Say Her Name

I woke up this morning angry with white people.

That sound you just heard was dozens of my readers closing their browser windows.

It’s hard to talk about whiteness, even as a white person, but with every new incidence of police violence against black America, my rage becomes more pronounced. Right now, for reasons that will be obvious to some of you, my rage runs hot about Sandra Bland.

The video of Sandra Bland’s arrest, the reactions it has provoked, and the way in which her death is discussed all cause me to be angry with whiteness, mostly because every part of Sandra Bland’s personal experience, particularly the callous disrespect with which she was treated, can be completely alien to white people. Most white people will never be stopped for improperly using a turn signal, get yanked out of their cars, have their heads slammed into the ground for correctly asserting their rights as citizens to a police officer, and then get thrown into jail indefinitely.

On the other hand, most black people I know look at the Sandra Bland situation and shake their heads knowingly. It is hard to find a person of color in this country who hasn’t been affected by a situation similar to hers. All of these incidents involve similarly Kafkaesque levels of psychodrama. While not all of these encounters have quite so tragic a coda, some do end in violence and murder, as we have seen over and over again these past few years.

While my mood upon waking was anger, I am forcing myself to a place wherein my instinct to rage might be replaced by an impulse to educate. I get frustrated when people wonder why Sandra Bland didn’t act more respectfully to that cop. Not everyone, though, consumes the same information that I do. If someone thinks that Sandra should have been more respectful, I would encourage him to read the stories of Rekia Boyd, Tenisha Anderson, Kendra James, and the scores of other women who have been the victims of police violence, whose names Sandra undoubtedly both knew and said as an activist for social justice (#SayHerName). If someone rolls her eyes at the suggestion that the police faked Sandra Bland’s suicide, I might encourage her to watch the video of Walter Scott’s murder, wherein a police officer plants a taser on the man after shooting him in the back. It’s hard to trust anything the system says when what constitutes official reports turns out to be purposeful obfuscation.

Being white means having the choice not to confront any of this on a daily basis. Black people in America do not have that luxury. That gap in understanding and awareness confirms for me that the most important thing that white people can do in the face of all of this injustice is to become more aware, and then use that knowledge to help change things and educate other white people (#StayWoke). Because what I’m really most angry about is that many other white people aren’t angry. It is the lack of empathy that our country expresses for lives like Sandra Bland’s that make it so important to say that Black Lives Matter. There is not a single thing we should hear about Sandra Bland that would make us think that the taking of her life was justified. We must staunchly assert that hers, and other black lives, matter, because our country never tries to justify the taking of white lives at the hands of its own justice system.