Interview With Black Lives Matter Cofounder Patrisse Khan-Cullors

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In this interview for Vice, Black Lives Matter cofounder Patrisse Khan-Cullors discusses her efforts to fight for the civil rights of marginalized communities and to speak out about the traumatic impact of systemic violence.

“For many marginalized communities, we are told from birth that our lives are valueless. We are told that we don’t deserve things. That poverty is our fault. That our parents’ addictions and prison and inability to feed us is our fault. So if you internalize that, if you internalize the ways in which the world has literally shoved you out, then of course as you get older, you’re not going to believe in yourself. And that translates into not being able to do the things that are the most important and most healthy. We have to talk about changing systems first. We live in a culture that wants to talk about individual first, that tells people they need to take personal responsibility for their hardships. Let’s not do that. Let’s change the system that creates the hardships. That’s the work of Black Lives Matter, that’s the work of #MeToo, #TimesUp, the Women’s March, so many other important organizations that have come together in the past few years.”

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Black Lives Matter shows its true colors:

    I feel very strongly that every black person should receive a therapist as part of any reparations package.

    And maybe a free ass-whipping by the cops to go along with that?

    This is not the line of a truly revolutionary organization, but recycled liberalism.

  2. I disagree wholeheartedly. “A therapist” could be anything or anyone, and by calling what he/she does “therapy” has already disempowered his/her clients at some level and individualized a collective problem. Remember she’s talking about reparations here, which by definition must come from the state. “Therapy” is a white thing at heart, can never be revolutionary, and to find it in a package labeled “reparations” would be a cruel joke.

    • “therapy” can mean so many different things. I don’t believe that it has to be oppressive, pathologizing, or “a white person thing.” It would be a great thing if Black therapists / counselors / service providers could come together with the Black community at large and pool knowledge about how the therapy profession can best serve the Black community.

      Not all therapists can provide drugs. Those are the kind that are less likely to harm someone. People need support.

      Peer support is also an option. Peer respites. Community-building, micro-loans, and other economic interventions have also been shown to positively affect people’s mental health… as much or more so than therapy.

      • Revolution is not a “service.” The notion that Black people can resolve their historic oppression via “therapy” is insulting and demeaning, and Black “therapists” for the most part are buying into a system which is part of the legacy of slavery.

        Pragmatically speaking this is not to disparage the contributions of a few scattered individuals who may practice something they call “therapy” while maintaining a genuine revolutionary perspective. But I believe even they should dispense with the term. I repeat that the context in which Ms. Khan-Cullors calls for a “therapist in every pot” for every Black person is that of reparations, i.e. something provided by the racist corporate state, i.e. the slipperiest slope in the world.

        Anyway no biggie, no one here cares much about racism except for denouncing it is the abstract. 🙁

          • Okay, having read this response and the response you gave below to uprising, I see now where you’re coming from more. I guess it becomes a matter of semantics to try to decide what term—”therapy,” “support,” “counseling,” etc.— leaves space inside its conceptual purview for what we are all trying to talk about. We are all trying to talk about ethical, realistic, and efficacious support for people as we try to simultaneously move from this cultural and economic situation to, hopefully, a healthier & more just one.

            In the context of an oppressive and highly stressful, atomized, and individualistic society like this one, any term we can bring… it will be possible to read any term (“therapy”/”counseling”/etc.) as reinforcing that system and its norms and assumptions. On the other hand, if we want to move from here to there, we need to be able to speak, using words that exist from “here,” about what we are trying to do to get to “there.” Nothing is pure. “Therapy,” support, peer support, community support, whatever we want to call it will not be pure. That doesnt mean that no one can give support without either pretending falsely to be Revolutionary or without alleging, on some level, that the people who need support are somehow the “problem”. What Khan-Cullours specifically was saying, I don’t care to debate now, and like you I am not especially impressed with BLM, which I vew as a fairly reformist and theoretically unsophisticated group.

            oldhead, I feel like we agree about quite a lot despite the fact that we seem to disagree about a lot of details. I am also in favor of revoltionary left approaches to this “mental health” issue—and MANY other societal problems. I am also quite suspicious of the “intersectional” talk that has become so popular as of late with progressives, which seems to just be that: a lot of talk with, as you said, “no comprehesions of what ‘the system’ actually is.” I’m increasingly skeptical of the progressive/left, despite viewing myself as withn the left tradition.

            After all that, though, I still believe that some humans can provide other humans, who may or may not be in their same social circles, with support specifically for reasons related to difficult emotional experiences, extreme states, stress, and overwhelm. I do not think it has to imply in any way that this support will “solve” structural problems like racism, poverty, or the increased stress of being a member of an historically subordinated & exploited class.

