“We actually do have an ideological frame,” says Black Lives Matter founder Patrisse Cullors of herself and co-founder Alicia Garza. “Myself and Alicia in particular are trained organizers. We are trained Marxists. We are super-versed on, sort of, ideological theories.”
Much has been made of that statement from Cullors, and rightly so. And it’s hardly all she has said about the subject. In an April 2018 interview, Patrisse added, “I went through a year-long organizing program at the National School for Strategic Organizing (NSSO), and it was led by the Labor Community Strategy Center. We spent the year reading, anything from Marx, to Lenin, to Mao, learning all types of global critical theory and about different campaigns across the world.”
That, too, is hardly the end. Patrisse Cullors has been an open book when it comes to her life and beliefs. In fact, open that book — her 2017 memoirs, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, which includes a foreword by America’s most famous female Marxist, Angela Davis, a mentor and inspiration. Even before the foreword from comrade Angela, Cullors’s book begins with Marxism. The lead quote on the dedication page is from Assata Shakur, written as poetic verse. The last line echoes the concluding words of Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto:
It is our duty to fight for freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.
Like Angela Davis, Shakur was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. She was a member of the Black Liberation Army in the 1970s, an extremist offshoot of the Black Panthers. She was convicted in the murder of a police officer in a May 1973 shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike. Guilty of several crimes, she was sentenced for life, but escaped from prison in 1979. She was discovered in Fidel Castro’s Cuba in 1984, where she has been hiding and protected ever since. She remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
That’s how this book begins, with comrade Assata and comrade Angela — the latter a dubious Lenin Prize winner, for which she was feted in Moscow in 1979, and a darling of the Soviet Communist Bloc.
Davis perfectly sets the tone for the memoirs, given that much of what Cullors writes in this book is about sex, gender, feminism, and ideology. Davis’s opening paragraph shares her “exciting” take on “Patrisse and her comrades,” on “Black and left,” on “feminist and queer.” Davis revels in the language of the academic Left, whether talking about “Queer Theory” or “intersectionality” or the “intersection of race and disability.” She takes after “white supremacist institutions,” “structural racism,” “racist, misogynist, and transphobic eruptions of violence,” the “global surge in Islamophobia,” the “continued occupation of Palestine” (i.e., by Jews in Israel), “colonialism and slavery.” On the sunny side, she pauses the attacks to commend “comrade Patrisse” for illuminating “a life deeply informed by race, class, gender, sexuality, disability” and for teaching us “how art and activism can transform such tragic confrontations into catalysts for greater collective consciousness and more effective resistance.”
This intro foreshadows exactly where Patrisse Cullors goes with this book and, ultimately, with her organization, Black Lives Matter. As Americans have witnessed clearly over the last year, and especially at BLM’s website, this movement goes way beyond race. If BLM was dedicated strictly to, say, halting police violence and brutality toward black people, then nary a soul would object. I’d personally write checks and put a sign in my yard. But the reality is that Cullors’s vision is a very far-left one. Reading this memoir makes that even more clear than reading the BLM website. And yet, it’s obvious that not enough people have read the book; otherwise there would be a much better understanding of its author.
Speaking of which, I must state emphatically that what Cullors’s memoirs say about the racism she experienced growing up is significant and absolutely merits sympathy. The material on her father and brother is heartbreaking, prompting me personally to pause at times to pray for them as I pushed through their agony in these pages — especially the father, Gabriel Brignac, the kind of guy I knew growing up. Or consider what she writes about her first husband, Mark Anthony, when armed police in riot gear banged down their door, yanked him out of bed, and handcuffed him in the middle of the night with no warrant because he “fit the description.” You understand her bitterness. But it’s harder to understand her intense bitterness toward America across the board, not just on race issues, but everything from health care to unemployment to wages to Abu Ghraib to Vietnam and Korea and the American flag to, well, you name it.
Cullors appears to strongly dislike America, seemingly seeing little to no redeeming value in this country. “I hold the flag that had covered his casket,” she writes of the sad funeral of her father, a war veteran, “this man who died of a broken heart in this nation of broken promises, and I think that if my father could not be possible in this America, then how is it such a thing as America can ever be possible?”
