Dear Culture

An Abolitionist’s Handbook: Patrisse Cullors

Episode 93

Read the full transcript here. 

Dear Culture, what does it mean to be an abolitionist?

This week on the Dear Culture podcast, our hoststheGrio Managing Editor of Politics Gerren Keith Gaynor and theGrio Social Media Director Shana Pinnock, talk with artist, abolitionist and Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors about her new book, 12 Steps to Changing Yourself and the World: An Abolitionist Handbook, and how to care for ourselves while fighting for the greater good.

Cullors says her new book should be used as a reference and guide for seeking liberation and cultivating a better lives for ourselves and our communities. For the New York Times bestselling author, reform is not enough. She says we must abolish the systems that are in order to make room for what could be. 

Patrisse Cullors attends the “Bedlam” Premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival at Egyptian Theatre on January 28, 2019 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)

“My argument in this book is we’ve tried that so many times. It’s the time now, as many abolitionists say, to imagine a new system,” says Cullors. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and so we’re watching also this current infrastructure fail us.”

“It’s failed us around health care. It’s failed us around childcare. It’s failed us in so many ways and so abolition is also calling for us to imagine something new and give us the possibility of something new.” 

Black Americans make up 38 percent of the federal prison population, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, but only represent about 14 percent of the U.S. general population. Cullors says the modern abolitionist movement also calls for the dismantling of the current justice system as it stands.

Host Pinnock says she wants an overall move towards restorative justice and away from prisons, but admits she feels conflicted about what that means for those seeking justice for harm and crimes committed against Black Americans, referencing the life sentences recently passed down to the killers of Ahmaud Arbery.

Man in Prison
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

“I often feel a little bit conflicted because there’s also the need to see people being held accountable,” Pinnock explains. “So granted, while you have the data that basically shows that racism and prejudice have lives in everything, including this caste system. Black Americans have the highest rate of incarceration in the country. There’s still so many of us, myself included, who still support [the] prison system and jail time for certain acts.”

Cullors pointed to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission as one example that the U.S. could look to begin imagining systems of restorative justice. 

Tune into the Dear Culture podcast to hear our inspiring conversation in its entirety including why Patrisse Cullors says learning how to free each other helps us free ourselves.  

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