by Assata Shakur (1987)


I read this more for the political analysis than the memoir, and was thus disappointed that so much of it was rather mediocre memoir. Reading about Assata’s life experience is interesting to be sure, but she didn’t give enough context for many of the most significant moments — e.g. the shootout, her trials, her escape — which made the rest of her account feel somehow bland.

I liked how she interspersed political analysis oftentimes where it was least expected. A couple of passages were absolutely quoteworthy:

The Upper West Side, as the neighborhood was called, was supposed to be a “liberal” stronghold. I have never really understood exactly what a “liberal” is, though, since I have heard “liberals” express every conceivable opinion on every conceivable subject. As far as I can tell, you have the extreme right, who are fascist, racist capitalist dogs like Ronald Reagan, who come right out and let you know where they’re coming from. And on the opposite end, you have the left, who are supposed to be committed to justice, equality, and human rights. And somewhere between those two points is the liberal. As far as I’m concerned, “liberal” is the most meaningless word in the dictionary. History has shown me that as long as some white middle-class people can live high on the hog, take vacations to Europe, send their children to private schools, and reap the benefits of their white skin privileges, then they are “liberals.” But when times get hard and money gets tight, they pull off that liberal mask and you think you’re talking to Adolf Hitler. They feel sorry for the so-called underprivileged just as long as they can maintain their own privileges. 132-3

At another point, speaking about misogyny:

The more I watched how boys and girls behaved, the more I read and the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that this behavior could be traced directly back to the plantation, when slaves were encouraged to take the misery of their lives out on each other instead of on the master. The slavemasters taught us we were ugly, less than human, unintelligent, and many of us believed it. Black people became breeding animals: studs and mares. A black woman was fair game for anyone at any time: the master or a visiting guest or any redneck who desired her. The slavemaster would order her to have six with this stud, seven with that stud, for the purpose of increasing his stock. She was considered less than a woman. she was a cross between a whore and a workhorse. Black men internalized the white man’s opinion of Black women. And, if you ask me, a lot of us still act like we’re back on the plantation with massa pulling the strings.

All in all it was an educational experience, but there are more compelling memoirs and more cogent analyses. This is a decent place to start for those interested in the Black Liberation movement. I look forward to reading Angela Davis next.

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