I am writing this on behalf of Sandra Bland and all the other black women who have lost their lives being black and brown as they encounter police. This was hard, to put into words the way I feel… But here.
I never understood why that one scene in The Color Purple stressed me so.You know the one where an angry white mob accosts Miss Sophia before she succumbs to a gun butt to the head? When we see her again, she has been beaten almost into unrecognizable. That particular scene always made me so uncomfortable–even more so than the sexual violence and domestic abuse prominently displayed throughout the movie.
Now after watching so many black people–black women get beat up and murdered at the hands of (mostly) white officers, I get it. I get why that scene made me anxious, made me hurt so. Miss Sofia’s beating hurt me so bad because her spirit had been broken. Muted because she was a woman and maligned because she was black, the combination thereof placed her in a situation where she was doubly slapped down. Black, female, too proud, and foolish enough to reject what white people demanded of her.
And now this. This black woman nicknamed Sandy (whom I do not know personally yet feel connected to eternally) met that same fate. Brought low for being too black, too womanly, too proud, and foolish enough to reject what a white man demanded of her: ready and complete subservience.
The freedom that I have embraced, that so many black women have chosen to embrace leaves us in the precarious position of standing in the same cross-hairs, where standing up for yourself leads to utter destruction. The world refuses us black women the right to defend ourselves and our positions, choosing instead to beat the free spirit out of us. And while a free white woman receives rape and death threats that rarely materialize (though still terrorizing); a free black woman pays for her insolent display of self-actualization with her life.
When I look at my life–new job, new state, new commitment to being myself exceptionally, unapologetically every day for the rest of my life–I see Sandra’s face. I see her face, and I weep because (like so many have said before me): I could have been her. She is Me. A Black Woman Alone, on the side of the road, waiting for ticket from a cop whose anger came simply from her choosing not to act like a nigger gal of old–afraid, silent, subjugated.
As I watch her story play out, I understand that Sandra Bland died just because America perceives independence in a black woman as “uppity”. Even in our own communities, any black woman who chooses to walk a different road bears judgment because of it. Because some of us choose to live free, we are told that we think we are better than everyone else; labeled as angry and bitter; judged as being loose and condemned as wasted, spoiled goods. Our demands to be free meet with perverse satisfaction when we fall, silent resentment when we manage to rise. We live with the mark of freedom emanating from our pores, embedded in clenched jaws and rebellious eyes. We live cast off. But at least we live. That is, until we meet the rest of the world.
White America has decided that it does not do “free black woman”, so it kills us with the ever-growing impunity that comes with a badge.
When I see Sandra Bland’s mug shot juxtaposed against that picture of her smiling and so sure of herself I see the light gone from her eyes, the defeat in her posture. I see the carefree black girl on a new adventure withering away under the press of being black. And I weep.
What can I do to prepare my daughters to live free in a country–hell, a world bent on snuffing out the light in their pretty brown eyes? How do I get them ready to live life to the fullest even as I swallow the fear of their first encounter with police ready to kill them for being “uppity”, for believing that they are equal and have the right to question power and speak truth to it?
White mothers: you will never know the daily burden of sending your child out into the world where the possibility of the police killing them or you looms heavy and dark. I envy you that freedom. I resent it mightily in my soul. I pray every day that God release me of that burden. But seeing Sandra Bland’s face all over my news feeds and dashes, I know that my prayers go unanswered.