65. “Assata,” Assata Shakur

“Assata” is the autobiography of Assata Shakur, who was framed by the US government for multiple bank robberies, held for years in deplorable conditions in a men’s prison before being tried and acquitted, and wrongly convicted of the murder of a State Trooper. Assata escaped from prison in 1979 and for the past 26 years, lived in Cuba as a political prisoner. The FBI continues to consider her a domestic terrorist.

I really enjoyed this book. Assata’s an excellent writer, and her writing felt so immediate. I felt like I was with her in every scene, from working on the grandparents’ beach in the summer, to fighting with her mom, or being chained to a hospital bed. I’m not usually able to visualize when I read, but I saw and felt so much of what Assata said.

Assata is such a beautiful person. She has so much love. Black Panthers are usually painted as separatist, dangerous, violent, hateful militants. While Assata never shies from that term, when she uses it, it is an endorsement, not the indictment it is usually used as. Assata reproduces a speech she made in which she said “I am a Black revolutionary. By that i mean that i have declared war on all forces that have raped our women, castrated our men, and kept our babies empty-bellied” (49-50).

We could use more revolutionaries.

Something I knew I would find challenging going into this book is that I grew up White in the suburbs; I have always been taught that police are my friends and are trying to protect me. It’s difficult for me to understand blanket hatred and mistrust of the police, even as I know that for many Black parents teaching their children to fear the police is an act of preservation that they must transmit. I know that intellectually, and reading how Assata was treated by so many people wearing uniforms and official badges, I understand why she hates the police. But part of me still resists. Part of me still wants to see their actions as those of isolated individuals drawn to power, rather than a manifestation of the power of the government.

On 139, Assata writes “nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who are oppressing them.” I think this quote sumarizes well the Black consciousness movement

But in the past several years, I have noticed that I feel the same uneasiness around the police that I have around so many authority figure: they make me feel guilty and scared like I have done something wrong. I am frightened to look directly at them, and frightened not to show them respect. I am starting to wonder how much of the trust I feel or have felt in the police is trust in my own privilege, that I am not the one for whom they are coming. The discomfort has certainly coincided with my questioning of my power.

There in a weekly video broadcast I watch called the Lucille Clifton Rebirth Broadcast. In it, Alexis Grumbs reads a poem by Lucille Clifton and discusses it while giving an assignment for one to write on. This week’s poem was “Dialysis,” in which Lucille Clifton reflects on surviving her cancer, only to then have to survive dialysis, ending, “I am alive and furious.” I loved this line and it made me think of Assata. How wonderful to be alive, how wonderful to be furious, rather than beaten. Assata says near the end of the book, “every day out on 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” (262). It takes so much strength and power to face that and keep fighting. After what Assata has been though, she would have earned the right to just quietly run out her days, but that’s not what she does. She keeps writing, keeps speaking truth to power.

Page count: 320
Page total: 18,349

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