The autobiography starts with Assata recounting the events on that fateful night when she was subjected to the same opression and violence directed at people of color like her that she has been fighting against. She, along with two other members of the Black Liberation Army (BLA) members Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli, was stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike by state Troopers James Harper and Werner Foester. Not long after, Zayd Malik Shakur and Trooper Werner Foerster were dead and Assata was shot and wounded three times. She was held in solitary confinement in the basement of the Middlesex county jail for men for more than a year, subjected to vaginal and anal strip searches, and was continuously threatened (Wong). Forensic evidence later on revealed that she was shot while her arms were raised, resulting to her median nerve being severed immediately paralyzing her whole right arm, and her clavicle broken due to a bullet that ended up lodged to her chest so close to her heart which made it impossible to for the doctors to remove. A neurologist, a pathologist, and a surgeon testified to these in court, but with a jury of all white against her, she was still found guilty, not of shooting trooper Harper, but for “aiding and abetting” the crime (Williams). Neutron Activation Analysis also proved that she did not shoot a gun, and her fingerprints were nowhere in any of the guns recovered from the crime scene. Despite surmounting evidence proving her innocence, she was still given a guilty verdict and was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 33 years. Knowing that she won’t have any other way of proving her innocence and save herself from the constant torture and inhuman treatment, she escaped with outside help.
The book was written to describe the mindsets and emotions of the time, when people of color like her had to struggle everyday of their lives because of racism. It also told of her early years as a child being taught by her grandparents to have pride on who she is, and as a teenager growing up and navigating the streets of Bronx. Her honest and straightforward narration of her life before and during the trial showed the stark reality of how it was to be a black female revolutionary. Along with her fight for racial equality, Assata also expressed her criticisms of black patriarchy and sexism through her story about how she was almost gang raped by black men. She relates that this is common a situation among women during her time, and sadly until today. These experiences were interspersed with her original poems, conveying her thoughts and emotions about life and the world which she viewed in different colors. Although struggles and injustice dominated her story, her humility was aparent and this invites the readers’ empathy.
Through Assata’s eyes, the reader sees the evils that plagued women, specifically women of color, during their time of struggle for racial and gender equality. Her accounts of the horrors she experienced under the justice system as a revolutionary woman, and the abuse she got from men of her race authenticates other stories of oppression revealed by women of color like her. As a woman, she had to fight the state, white men and the violence inflicted by them, and patriarchy cultivated by black men. These are the realities of life that women like her had to deal with, and the constant threat that these present to their safety is not restricted to the women of color in the USA. Her stories reflect and validate the continuous issue of racial discrimination and gender opression that women of today still suffer.
Like Assata, revolutionary women of all race and color all over the world have been fighting for recognition in the society, for them to be given equal rights that men have been enjoying for the longest time. Although there were stories of success, gender inequality still persists in the global world. It would seem that no matter how far advanced technology takes the world, the outdated belief that women are weak and should therefore be subjected under man’s rule and supposed power is still part of women’s reality. The US Census shows that women earn 77% less than what men earn for doing the same job, women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive a car or ride a bicycle on public roads, in Chile and Lesotho, women are not allowed to own lands, and violence in the form of beating, sexual coercion, and rape are real and persistent (Edmonds).
Assata’s autobiography brings into the consciousness of today’s world the struggles of women then and now, and how through time and the advent of globalization, its form became varied. Her time showed the physical violence and cruelty of white people borne from a long history of master-slave relationship. Assata’s description of herself as a “20th century escaped slave” holds true and conjures images of Harriet Jacobs and Sethe in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and all the other female slaves who were left with no choice but to escape in order to stay alive. Regardless of the amount of time that passed, women are still not free and have to struggle to break loose the manacles of opression. Today in the modern world, women are still slaves to different masters: men, society, ideologies, culture, family, and even women like them. The pattern continues and the sad truth about it is that there are women in this age of enlightenment who are still unaware and at times, choose to ignore this blatant truth. The updated and republished book may be viewed as a wake-up call to all women to recognize that there is something wrong and that something has to be done, lest it will become the new normal. Assata stated:
“People get used to anything. The less you think about your opression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think opresion is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.” (147)
The first step towards liberation is the recognition that there is opression, and acknowlege that it is wrong. From childhood, people are taught to right whatever is wrong, and doing nothing about the injustice that women are being dealt with by turning a blind eye is not doing what is right. Revolutionary women like Assata paid hard to fight for freedom and equality, both for being black and a woman, and although there is still a long way to go to completely eradicate the ideas of racism and gender inequality, hope should still continue burning.
Perhaps the most meaningful part of Assata’s biography is when she was taught by her grandparents to be pride. She relates that time through the passage:
All my family tried to instill in me a sense of personal dignity, but my grandmother and my grandfather were really fanatic about it. Over and over they would tell me, “You’re as good as anyone else. Don’t let anybody tell that they’re better than you.” My grandparents strictly forbade me to say “yes ma’am” and “yes sir” or to look down at my shoes or to make subservient gesturesI was told to speak in a loud, clear voice and to hold my head up high, or risk having my grandparents knock it off my shoulders.
This passage sums up Assata’s continuous fight against all forms of opression as it strips someone’s pride and dignity. She was taught to speak up in a loud clear voice, and she did. No matter the pain and fear she suffered from the violence directed to her from the Troopers, the investigators, and the police who interrogated her when she was still in hospital, she endured and kept her dignity. She did not beg or succumb to their agression because she knew that she was right and that she did not do anything wrong. There is nothing wrong for being a woman, or for being a black woman fighting for her right to get equal treatment in the society. There is no shame in speaking out loud and clear if what is being said is the truth. Her journey in life as a woman, a revolutionary, a feminist, and an author is all linked to what she learned from when she was a child, and she lived by it every day of her life.
Perhaps as women of today, this should serve as a constant reminder to exercise freedom of speech and express one’s self when treated unfairly based on gender. There is power in knowing what is wrong from right, and choosing to do the right thing defines this power. There is strength in knowing that there are women out there, women like Assata Shakur who continue to fight for freedom. Women should continue this fight, and never stop until every woman in the world achieves equality. This is what this book represents.
Edmonds, Molly. “10 Examples of Gender Inequality Around the World.” Discovery.com. 2014.
Web. 25 Nov. 2014.
Shakur, Assata. Assata: An Autobiography. Googlebooks.com. Google Books, 1987. Web. 25
Williams, Evelyn A. “Statement of Facts in the New Jersey Trial of Assata Shakur.”
assatashakur.com. The Talking Drum Collective. 2005. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.
Wong, Nelly. “Who is Assata Shakur, and why is she on the FBI list of top terrorists?.” Freedom
Socialist: Voice of Revolutionary Feminism. 2013. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.