Building the New World
Black Lives Matter’s Patrisse Cullors on her personal sacrifices for activism and motherhood
As one of the co-founders of #BlackLivesMatter, I’ve always given up parts of myself for this movement. For the past 15 years, the work has been my primary partner, often at the sacrifice of my emotional, physical, and spiritual safety. I have been challenged by hateful verbal attacks, the consistent killings of black children, and the never-ending feeling that there is always more work to be done. I’ve compromised my health, and sometimes my morals, for the ultimate goal of manifesting black liberation. We have a chant that we use at protests, before meetings, and when speaking to large audiences—one that was gifted to us by our revolutionary sister Assata Shakur:
It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.
The power in this chant comes from the word “duty.” Even in the most trying and grim moments of my life—my father dying, my brother being brutalized by the sheriff’s department—I understood that my role in this world is about supporting the freedom of black people.
That all changed the moment I became pregnant. I was no longer making decisions for myself. Now there was a growing fetus demanding that I first be present for its needs. I had to prioritize my well-being in ways that felt hyper-vigilant. In the last several months there have been amazing actions in Los Angeles led by this city’s Black Lives Matter chapter, but I was advised by my midwives to stay home and take care of myself. I missed demonstrations and cross-country strategy meetings, overwhelmed by morning sickness and unable to pack up and leave at a moment’s notice as I once could. It felt so unlike me, being forced into taking a step back and creating boundaries with friends, lovers, family, and colleagues. For years people had been begging me to slow down, and now that I was pregnant, here was my “opportunity” to make significant life changes. Still, it didn’t feel right, having to sit on the sidelines and wait.
The reality is that we live in a culture that not only disregards black people, but pregnant people and their unborn children as well. It devalues us. Whether by choice or not, we are sacrificing portions of ourselves in bearing life. We have so much to offer the world, yet we are isolated by a society that prioritizes work over human health and wellness. We need a world that sees the act of carrying and caring for a child as legitimate labor, both in the gestational period as well as in the years after birth.
Being born female, raised poor, out as queer, black, and now pregnant, this is one of the most difficult experiences I have ever been through. There is no mainstream media or literature that articulates the role of black queer parenting. And so we find ourselves making our own road, building it piece by piece. This means we must tell our own stories. Thankfully, my partner and I have found inspiration in some of the most amazing black queer parents in our current generation—trans men who have chosen to birth in a cis-obsessed culture, black queer parents who have creatively fashioned their own child-rearing approaches rooted in intention and love. This type of progressive parenting is forging new pathways for families like mine who are not interested in or able to fit cisnormative and heteronormative lifestyles.
I do this work because I am trying to develop a culture that values black life. That values our black children. That values our pregnant black people. I make these sacrifices because I dream of being a part of a black community that isn’t tied to a Christian, pro-life, anti-queer agenda. I want to be part of a society that values life and has the capacity to imagine a world where black people have a future.
I am trying to build a new world for my family, my community, and myself because, honestly, our lives depend on it. If we don’t interrupt black killing, if we as a society can’t imagine beyond the abuse of black people, we will not survive.
We have to show up now to build the world we want to see.
Photo by Scottie Cameron