call You a Terrorist


Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

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When They Call You a Terrorist Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele's When They Call You a Terrorist. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

Patrisse Khan-Cullors was born in Los Angeles County in 1984 and grew up at the height of the war on drugs. As a low-income Black child, she experienced racial profiling in school and watched both her disabled brother and nonviolent father go in and out of the prison system. In adulthood, she became a community organizer, focusing on addressing the effects of prison and over-policing on Black and Latinx neighborhoods in LA while also making art on the subject. After Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012—and the subsequent acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, in 2013—Khan-Cullors started the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, along with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi. Khan-Cullors self-identifies as queer and advocates for the centering of queer and trans voices in the BLM movement. As of 2021, Khan-Cullors continues to lead the Black Lives Matter Global Network while making art, writing books and television scripts, teaching at Prescott University, and raising her son, Shine.
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Historical Context of When They Call You a Terrorist

When They Call You a Terrorist spans from Khan-Cullors’s birth in June 1984 to the final months of 2016. During that time, the war on drugs and the war on gangs in the U.S. were having devastating effects on Black and Latinx communities like her own. As Khan-Cullors notes in her book, between 1982 and 2000, the prison population in California grew by 500 percent, and many of those imprisoned were poor and Black. Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012—and his killer George Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal of all charges in 2013—was a turning point in both Khan-Cullors’s memoir and U.S. society as a whole; as with the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, the public was suddenly focused on the violent consequences of being Black in the U.S. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement that took off in response to Martin’s death in Florida—as well as Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri—led to massive protests in cities across the U.S. and around the globe. As Khan-Cullors notes at the end of her book, Donald Trump’s election to the presidency in 2016 posed a threat to the BLM movement’s momentum, but the movement has carried on since then.

Other Books Related to When They Call You a Terrorist

Khan-Cullors is not the only Black Lives Matter founder to write a book about her experience with the movement—co-founder Alicia Garza published her own story in 2020 called The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together to Fall Apart. Both of these books build off the history of Black social movement leaders writing books that are both memoirs and calls to action, such as Angela Davis: An Autobiography or The Autobiography of Malcolm X. In When They Call You a Terrorist, Khan-Cullors also references specific authors and works that have influenced her activism, such as Audre Lorde’s collection of speeches and essays Sister Outsider, the sections of Emma Goldman’s memoir Living My Life that touch on gender and sexuality, and Michelle Alexander’s explosive nonfiction book about mass incarceration called The New Jim Crow. Khan-Cullors also starts her chapters with quotes pulled from books that touch on similar themes around organizing, racism, and sexism, such as Black activist Assata Shakur’s 1987 autobiography Assata and Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved.
Key Facts about When They Call You a Terrorist
  • Full Title: When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir
  • When Written: 2016–2017
  • Where Written: Los Angeles County, California
  • When Published: 2018
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Memoir, Autobiography
  • Setting: Los Angeles County, California
  • Climax: Trayvon Martin’s killer (George Zimmerman) is acquitted, and Patrisse helps start the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of Zimmerman’s trial.
  • Antagonist: U.S. policymakers who invest in prisons and policing rather than in amenities and support for Black communities
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for When They Call You a Terrorist

Co-authors. The writer asha bandele is officially listed as a co-author of When They Call You a Terrorist despite the fact that the book is a first-person account of Khan-Cullors’s life. Khan-Cullors made the choice not to hire a ghostwriter but instead to credit bandele for her work in helping Khan-Cullors turn her story into a book.

Playing Herself on Screen. Between 2019 and 2021, Khan-Cullors appeared in eight episodes of the television show Good Trouble, playing a fictionalized version of herself in a storyline about Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles. She was also a writer on the show and helped ensure that their representations of the organization were accurate.