That is a sentiment that millions of black Americans — who constitute the greatest success story of survival, perseverance, and success in U.S. history — would emphatically reject.
Cullors appears to strongly dislike America, seemingly seeing little to no redeeming value in this country.
As an academic and scholar who studies, writes, and lectures on Marxism and political ideologies, I will focus here on what Cullors’s memoirs tell us about the Marxist ideology that she sadly has chosen to embrace. In that regard, there’s much in this book that’s troubling and even tragic.
From the first pages, one is struck hard by the obsession with identity politics. Hers is not a color-blind, sex-blind, or gender-blind perspective. Everyone is identified if not defined by color, race, ethnicity, sex, and gender. It’s a worldview we all thought we were trying to reverse and look beyond. Following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we thought we were supposed to judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. That’s not how Patrisse Cullors sees it. For her, all people fit into a preconceived category. There’s also a politicization of language and style. The word “Black” is in upper case (as is “Brown”), whereas “white” and other non-black (non-brown) identities are lower case. (Also upper case are the words “Gay” and “Queer.” Strangely, the names of certain individuals in this book and in Cullors’s life are spelled in lower case, including her assistant author “asha bandele” and inspirations such as “bell hooks.”) For over thirty years, I have been a copy editor working from Associated Press style guides. You may have noticed that this change by Cullors and BLM is suddenly the dominant style in newspaper and web publishing. The word “Black” is now uniquely upper cased.
Through the first four chapters of the book, we learn about Cullors’s parents and upbringing. In Chapter Five, we start to get a glimpse of her leftist ideology taking shape. The key moment was her enrollment in “my new magnum program, Cleveland High,” located in Reseda in California’s San Fernando Valley, a totally different place than the rough Van Nuys neighborhood where she grew up.
The school today goes by the name Cleveland Humanities Magnet. As I write, the home page of its website sports a Black Lives Matter emblem among the Instagram buttons. The “About Us” section features this statement about racial and ethnic diversity:
Staying true to its goal of integration, Cleveland Humanities Magnet takes it to the next level, by ensuring that the program, and the curriculum, also reflects the diversity of the population it serves. As one of the most diverse cities in the world, Los Angeles provides very few opportunities for diverse groups to develop a common community. In this case, Cleveland Humanities Magnet does not “track” students into classes based on their ability levels, since that approach often yields further segregation. Rather, the program maximizes the ethnic and racial diversity of its student body by integrating it as part of the curriculum, respecting and addressing differences in lifestyle and outlook. This transcendence of ethnocentric attitudes is key to the study of the humanities since one must learn about other cultures and other people before learning about one’s own culture. The diverse Cleveland Humanities Magnet student body helps make that possible.
Ironically, that statement is placed under a photo of about thirty students, not one of whom is black:
Cullors attended the school in the late 1990s and early 2000s and got a heavy dose of leftist indoctrination. “Cleveland’s humanities program is rooted in social justice,” she wrote, “and we study apartheid and communism in China. We study Emma Goldman and read bell hooks, Audre Lorde…. We are encouraged to challenge racism, sexism, classism and heteronormativity.” Readers here are familiar with Emma Goldman, whom Cullors said they “studied and loved” for the “feminist anarchist” she was.
Maybe less known to readers here are “bell hooks” and Audre Lorde.
Hooks, a cultural Marxist, is known for her work on Marxist critical theory, “intersectionality,” race, gender, capitalism, patriarchy, and, as she puts it, “education for critical consciousness.” She has been especially vocal against “white patriarchy” and “homophobia.” Hooks was asked in a recent interview: “In terms of your own political development, would you say that your analysis is informed by a Marxist critique of capitalist society?” She replied, “Absolutely. I think Marxist thought — the work of people like [Antonio] Gramsci — is very crucial to educating ourselves for political consciousness. That doesn’t mean we have to take the sexism or the racism that comes out of those thinkers and disregard it. It means that we extract the resources from their thought that can be useful to us in struggle. A class-rooted analysis is where I begin in all my work.”
