Review & Quotes: Assata: An Autobiography (@agent_of_change)

Assata Shakur’s auto­bi­o­graphy – first pub­lished in 1988 and newly repub­lished this year by Zed Books – has lost none of its rel­ev­ance. It remains an essen­tial text for under­stand­ing both the pris­on-indus­tri­al com­plex and the state of race rela­tions in the US, as well as provid­ing a pro­found insight into the suc­cesses and fail­ures of the Black Power move­ment of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Born in 1947, Assata Shak­ur (then JoAnne Deborah Byron) grew up between North Car­o­lina and New York, exper­i­en­cing the intense racism that pre­vailed – and pre­vails – both sides of the Mason-Dix­on line. As a black, work­ing class female, she became acutely aware of the spe­cial oppres­sion she and oth­ers like her faced. As a col­lege stu­dent, she came across act­iv­ists – espe­cially stu­dents from newly-lib­er­ated Africa – who chal­lenged her anti-com­mun­ist pre­ju­dices and her inter­n­al­ised ste­reo­types, and encour­aged her to get involved in the struggle for black power and against cap­it­al­ism and imper­i­al­ism. This led to her mem­ber­ship of the Black Pan­ther Party and, later, the Black Lib­er­a­tion Army.

The lar­ger part of the book is devoted to doc­u­ment­ing Assata’s exper­i­ences with the ‘justice’ sys­tem, in courts and pris­ons, between her arrest in 1971 and her escape eight years later. Few read­ers would fail to be shocked at the extent to which this human being, whose real ‘crime’ in the eyes of the state was to be a loud cam­paign­er for justice and equal­ity, was tor­tured and abused in pris­on – often at the hands of openly fas­cist­ic pris­on officers.

Her account also serves as a cru­cial remind­er that there remain many polit­ic­al pris­on­ers in the US, lan­guish­ing behind bars for dec­ades on trumped-up charges. Inter­na­tion­al pres­sure must be main­tained and intens­i­fied until Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sun­di­ata Acoli, Leonard Pel­ti­er, Oscar López Rivera, Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whit­more, Albert Wood­fox and all polit­ic­al pris­on­ers are freed. Fur­ther­more we must main­tain the fight against an phe­nom­en­ally unjust pris­on sys­tem which dis­pro­por­tion­ately tar­gets poor and non-white people (and this is not restric­ted to the US – a recent study showed that black people in Bri­tain are sev­en times more likely than their white coun­ter­parts to be imprisoned).

Assata’s pro­found and thought-pro­vok­ing reflec­tions on the decline of the Black Power move­ment deserve to be stud­ied and dis­cussed, as they could help illu­min­ate a path for the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of organ­isers and act­iv­ists. Aside from the object­ive factor (the FBI’s large-scale cov­ert assault on the Pan­thers and oth­ers), Assata gives a great deal of atten­tion to the sub­ject­ive factor, in par­tic­u­lar an ele­ment of adven­tur­ism, sec­tari­an­ism, ama­teur­ish­ness, fail­ure to con­sist­ently raise levels of polit­ic­al con­scious­ness, and ali­en­a­tion from the masses.

Assata’s con­tinu­ing rel­ev­ance is not lost on the FBI, which last year added her to its list of Most Wanted Ter­ror­ists (she is the first female to enjoy this hon­our – good to see US imper­i­al­ism doing its bit for gender equal­ity). Thank­fully, she is safely in exile in Cuba, a coun­try she describes as “one of the largest, most res­ist­ant and most cour­ageous palenques (maroon camps) that has ever exis­ted on the face of this plan­et.”

‘Assata: An Auto­bi­o­graphy’ is essen­tial read­ing.

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Gata Malandra

Gata Malandra

Edit­or / Research­er at No Bounds
Gata is a music and arts lov­er, stud­ied anthro­po­logy, art man­age­ment and media pro­duc­tion ded­ic­at­ing most of her time to cre­at­ive pro­jects pro­duced by No Bounds.
Gata Malandra

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About Gata Malandra

Gata Malandra
Gata is a music and arts lover, studied anthropology, art management and media production dedicating most of her time to creative projects produced by No Bounds.

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