Sandra Bland Was Taking Control
**In this article I intend to show how Sandra took control of her abusive situation with a cop who had over-extended his authority, in an effort to get the situation over with. This post will reference abuse and intimate partner violence. In no way am I asserting that Sandra was a victim of domestic violence. But her behavior has a familiar ring to it. This article will explore that familiarity.**
I watched the videos that have surfaced showing Sandra Bland’s arrest, and have read the transcript of her altercation and subsequent arrest in a strange town in Texas. Make no mistake that police officer completely overstepped his bounds and treated her absolutely with less than dignity. And everyone is asking the question: “Why did Sandra appear to goad him along during her detainment by this cop?”
My immediate response is, “Actually, every one of us would have responded the same way, if we are truly honest with ourselves, because every one of us would have been deeply offended by his attitude towards her.” Many white people have shown instances where they have been equally hostile towards a police officer, and were let go with only a warning or a ticket. Just YouTube that.
But upon further reflection, I came to the realization that Sandra was more than just mouthy. She was doing more than simply asserting her rights. She was surviving. She knew where that whole interaction was going. She knew that cop had lost sight of her humanity, and she knew things were going down. It really didn’t matter what she said or did, he was going to play this out in exactly the way it played out.
What Sandra did, was take control of an out-of-control situation, by speaking exactly what he was doing, as he was doing. She was calling out his explosive behaviors, in an effort to survive. This is a difficult concept to understand or grasp, but I’m going to work with some of Alice Walker’s theories on intimate partner violence to try to explain it.
Women who are deeply entangled in a relationship domineered by abuse are often viewed as having no control. They often feel as though they have lost control over the situation, but these women quickly learn that they can manage the abuse in some ways. They learn how to control when the abuse occurs and, to some extent, how long it goes on. Women who are in abusive relationships learn to escalate the abuse quickly, in order to get it over with. Their language might look like goading, it might look a lot like Sandra’s language, almost taunting the perpetrator.
Typically, when women do this in abusive relationships, they know who they are dealing with. They know the exact point the perpetrator will go to, and then he will stop. They know what he will do and how far he will go. This is a victim’s way of exerting some sort of control over the situation, and her way of trying to survive.
When a victim does this and does not survive, however, that means the perpetrator went even beyond his own limits. The escalation went beyond either person’s expectation, and the victim died. Sometimes the escalation happens with the victim, and the victim ends up killing the perpetrator.
Sandra’s words and behavior sound an awful lot like a woman trying to exercise control over an uncontrollable situation, by at least bringing the abuse on in order to get it over with. I have no way of knowing whether Sandra had been abused in her past, or whether she has witnessed abuse in her past, but her language has that familiar feel to it. I don’t think she set out to make this happen, in any way, shape or form. But I do think she knew it was out of her control and her survival instincts set in.
Regardless of what her behavior and words sound like, she deserved better treatment from that cop, and from that jail, than she received. She was stripped of her human dignity, reduced to a few words and a very grainy video. May her words haunt us, and, just like her mother has requested, may the anger be channeled to do good and make changes happen.
Reality Vs. Distraction
So needless to say, the South is deeply embroiled. As the Confederate flag came down in South Carolina last week, now all the traditional symbols of Confederate power are being questioned. Groups across the entire region are petitioning to have statues removed, even digging up graves of Confederate soldiers.
And of course there are a loyal few who are protesting these removals. I get it, in some ways – I mean, if we remove these symbols how will we remember where we came from? And if we are in danger of forgetting history, aren’t we doomed to repeat it?
I grew up hearing all that, too. I grew up believing that flag represented heritage. My cousin sent me a private message the other day, informing me of my own grandfather’s great-grandfather, who was a soldier in the Confederate army. My cousin claims he never owned slaves, never was interested in politics or whatever, that he just fought to protect what was his. (I never knew this ancestor, and I’m pretty sure my cousin never knew him either, so I’m not sure how he is able to make those assumptions, but those are his words, not mine).
On the other side of this is one of my Facebook friends, Ladale Benson, who wrote yesterday:
What does it mean for me to know that my Great (3x) grandfather possibly died in the trail of tears? My genetic and physical make-up being predominantly influenced by my African heritage, with a touch of native blood, situates me in time and space a certain way, that automatically challenges the norm. This simple analysis is where I find the instinctual calling to resistance. This is one place I find my spiritual cry for justice.
Ladale identifies as Black, but recognizes the diversity in his heritage, and the point of his post was to acknowledge the pain within both of parts of his ancestral heritage. He shares in the pain of his Black grandfathers, who were brought to this country in chains and built this country as unpaid slave workers. He shares the pain of Native American history, in which Red bodies were driven out of this country by bullets and ammo. Yes, these things happened prior to our existence, but the signs and evidence remain with us – Native American people are all but extinct. Black persons in America are still being imprisoned and still face systemic and institutional oppression simply because they are Black.