Hooks is a star among critical theorists and Marxists focused on culture and race and feminism. Patrisse Cullors writes, “bell hooks continues to be a North Star.”
As for Audre Lorde, who died at age fifty-eight in 1992, she is acknowledged on Wikipedia as “a self-described ‘black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,’ who dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and homophobia.” That is accurate and most assuredly what Cullors took from Lorde.
The Cleveland Humanities Magnet school was fundamental in her formation: “In many ways it was my high school, Cleveland, that saved my life,” she writes. A large part of that was sexual: “And while Cleveland was nowhere near perfect, it offered a pathway for we who are Queer to claim ourselves.” Here she began a life of LGBTQ identity and activism.
Cullors here credits an art history teacher named Donna Hill, with whom she and a close friend lived. Hill became not only an educational guide to Cullors but also a spiritual one. “She teaches us Transcendental Meditation,” Cullors writes. “Donna Hill, a simple, single Black woman with a heart that could carry a universe, becomes my first spirit guide.” (When Cullors says that Donna could “carry a universe,” she might mean it from a spiritual point of view — more on that in a moment.)
Donna Hill also hooked her up with the “Brotherhood Sisterhood social justice camp.” There, she was connected to the single most formative educational center of her life, the so-called “Strategy Center.” Based in Los Angeles, the Labor/Community Strategy Center was created and operated by Eric Mann, a former Sixties radical who did time with SDS, the Black Panthers, the Weathermen, and the Weather Underground. Mann, who is not black but Jewish, did prison time as well, being part of the cadre of domestic terrorists that included Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. After the Brotherhood Sisterhood social justice camp ended, Cullors joined the Strategy Center, where she spent a year being trained as an organizer.
“I read, I study, adding Mao, Marx and Lenin to my knowledge of hooks, Lorde and Walker,” writes Cullors excitedly about adding these three early communist monsters to her reading list. “I meet and build with Eric Mann, who started the Strategy Center and who takes me under his wing…. I find a home at the Strategy Center, a place that will raise me and hold me for more than a decade.” The Marxist-training center becomes her true home. She says she will “always” remain a part of the center, for the rest of her life.
The next turn left for Cullors was UCLA, where she took up religious studies. There she studied “philosophy with a concentration in the Abrahamic traditions” — that is, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
Cullors grew up a Jehovah’s Witness, a group she came to despise, and which helped set her on a bad spiritual path. She rails against the fact that all the Elders in the congregation were men. She denounces the group today as full of “vulgar hypocrisy.” “This is when I begin to hear that Satan has gotten me,” writes Cullors, with no added details as to where she heard that. She left the doors of the Kingdom Hall permanently behind: “I set out to find God, to find my spirit, to find myself.”
Where she went is unconventional. Recently, a striking video clip emerged from a June 2020 interview between Cullors and Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, discussing the role that “spirituality” plays in the movement. She called BLM a “spiritual movement,” and she and Abdullah discussed spirit-raising. “We become very intimate with the spirits that we call on regularly,” Abdullah said. “Right, like, each of them seems to have a different presence and personality. You know, I laugh a lot withWakiesha, you know, and I didn’t meet her in her body. Right,I met her through this work.” Cullors responded by explaining how she has been empowered by these spirits and how the BLM ritual to “say his (or her) name” is not merely a mantra but also an appeal to deceased spirits.
This spiritual curiosity has been widely discussed online, particularly among BLM critics. But it’s not the first time that Cullors opened up on this subject. She wrote about the faith of her and her “cisgender” husband in her memoirs:
Both of us live in the tradition of Ifa, the African spiritual practice that originated with the Yoruba people of Nigeria at least 8,000 years ago. The tradition is earth-centered and is balanced by these three: Olodumare, Orisha and Ancestors. Our Supreme Being is known as Olodumare and is without gender. Olodumare is benevolent, not the vengeful, angry God I grew up with. Olodumare does not interfere with the affairs of humans. Rather, Olodumare has provided us with a Universe, with all that is needed to create joy and peace — if we so choose it. In Ifa we believe that all living beings, all elements of Nature, are interdependent and possessing of soul. Rocks. Flowers. Rivers. Clouds. Thunder. The Wind. These energies are called Orisha and it is these Orisha with whom we are in direct contact, whether we know it or not. In Ifa, we also recognize and believe that our Ancestors are always with us and must be honored and acknowledged. They are part of what both grounds and guides us, and to understand them, we undertake a process of Divination, readings that help us understand that our purpose and destiny are based on the wisdom of the Orishas and the Ancestors.
