Hello everybody!!! It has been a HOT MINUTE since I posted on here, so excuse me if this is long… BUT ANYWAYS!!! Todays book is thoroughly inspiring and informative, offering an alternative history; the flip side of a coin that has us all in its clutches, exposing the sinister and ubiquitous state sanctioned violence that upholds white western capitalist patriarchies. It is with great esteem and admiration that I introduce todays book… ASSATA: An Autobiography. The story of the FBI’s most wanted woman.
First and foremost: Assata Shakur is a fucking bad ass and we should all worship at her feet. Now we have that out the way I can make my next statement: how and why isn’t Assata’s story more pronounced in popular culture and mainstream histories of Black American resistance to racism?!? We all know Malcolm and Martin, but where was Assata on the history syllabus?!? Perhaps my ignorance stems from individual laziness, or a lack of prompts into further investigation from a white background unconcerned with disrupting the status quo. But I also strongly believe larger white supremacist algorithms have worked hard at disrupting the astounding influence of Assata’s activism, painting her out to be a monster rather than the martyr she truly is.
Prior to reading her book, the only knowledge I had of Assata was that she is Tupac’s god mother, and was in the Black Panthers. In my basicness, I imagined god-like qualities for her, assuming that she had been born enlightened and was always down for Black liberation the moment she exited the womb. Reading Assata, you follow the events and experiences that accumulated towards her acute awareness of racial inequality- how she describes the segregated south and its forbidden amusement parks, or how cruel she was to the first boy who loved her on account of his skin and how other kids teased him. It is not easy sailing following the path that unfolded for Assata to learn her activism, her enlightenment to violent abuse systemically and sustainably enacted upon the Black American community (I could go into her developing awareness of gender differences as well, but despite her undeniable intersectional feminism, Assata’s book is proudly preoccupied with racial politics).
However, as this is a very personal account and as Assata is still in hiding (she can’t give certain names or go in-depth about her escape, as the US government could use it against her), it feels like some larger historical details and general explanations of political happenings are missing. If you are wanting to educate yourself on the wider history of Black Liberation, especially the Black Panthers and Black Liberation Army, then this book is a great place to start but you will still need to do further reading to fully build the whole picture.
Assata has a brilliant knack for exposing hidden realities underpinning the seemingly innocuous face of the ‘American Dream’. She interjects some history lessons about the American Civil war alongside the unfolding of her own education, as she was taught to praise Northern America for helping end slavery, feeling betrayed and rightly furious when deeper investigation during her college years revealed a very different truth. Assata critiques many facets of culture where black people are exploited but never praised, and thanks to Assata spilling the tea I now no longer like Elvis Presley. It is mind-boggling when you become aware of the double-sided nature of things, how the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy masquerades in flowered dresses to hide the wolf within.
Despite the scathing and rightly critical analysis of racism in American society, her voice throughout is an inviting one. There’s a bohemian coolness underlying a zealous love for life, and disrespect for abusive authority in all its manifestations. You get the sense of somebody loud but not arrogant, somebody striving to find beauty rather than be it. The style of writing is traditional prose, which narrated by Assata’s keen wit and tenderness, makes for an easy but emotional read. One element of the novel I really enjoyed was the inclusion of some of Assata’s poetry, it was interesting to see the contrast and similarities between her prose and poetry. There is a directness of line and sparse intensity of language in the poems that really enhances the prosaic progression of narrative; adding deeper intimacy into how she was feeling at the time.
Ultimately this autobiography does exactly what it should: gives unprecedented access into the inner mind of one of the 20th century’s most radical revolutionaries. Her bravery and determination in defying the norms of a fucked up world are very inspiring- resisting arrest, giving birth in prison, escaping to Cuba- and I wish I had found this book earlier on. Not only to learn more about the history of Black Liberation to fight white supremacism manifest in all western capitalist societies, but because I really think she is a great role model. Assata teaches us to think for ourselves, to know your enemies and not build your own prison from their lies, her story is for anybody who wants to dedicate their life to being a free individual.
“…My patience was zero. i didn’t want to wait for something to happen. i was into living and living for now. i was hungry, starving for life, but at the same time i was growing more and more cynical every day. i wanted to go everywhere, do everything, and be everything, all at the same time. i wanted to experience everything, know how everything felt. i had many zigzag conflicting ideas rolling around in my head at the same time. One day i was happy just to be alive and young and moving. The next day i felt like the world was coming to the end. Everything in my life was jagged, sharp, unfinished edges. Nothing happened calmly. Nothing was like i had thought it would be when i was little…”