So I stand in the midst of this – on one side are my white friends and family who take pride in our heritage. Having a soldier who fought bravely in the Confederate army is a symbol of power and pride for white families in the South. But for persons of color the realities of that War meant pain and suffering. Black families were separated by force in the building of this country; white families chose to divide themselves over the right to exploit Black bodies. Native American families were completely eradicated because they did not “fit in” with manifest destiny.
To me the flag is an easy symbol, right? Sure, take it down, but I can still fly it on my car or on the front of my house, and I will, says the white Southern. You can take a flag, but you can’t take my pride in my family heritage, or, in other words, I still hold power in this country and I still have the right to view our history through my own privilege. That privilege tells me that the Civil War was necessary to protect our freedoms – a freedom that included and was built upon exploiting and oppressing Black and Native bodies.
But – but – but – they exclaim – our country was founded on “Christian” principles. Um ok, think that if you wish, but also understand that it was money and wealth that brought whites to this side of the Atlantic. Religion became a convenient cover. The founding of America quickly became a cesspool of human trading – the routes of trafficking thousands of African peoples is well-documented and the South is located squarely in the middle of those routes. And there is nothing Christian about the ownership of bodies.
So religion and this flag become the distraction from reality. In the end, removing the flag will do very little to change reality in America. Religion will do very little to change reality in America – if it made a difference then founding America as a “Christian nation” would have never included owning Black bodies or massacring Native bodies!
But, my cousin says, our forefather never owned a slave. Yep. Perhaps that is the truth. But here’s the cliché of the day – you never had to own a slave to be complicit in the economic system that relied on slavery to function. This soldier, Berryman Glasgow, had to buy feed and seed from someone. Any horses or cattle he owned, came from somewhere. The flour he used to bake his bread came from somewhere, processed from some plant somewhere. And the wood he built his house with, also was more than likely bought from somewhere else. All those industries were reliant on slave labor. Unpaid slaves built the railroads themselves, which were the primary means of shipping supplies. Slaves who never received a penny of reimbursement for their labor, and who are barely recognized when we view the Confederate flag.
Years ago I worked for Forsyth County, the seat of which lies in Winston Salem, NC, and happens to be home of RJR Nabisco. RJR = Reynolds Tobacco, Winston brand cigarettes, Winston cup racing. RJR built an empire in this little area, and tobacco money built the roads, tobacco money paid the taxes for the courthouse to operate, tobacco money kept this economy afloat. When I worked for Forsyth County employees could still smoke at their desk – because tobacco money paid for that desk. When Hanes Mall proposed a smoke-free policy, people boycotted the mall – because tobacco money built that mall.
All the white people in Winston Salem supported the tobacco industry. Many of them had parents and grandparents who had worked in the tobacco industry for years, had retired from tobacco industry, had generated wealth from tobacco industry. I’ve come to realize that RJR was a white empire – Winston’s white people worked there, held blue collar jobs there, took pride in their work there. To be sure, RJR never paid people very much, and you sure can’t say that anyone who worked in tobacco was wealthy, and most of the people who worked in RJR were actually quite poor.
But tobacco and furniture were the mills that white people could work in and still have pride. I know this first hand. My grandparents worked tobacco and furniture. North Carolina in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s was mostly tobacco and furniture and textiles. That was what you did if you didn’t go to college. You worked the mill life. It wasn’t going to make you rich, but you could live off that and if you were lucky, you might get a pension. In the 1980’s, the furniture industry collapsed and my grandparents lost their pension. They had worked for White’s of Mebane for 20+ years, and Hickory White bought out White’s in a capitalistic venture. In the process of that buyout, they conveniently let all their long-time employees, the ones closest to pension, go.
Everything my grandparents had worked so hard for was gone. There was no generational wealth to pass along. Their retirement possibilities vanished before their eyes.
Now don’t get me wrong. Black people worked in those mills too. I was always amazed that Grandma worked with Black people, but she still used language like, “Oh no, you don’t want to be friends with those people.” My Grandma was known to be the one who prayed all through church. She prayed for everybody. She loved everybody. But the big secret was that she still saw Black people as “those people.” I wondered how she could work with Black people, but not be their friends and not talk with them. But truthfully, she didn’t work “with them.” The Blacks held different jobs than she did. They worked different hours than she did. She could hold herself as better than them, because the system allowed her to.
This is where it gets tough, my friends. As poor as my grandparents were, they told themselves at least they weren’t Black. We might have been poor, but we didn’t live in the ghetto. We might have been poor, but we didn’t need food stamps. We might have been poor, but at least we had weekends off to go to church and at least we worked first shift.