This is her process of Divination, this is her Supreme Being, this is her faith. It speaks for itself.
Thereafter, Cullors’s memoirs turn to sex and gender. The final chapters of her book begin to resemble the highly sexual–cultural section of the “What We Believe” portion of the Black Lives Matter website, which has troubled so many people about the group — prior to the site being scrubbed. In fact, her memoirs include a list that would be cut and pasted at the website. They include goals such as these:
•Honoring the leadership and engagement of our Trans and gender non-conforming comrades
•Being self-reflective about and dismantling cisgender privileges and uplifting Black Trans folk, especially Black Transwomen, who continue to be disproportionately impacted by Trans-antagonistic violence
•Affirming space free from sexism, misogyny, and male-centeredness
•Practicing empathy and engaging comrades with the intent to learn about and connect with their contexts
•Fostering a Trans- and Queer-affirming network
•Fostering an intergenerational and communal network free from ageism
And so on. As the book continues to dive deep into the sexual, and particularly all things “Trans,” Cullors also describes at length her meeting and marriage to a person named only as “Fortune.” This individual is confusedly and repeatedly referred to throughout Cullors’s text as “they.” I could be mistaken, but I believe this is because Fortune identifies as more than one gender and maybe even as more than one person (Cullors never explains), and thus is repeatedly referred to by Cullors in the plural. A typical passage: “And then they drop to one knee in front of me and say, Patrisse, you are the love of my life. I knew it from the day we met. Will you marry me?” They marry. “Future and I are married.” Her final pages go on at great length about Black Transwomen.
Finally, the memoir wraps up with parting political shots, particularly at Donald Trump, “a man who openly campaigned on bigotry, white supremacy and misogyny.” Rather humorously, and justifiably, Cullors criticizes Democrats in 2016 for nominating a loser in Hillary Clinton, “knowing that there could have been and should have been a better candidate.”
You got that right, Patrisse!
Such are the politics and ideology of Patrisse Cullors, founder of Black Lives Matter — an organization that is very much hers in body, mind, and spirit.
Looking back, it’s clear that Cullors is another victim of the leftist takeover of our educational system. She not only was not taught why Marxism is bad but, quite the contrary, was told it was good. It really is a shame. If there was any true justice in education, not to mention true diversity — i.e., intellectual diversity — she would have learned better.
“Communism has no place for God,” noted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “I strongly disagreed with communism’s ethical relativism. Since for the Communist there is no …. absolute moral order, there are no fixed, immutable principles; consequently almost anything — force, violence, murder, lying — is a justifiable means to the … end.”
There have been so many great black anti-communists. Today there are the likes of Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Bob Woodson, Star Parker, Candace Owens — we could go on and on. There are so many from the past, too, from brilliant black columnists like George Schuyler to maybe the most well-known black anti-communist of his day, Manning Johnson, who excoriated white communists for using blacks as their “Negro lickspittles.” Perhaps what Cullors really needs to know about blacks and Marxism is what the founder of the ideology she embraces, one Karl Marx, said about blacks — comments that I’ve written on at length. Karl Marx was a flat-out racist. He flung around the N-word and described black people as lower on the evolutionary scale and closer to apes. He denounced his partly Cuban son-in-law as “the Gorilla” or “Negrillo.”
If Cullors only knew what Karl Marx said about black lives, perhaps she still might call herself a communist, but I doubt she would identify as a Marxist. Of course, there isn’t much of a difference, but the leader of an anti-racist movement at least shouldn’t take the name of a racist like Karl Marx.
And what Americans of all stripes need to know is that Patrisse Cullors, founder of Black Lives Matter, embraces an ideology that they surely don’t share.