            As to where these “revolutionary service-providers” are going to come from– I don’t happen to believe that in order not to harm people, you have to have Correct Revolutionary Politics or Allegiances. I have a revolutionary perspective, so I might need a therapist/person who can-listen-and-not-harm-me with a revolutionary perspective. But studies show that talk therapy works at roughly equivalent effectiveness no matter the “modality” or approach brought by the therapist.

            Sure, the research isn’t conducted with “revolutionary” values or orientation, so it’s not 100%. Sure, I would like to see research that focuses less on “symptom-reduction” and “ability to return to work/previous functioning” and more on “whether the person is meeting their own goals for their lfe.” I would like to see therapists trained in critical thinking, especially sex therapists, gender therapists, and… basically all therapists. I would like to see therapists un-brainwashed about the idea of “disorders,” period. Yes to all that.

            But nonetheless I feel that the research does tell us that what is most important is the relationship & alliance between the two people involved, not really the abstract ideas behind it. I dont mean to be reductive, but I don’t think that this practice is rocket science: sitting face-to-face with another human who listens to you attentively and with concern/empathy is a powerful thing.

            It can go awry, but this is a powerful place to begin that has deep roots in our humanity and our cultural histories. Throwing it out seems like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

            As someone who feels they have benefitted tremendously from “therapy”, while also being someone who has been harmed by it, I think I have some insight into both sides of this. No one is saying it’s a magical fix-it solution. No one is saying what, specifically, it has to look like or what assumptions it has to operate under. If community-members came together to talk about what they want it to look like, and what assumptions they want it to operate under, within their communities, that would be a great start. For example: do service-providers need to be black in order not to reinforce racism within the therapy? Maybe. Do invididual black communities know more about that question than anyone else, with regards to their specific communitie? Of course. There is not going to be a one-size-fits all solution. And I dont think that people have be trained in universities—either in attentive listening skills or in political awareness—to be able to help others.

          • A lot to bite off & chew there; succinctly speaking, it does seem like we share a common (and growing) take on this faux “left,” sans class analysis, that has taken over popular discourse with the wink-nudge approval of corporate America, and which seems to be primarily focused on fanning class divisions in the name of attacking “privilege,” which is more convenient than opposing class rule.

            However your determination to fit all discourse into the framework of “therapy” unnecessarily mystifies what “needs to be done” (and there is no single “answer” since there is no single problem).

            If Black people had more Malcolms there would be far less demand for “therapy.”

          • You keep talking about what you “think” she is saying, which could mean she doesn’t express herself well (totally possible) or that you are projecting your own perspective onto her, or (my suspicion) that she simply hasn’t thought through what she’s saying or had the appropriate information. Again it is the AP movement’s responsibility to help educate oppressed communities about the myths and lies of the “mental health” system. And it is Black leaders’ duty to not allow misinformation to poison the community.

            Where exactly are these racism/imperialism/
            colonialism-savvy “therapists” suppose to materialize from? Where are they hiding right now?

          • You keep talking about what you “think” she is saying

            Yes, that was because I hadn’t read the article yet and was responding only to the quote with what I know about BLM. Now that I’ve read the article, I see that my understanding was correct. The line about therapy being a part of reparations comes after she has explicitly talked about black people being traumatized by the system.

            Where exactly are these racism/imperialism/
            colonialism-savvy “therapists” suppose to materialize from? Where are they hiding right now?

            They seem to be in the minority for sure, but we are already dealing in the imaginary when we talk about reparations, so adding in the widespread availability of decent therapists doesn’t seem so outlandish to me in this context.

            To your earlier point about the impossibility of solving collective problems with individual solutions, I agree 100%, but I don’t take the Khan-Cullours’ reparations comment that way. After all, she also said this:

            We have to talk about changing systems first. We live in a culture that wants to talk about individual first, that tells people they need to take personal responsibility for their hardships. Let’s not do that. Let’s change the system that creates the hardships.

          • Yeah, that last quote is typical of liberal “intersectional” thinking, which I know you understand, with its talk of “systemic” this and that with no comprehension of what that “system” even is — and never mentioning capitalism, other than occasionally as just another “intersecting” ism.

            I’m not indicting the messenger here, just criticizing the message.

            we are already dealing in the imaginary when we talk about reparations

            Then why are we talking about any of this if it’s just idle chatter? Not sure what you’re essentially getting at, as BLM is not a particularly revolutionary organization, nor do I believe it claims to be. However it is often regarded as such, so it’s important for AP people with a sincere and informed opposition to racism to point out neoliberal traps such as “mental health care” and its ideological underpinnings, which certainly include the notion of personal support being “therapy.”

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