What the hell does any of this have to do with that damn flag? Well, we justify our existence and our “heritage” in order to build ourselves up. In the process of flying that flag, we rewrite history, our own personal family histories, as something to be proud of. My family’s work history is something to be proud of – my grandmother spent many years sanding beautiful furniture pieces by hand. She would never be able to afford those beautiful pieces she worked so hard on, but she had pride in her work. But even in her hard work was a painful reality. She was complicit in a system that allowed her to see herself as better than others, simply because she was white.
Regarding the flag, we do the same thing. Having family members that gave their lives in the name of freedom is something to be proud of. But we tend to forget that the Civil War was not fought for freedom for all, nor did it mean freedom for all. And we especially tend to forget that whether the war was fought over slavery or tariffs, it still was fought in order to uphold an economic system that was based on exploiting and othering bodies for monetary profit.
And when we insist on flying that flag, knowing that Black and Native bodies were killed over it without the promise of freedom, we deny that painful part of our history. You know, the painful part where we have to acknowledge that we are part of a system that abuses people. And then we have to admit that we are all abused, somewhat, by this system. My grandma was never paid fully what she was worth. But it was ok, because at least she got to do the honorable work (ie, she didn’t have to mop floors or pick cotton). So that flag represents a sort of false honor – at least our (white) ancestors fought with bravery for freedom and what they thought was right, never mind the bodies they abused in that process.
In fact, we deny so much that persons of color were abused in this system, that we still refuse to hear them when they insist that flag being flown is an insult to them. We deny their reality, in order to build our own (false) reality. This is why removing that flag won’t really change anything – we will find other ways to deny that reality so we can make up our own reality. We already deny reality in many different ways, every single day, just driving to the grocery store. We deny it simply because, in our inner selves, we still consider persons of color “those people.” That has never really changed, even two generations later.
I Know Which Parties the White Kids Crash
Over the weekend some people had a pool party. Sadly, when underage uninvited guests showed up, the hosts of that party called cops. And mayhem ensued.
I cringe because there’s a whole awful lot of hypocritical people who spew their hatred even though they know that white kids act the same way, but white kids get away with it.
You see, I know a little bit about our hometown. I know a little bit about the neighborhood where the white kids in our hometown grow up. I know a little bit about the lake, and the high school, and I know a little bit about what it’s like to be one of the privileged ones. You know, to have the right skin color.
See, I know where all the white kids go on Friday night to crash the golf course. I know how they sneak through the woods to cross the broken fence in the back, so they can trespass on the greens. I know where they collect all the stray golf balls, and then sell them back to the golf club members.
I know where they all go so they can sneak a swim in the lake. I know where they park their cars and where they drop their clothes, and I know the spot where they skinny-dip across the lake to get to the other side.
I know where those same white kids end up camping for the night. There’s a secluded little camping area with a shelter that’s perfect for lighting a fire and getting high. I know how they get back there without being spotted by the park rangers, and I know how late they hang out back there, beer and alcohol served to minors, and drug paraphernalia that can be found left behind, in broad daylight.
On the rainy nights I know where they drop their canoe into the lake to fish, late at night, even though no one is allowed to fish in that lake. But you go out in the rain, because that’s when the fish bite the best. (And because the park rangers don’t like to be out in the rain, so they won’t bother you.)
And I know which judge they call when they drive home, after their late night shenanigans, so they can get bailed out of jail for their fifth DUI.
That is the crap that the white kids who live in our hometown do. But this party that is in the news, was in broad daylight, and these kids showed up during the day. And the hosts of that party, rather than call their parents, called the cops to have them arrested like thugs. The white kids do it at night and no one ever calls the cops on them, no one ever so much as bats an eyelash, and they go home scot-free. The white kids are no more invited onto the golf green at midnight than those children were invited during the daytime. The white kids have no business skinny-dipping in the lake, or midnight fishing on that lake. But no one ever had them arrested and no one ever called authorities to rough them up and no one ever followed current laws on trespassing, when it was the white kids.
And those same white kids speak up in the public forums, supporting the officers and claiming that those hosts had a damn right to be angry and those cops were “just doing their jobs.”
There’s also a big theological problem, if we happen to be reading this story and we happen to claim to follow Christ. The problem is not that Black kids crashed a pool party. The problem is not that white kids trespass after hours and get high on the lake. The problem is that we thought the Black kids did not belong there.
Lemme back up a bit and give some theological reflection. Let’s talk about this Jesus guy for a minute. See, Jesus had a habit of going around the local places and drawing out the people who had no privilege. The man in the cemetery, who people claimed had demons, was chained up so people would feel safe. That man couldn’t work a job. He was dependent on someone having enough compassion to bring him food, just so he could stay alive. Do you think you would have been the person to bring him food? No! We would all have been cultured to stay far away. That’s why people said he had demons – so people would stay away from him.
