Published in the St. Louis American
July 30, 2015
Would Sandra Bland be on her way to the new job that awaited her at Prairie View A&M University if only she had not challenged the police who made the traffic stop? Twenty-eight year old Bland is dead after being arrested, her death ruled a suicide by Waller County, Texas officials. Many questions still swirl around her unnecessary death.
Sandra Bland was allegedly stopped for not using her signal when she changed lanes. The fact that she joins a growing list of black folks who’ve lost their lives at the hands of police for initial minor violations only increases the volatility between police and the African-American community.
Michael Brown Jr. was accosted by police for jaywalking. Eric Garner was choked to death for selling loose cigarettes. Walter Scott was stopped for a broken tail light and ended up with eight bullets in the back. And the list goes on.
Legal observers have pretty much agreed that Officer Brian Encinia had no right to order Bland out of her vehicle. He also made other demands that Bland rightfully questioned, such as putting out her cigarette. Encinia threatened to “light her up” with his stun gun if she didn’t comply with his irrational orders.
Once the mainstream media got a hold of Bland’s involvement in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, her responses to the agitated cop got twisted into an age-old narrative about the angry, black woman. You may recall that First Lady Michelle Obama was given the same jacket after it was discovered that her Princeton thesis was on the racial divide.
If you dare assert your rights as a black person, especially a black woman, the conclusion is that you are angry – angry about your station in life, angry about everything – and you will take that anger out on anyone.
As someone who has been called the angry, black woman, I embrace it with pride. My response to what the accuser thinks is a personal attack that will disable me is to say that my anger means that I’m alive and know that I’m being treated unjustly. If the daily heaps of American injustices don’t get a rise out of you, you’re either spiritually dead or psychologically diminished. I am neither.
Kadia Blagrove, an African-American blogger, gave some satirical advice about how not be the angry, black woman: Them first, you last. Always be aware that you are black. Have no reaction … to anything. Shut up! Be passive. Always smile.
Blagrove’s post concludes with a simple affirmation and a cynical question. “Angry black women are people who are unapologetically secure, successful and confident despite the color of their skin. How rebellious! Wait, is the angry, black woman really just a white man?”
The stereotype of the angry, black woman goes back to the minstrel days, but has gotten more sophisticated in contemporary times. As in the case of internalized oppression, unfortunately too many black women and black men have accepted the label for different reasons. The goal is to get a black woman to be quiet, to submit and accept your fate. Usually that fate is rooted in some form of patriarchy and racism. Hang your head and shuffle along.
Sandra Bland was a human being with citizenship rights. A white cop didn’t like that she upheld her humanity and refused to submit to his abuse of authority simply because he was white, male and armed with a badge and gun.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement demands that black folks refuse to be passive about the racist policies, laws and attitudes that dehumanize and criminalize an entire race. It also challenges other nationalities match that anger. It validates your own humanity when you respect and protect someone else’s. Otherwise, your pulse may need to be checked for signs of life.