Dear fellow white feminists, We need to talk about Sandra Bland. More specifically, we need to talk about why we aren’t talking about Sandra Bland. Bland was a 28-year-old black woman who died in a Texas county jail after she was arrested during a traffic stop for allegedly failing to signal a lane change. During the stop, officer Brian Encinia attempted to physically remove Bland from her vehicle and threatened to “light her up” with a taser because she refused to put out her cigarette. Three days later, on July 13th, Bland was found dead in her cell. Officials have ruled her death as suicide by hanging. However, her family and others have contested this claim as Bland had recently…
Dear fellow white feminists,
We need to talk about Sandra Bland.
More specifically, we need to talk about why we aren’t talking about Sandra Bland.
Bland was a 28-year-old black woman who died in a Texas county jail after she was arrested during a traffic stop for allegedly failing to signal a lane change. During the stop, officer Brian Encinia attempted to physically remove Bland from her vehicle and threatened to “light her up” with a taser because she refused to put out her cigarette. Three days later, on July 13th, Bland was found dead in her cell. Officials have ruled her death as suicide by hanging. However, her family and others have contested this claim as Bland had recently moved to Texas to begin a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. She was “…someone who was extremely spontaneous, spunky, outgoing, truly filled with life and joy,” according to one of her four sisters on CNN.
Bland’s death didn’t happen in a vacuum — it is part of a pattern of brutality against cis and trans women of color. Her death comes in the wake of the killings of Tanisha Anderson and Natasha McKenna, black women who perished while in police custody and prison, respectively. Her death comes a month after a white police officer pinned down a 15-year-old black girl at a pool party in McKinney Texas. It punctuates the 11 transgender women–many women of color–who have been murdered in the past seven months. Her death comes almost exactly a year after Eric Garner, Mike Brown and Tamir Rice, two unarmed black men and a black child, were killed by police. And, now it precedes Ralkina Jones, a 37-year-old black woman who was found dead at a Cleveland jail on Sunday.
Black, Latina, indigenous, cis and trans women of color are under assault in America. But, white and “mainstream” feminists have yet to take up the brutality against them as a feminist issue.
From the blatantly racist white Suffragettes to Taylor Swift shutting down Nicki Minaj over her VMA critique, we white feminists have marginalized, trivialized and erased women of color in the movement throughout the ages. We have rightfully taken up reproductive justice, same-sex marriage and closing the wage gap, but we have made these issues our priority even as the safety of women of color has reached a state of emergency. Just last week, we filled our feeds with support for Planned Parenthood over misleading videos on fetal tissue research — why didn’t #SandraBland consume our feeds the week before?
We forget that feminists of color have be fighting with us and for us, so we buy into a false narrative of scarcity in activism. We fear that we will lose resources if we re-center the mainstream feminist movement on the needs of women of color. We are scared of giving up the economic and social benefits of our privilege. Or maybe, we don’t even know where to begin.
Yet, there are many changes we can make as white feminists to take up police brutality against Sandra Bland and other cis and trans women of color. And, many of these changes are accessible and cost-free. Here are six things we can do — though hardly exhaustive or new — that can be a jumping off point.
1. Talk, Talk, Talk
Too often the work of racial justice in feminism — and moving feminism forward — falls on the shoulders of feminists of color. We need to have conversations about race among white feminists before the Patricia Arquettes of the world incite us to address our biases. Let’s talk about our privilege and how we act on that privilege. Let’s talk about how there is no monolithic experience of being a woman. Let’s talk about how Sandra Bland’s identities intersected as a woman and as a person of color to make her more likely to experience state sanctioned violence. Then, let’s discuss how other identities — queer, class, citizenship, different abilities, religion — impact a woman’s experience of her gender.
2. Educate Ourselves And Each Other
Feminists, intellectuals and activists of color have done boundless work on racial justice, feminism and police brutality — and we can access much of it from the comfort of our laptops and e-readers. Start reading websites like Black Girl Dangerous, For Harriet and the Crunk Feminist Collective every morning. Follow Twitter accounts like Black Lives Matter, its creators Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, and writers like Mikki Kendall and Jamilah Lemieux. Parse through the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen and #GirlsLikeUs. Pick up a book like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ ‘Between the World and Me,’ Michelle Alexander’s ‘The New Jim Crow’ or Janet Mock’s ‘Redefining Realness.’ Don’t stop at these websites, accounts and books — there are so many more. Which leads us to…
3. Signal Boost
As you read articles and tweets, repost! And, lend books to your family and friends. Reposting and sharing have two benefits: we can elevate and spread the work of women and activists of color, giving credit where it is due, and we can introduce our social media circles to ideas around brutality and privilege that they might not see otherwise. As white feminists, we have access to people of privilege in our social circles that others may not be able to reach. When we signal boost the work of women of color, we are digitally bringing these issues to those followers. Thanks to Facebook, my high school track coach in Pennsylvania has an opportunity to learn about intersectional identities — and it’s as easy as a click of the mouse.
4. Speak Out And Show Up
When we witness racism in public, we have to speak out. When we see microaggressions in the office, we have to speak out. When we hear a biased joke in the comfort of our own homes, we have to speak out. Then, we have to show up. The #BlackLivesMatter movement and other organizations have protests and gatherings around the country on a regular basis. They are often posted on Facebook. It takes a couple of hours to attend these events and we can provide numbers and support with our presence.
5. Step Back
There are times to speak out, then there are times to remain silent. We need to listen to women of color. And, when we ourselves are called out, we have to step back and meditate on our actions and discomfort. When we are taking up the conversation, we have to step back to give women of color the space to speak. Once we show up at a demonstration, we need to support women of color without co-opting their movement. That’s when we should take cues from black leadership and remain peaceful. We should avoid any actions to make protesters of color more vulnerable, such as being violent, throwing debris or agitating police officers.
In addition to time, we can donate money or other resources to organizations that are bringing justice for Sandra Bland and other women of color killed by police brutality. A few organizations include the Dream Defenders, Dignity & Power Now and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. Again, like education, there are so many amazing organizations, Kickstarters and activists. Find them and donate to them, too.
What else do you think we can do? Leave your comments below or Tweet at @AlexFromPhilly!
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