Friday, July 24, 2015

Why It's Even More Distressing if Sandra Bland Committed Suicide.....

... and in no way relieves the police, jail, or other law enforcement officials who handled/mishandled and unlawfully stopped and arrested her from responsibility for her death. 

A colleague writes: I am haunted by the death of Sandra Bland.

I am haunted, and, is this the part where we are not supposed to say anything?

I think this haunting comes from our acknowledgment that this entire situation is a snapshot, a microcosm of the tragedy facing people of color, especially women of color.

Her life, of which we know the scantest outline: she went to school, went to college. She worked. She may/may not have had issues with depression. She was en route to a new job. She was attractive, and she was informed about police misconduct, and had even been actively opposed to it. She was not going to allow herself to be arrested for no reason.

And yet....

My mind went back this morning to years ago, when I was a La Leche leader. We had, in all seven years that I led these groups of moms, one mother who was a person of color. I remember her well. Her name was Iris, and her son was Alex. We puzzled over why more women of color did not attend, and indeed, did not breastfeed.But this was not unconnected with the reasons that many people of color did not go to the doctor, get regular breast exams (my friend Louise/ see "SCHOOLED" set me straight on this), did not have PCs at first, and in very many cases "appear" to have made decisions or failed to have taken actions which have led to their own demise or early deaths. 


We (being the collective white culture, which, "racist" or not, we can not divorce ourselves from) have treated them like neglected and unwanted step-children at best, and wonder why they have internalized the hate, the scorn for their bodies and their lives. NO! 

For me, it doesn't matter whether she committed suicide. In fact, that scenario, in my mind, is even worse. that means that, rather than go down fighting, that sassy, sure-of-herself woman who stood up to that cop, or tried to, she was broken down, who knows how... deprived of medicine, her cigarettes, her pride, her clothes, probably about to lose the job she'd come to start, plunged into some hideous despair born of everything that was engineered to deprive her of her dignity, her spirit, her self.

I am reminded of Tyisha Miller, the young Black woman in Riverside, California, shot to death while sitting in a car, unconscious, when they believed she "reached for a gun." She was tried, convicted, and found guilty... then executed, before she even woke up. We, the clergy, and the citizens, fought for justice for her. That was 15 years ago.

There is now a website. A hashtag. #sayhername. Tyisha's not there. But I am still haunted by Tyisha, who'd be in her late thirties now.

And I am broken-hearted at how women of color have been killed and have been mistreated, not only as individuals, but as an entirety. And, not just by white men, not just by law enforcement. By music, by women, by literature, by TV and films, so frequently and so blatantly, that it is those that survive that we actually notice.

won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

Lucille Clifton