Heard It All Before: An Examination of the Cultural Consequences of “Angering” Sandra Bland
Artists Kalkidan Assefa and Allan Andre
Sadly, as the body count of unarmed Black folks continues to rise, I am reminded that Black women are often not safe in their respective physical spaces nor in the realm of popular media. Sandra Bland’s death helped to highlight this disturbing fact, as her case circulated in the news and other major media outlets. The treatment of both her personality and Instagram videos, created well before her death, revealed a conscious/subconscious refusal to acknowledge the multidimensions of Black women’s experiences and our expressions of those experiences. In this case, Ms. Bland’s initial frustration at being pulled over was a natural human response. Particularly natural for a Black woman who’s social media accounts reveal that she was well aware of continuing excessive police force against marginalized people.
Despite a strong desire not to speculate about her feelings, I do not think it unreasonable to consider that she may have been experiencing intense fear in addition to her expressed frustration. This possible fear, or any emotion (not synonymous with aggression), is one that I have not seen discussed nearly as much as other possible emotions, or protective tactics she “should have taken” against her attacker. What is being focused on in some conversations, are finger-pointing tactics about her response to being engaged by the police as angry and/or hostile. An example of this assignment of angry can be found in this CNN video.
Some are using the recently released police video to paint Ms. Bland as another angry Black woman. This narrative, as explained by 1Melissa Harris Perry, is a “. . . third powerful stereotype of Black women that characterizes them as shrill, loud, argumentative, irrationally angry, and verbally abusive”. This age old trope developed to humiliate Black women, extends as far backwards as the 1930s. The angry Black woman is the fairy godmother to Joi from Friday and Shenaenae from Martin. (If you are unfamiliar search, “fool where Craig at?”) Women in general are already often painted as hysterical and unbalanced people, so adding “Blackness” pushes this notion into dangerous territory. The “danger” of course being two-fold, for one, women are unpredictable and overly emotional. Secondly, Black people are, via systematic support, inherently dangerous. The consequence of this heavily perpetrated idea is the socialized refusal to acknowledge the validity in arguments put forth by Black women as they share perspectives on systematic violence. Black women are thus doubly silenced by the social factors that have relegated them further into a state of marginalization, Blackness and Womanhood.
This rebuttal of validity in the media is not without a partner within communities and activist circles developed by and for Black people. The dismissal of Black women’s expressions on communal issues manifests itself when Black women’s concerns are pushed aside to forward causes centered on Black men. This is not a new phenomenon as it has been a problem in every major movement claiming to push forward the issues of racial violence and subjugation like the Civil Rights Movement and now #BlackLivesMatter. 2Heidi Williamson writes, “While the Civil Rights movement was centered on all citizens having the access to … public education, and the right to vote, the denial of such right had very private and terrifying consequences for Black women whose work often forced them into the private spaces of America as domestic workers … Backlash in these spaces were far more terrifying than being forced to ride in the back of the bus or to drink from a “coloreds only” fountain.” She continues, “In comparison to the narrative of the broader movement, like “I am a man,” these stories were minimized as a part of the struggle for economic and political freedom.” Williamson uses her essay to articulate the purposeful silencing of other marginalized perspectives, for the sake of the “greater good.”
The necessity of expressing just as much outrage over the violence that Black women and girls are facing speaks to the type of intersectional changes that need to occur so that they too can feel safe. Like 3Kimberle Crenshaw, “My focus on the intersections of race and gender only highlights the need to account for multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed.” Examining what happened to Sandra Bland as a Black woman may lead to a greater understanding of why she was targeted, and how she later was treated by media (see the beginning of this piece).
What happened to Ms. Bland and countless other victims highlights the actual vulnerability of Black womanhood and the simultaneous demonization of Black women. The unspoken internet rule #17, “Don’t read the comments,” has never been more necessary. Posts on different social media sites decrying this situation have sprinkles of people commenting with suggestions of all the things Ms. Bland could/should have done differently to avoid her own death. These comments and this line of thinking derail the necessary conversations we should be having about excessive police force. My suggestions for purposeful conversation include integrating topics like, accountability, and consequences for broken police protocol. And of course, carve out space beyond the margins to listen to the voices of the women who are suffering too.
Ashely Tisdale is a recent graduate of Florida A&M University. She earned my Bachelor’s degree in English, and is currently in the process of pursuing a PhD. She is a big sister, dreamer, prayer, girlfriend, and underemployed window shopping enthusiast. She thinks "Black Girls Are Fly because history has simultaneously deemed us un-credited trendsetters and undesirable. Despite these consistent inconsistencies, we celebrate ourselves." Find her: Boldbuxombeautiful.com| StoriesofSisterhood.com
- Harris-Perry, Melissa. “Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America”
- Williamson, Heidi. “What Josephine Baker Teaches Us About Women’s Enduring Legacy Within The Civil Rights Movement”
- Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color”