Book Review: ‘Assata. An Autobiography’, by Assata Shakur

n Autobiography written by a living icon in her own words.

‘Assata’. An Autobiography’  tells the story of Assata Shakur’s life, her thoughts, her inner fears, her experiences, and her reason(s) for being. It has completely changed my life and Assata has become one of my personal sheroes. After reading Malcolm X’s autobiography, I thought I could never be more influenced and impressed by any other autobiography or memoir, but then came ‘Assata’ and Malcolm definitely has had to share the pole position.

What made the deepest impression on me were two things: Assata’s character, and the ridiculous way the ‘justice’ system works. Assata’s tenacity and her stubborn unwillingness to cave in or be subdued moved me deeply. The torture, discrimination, and injustices she was exposed to were just unbelievable. This autobiography almost reads like a dystopian novel.

I was struck by the absurdity of it all, her ‘trial’, her treatment in prison, her experiences as an incarcerated pregnant woman, the birth of her baby. Everything read like a horror film that she tried to escape from but couldn’t, because the people who were supposed to help her and carry out justice were complicit at best, and active agents working against her at worst.

A lesser woman (or man) would have succumbed to their fate, but Assata never gave up.  She bravely soldiered on, regardless of the hardships she was facing.

Aside from telling Assata’s incredible life story, the book is also an open accusation of the US ‘justice’ system, the dangerously influential role the media plays in our society, and the prejudices a large majority of people in society hold towards non-white, and especially black people.

Throughout the book, I reminded myself of the reason why Assata (and others like her) have had to go through so much pain, trouble and humiliation. It is not because they want to become the president of the United States, or because they want to become the CEO of large multinationals – no. All of the suffering and fighting has been motivated by the desire to be treated as human beings, by the need for black people to be treated fairly and equally, for their humanity to be recognised and respected. That is it. Basic human decency and respect. Nothing more, nothing less.

‘Assata’ was published in the 1980s but her story reads like the stories of countless black people, and black women in particular, today. The book reminds us of how little has actually changed, how much more work there is to be done. It is almost discouraging and depressing to realise that things have not improved over the past 30 years, yet Assata’s resilience, her willingness to fight, her deep-rooted belief in the cause and in justice and equality for her people, does not allow us to slip into despair, instead she rallies us around the cause and readies us for what is to come.

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