Assata: An Autobiography (Shakur)

At least I had heard of Cesar Chavez. I can’t say with any confidence that I’d heard of Assata Shakur until some former students posted lists of their favorite books and the #handsoffassata (I don’t even know what the noun is here) starting popping up when things between Cuba and the United States finally began to make their way towards sanity.

The thing is I’ve read a lot of autobiographies. I’ve always been convinced that there is something uniquely American about them, this desire we have to tell our own story. Familiar elements are here – a name change, a desire for self-improvement, extremely low points, etc.. And this is an American story. Or maybe it’s better to say it’s a story of America.

Mostly, though, what struck me is that much of what seems to be boiling over today, Shakur experienced and wrote about 30+ years ago. She makes some great points about education; I have one question about mine. Where was she? I learned so much from this book, from following her both backwards and forwards from her 1973 arrest in New Jersey.

Her remarks about revolution and the problems of expansion resonate a great deal from my recent study of Chavez. Her point that it is international capitalism and not exclusively racism that is at the heart of the struggle was just one of those clouds open up kind of epiphanies for me, a sort of cog in that system. Her acute attention to gender pierced me with its truth.

She also tipped the balance for me. With the words of Ta-Nehesi Coates’ article still pinballing around in my head, I now find myself in support of the US Government paying reparations. I know the logistics are mind-boggling; that said, the money is overdue.

Beautiful writing; sharp poetry.


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