But Jesus showed up and healed him that day. Jesus didn’t show up and perform a miracle so that God could show how good God was. Jesus showed up and healed that man and released him from his bondage so that people would stop being afraid of him and so that man could be a part of society again. Jesus healed him so he could work a job and have a family and so he could be part of the Temple worship that was a central part of Jewish life.
We do this all the time, people. We determine all the time who are the people who should be here and who shouldn’t. Every person we see, we question whether they have a right to be there or not. One of the biggest atrocities of white supremacy is an automatic assumption that whites belong there. No one gets upset at the white kids on the lake, because it is assumed they have some sort of right to be there. Nevermind the posted laws and regulations that forbid swimming and skinny-dipping. If they happen to be the sons of the judges or of the county commissioners, then of course nobody’s going to say anything because who wants to mess with a judge?!?!
But when Black people are present, their presence is automatically viewed with suspicion. No one thinks, oh they must be such and such members so just turn the other way. Maybe they are the judges’ kids so just let them be. No, when Black people are present, they receive the tenth degree. Why are you here? You don’t have any business being here. Go away and go back where you belong (wherever that is, since it is assumed they don’t belong here).
There’s a funny thing that happened in real estate in my hometown. See, years ago, before the rich neighborhoods were built, lakes were built. Those lakes were only placed in certain areas of town, far away from the railroad tracks, if you know what I mean. Those lakes were built and aggregated and stocked and the dam was built to keep the waters only in certain locations. And now all the land around those lakes belongs to the wealthy. Classified as “lakefront property,” it gets the biggest draw for the biggest buck. Wealthy folk who want the best school in Guilford County move in there.
Funny thing that the other side of the railroad track doesn’t have a fancy lake, no dam to keep the water in certain places, and no “lakefront properties” to be found over there. And that is where the Black folk must stay. That must be where they “belong.” They aren’t invited to the pool, because they don’t belong at the pool.
So what about this Jesus guy? See, Jesus never bought into an idea that certain people only belonged in certain places. He had this novel idea that even women (who bleed!) belonged in the most holy of holy places, so he ripped the veil. He had a brilliant social structure that put the bottom on the top, and the top on the bottom. The last would come first, the first would come last. Those who lived furthest away from the lake would be the first to claim prime real estate in the new social order.
And then he called for the Kingdom of God to be brought to earth. He called for the last to be first, God’s will, even on earth as it is in Heaven.
So that means all the Black folk, who were denied entry before, now deserve and are owed the same access. So if we aren’t going to bat an eyelash over the white kids crashing the green, we can’t be upset over the Black kids crashing the pool party. Jesus lifted the veil of suspicion over Black bodies, my friends. Black skin is not to be feared, Black persons are not to be kept out.
Jesus invited the tax collector to dinner. I’m sure everyone else was like, But Jesus, I don’t want to sit next to him because he reeks of all the times I had to pay that dude! I pay him my taxes, I don’t eat dinner with him! And Jesus gently reminded everyone that when it is Jesus’ table, all are invited. When the golf course belongs to Jesus, all must be invited. When Jesus runs the pool membership, it’s open day.
We humans don’t feel very safe when all are invited. We are likely to think that the little girl wearing a yellow bikini, must be a very big threat so we must chain her up like the guy in the cemetery. She didn’t belong there, so get her out by any means necessary. By any means necessary. Keep the lines drawn, people, so we can all feel safe. So white people can maintain their property values.
But Jesus called a different social order, my friends. Jesus called a social order such that, when those showed up who didn’t belong, we are called to invite them in. We are called to share our privilege. We are called to roll the red carpet to those who were kept out. We are called to feed those children who showed up, and we are called to make sure they get home safely when the party is over. Calling cops on Black bodies never ensures anyone gets home safely, of this we can be assured.
How can Christians be peace-keepers and peace-makers? View this incident through a different lens, my friends. Remember your own mischievous self at the tender age of sixteen: new license, new friends, new privileges that you were eager to see just how far you could bend the rules. Let me show you where the white kids go to break the rules and let me show you how many rules they can break in one weekend, without ever getting caught. And then remember that the uninvited ones, the ones we kept out, are precisely the ones Jesus invites in. May we open doors, rather than call cops. May we extend generosity and friendship, rather than police. May we make dignity, rather than humiliation and escalation, the mark of the Kingdom.
So this video has been going around about some guy who does a social experiment to show how easy it is for strangers to abduct children. And of course a national online debate has been sparked about what can we really do, as parents, and what can we help our children learn to do, to avoid being abducted.
You know these debates remind me of the endless ways we tell women not to get raped. You know these lists – don’t wear pony tails or mini skirts, keep your keys out, be aware of your surroundings, and on and on.
Just like those lists sound like victim-blaming to me, these lists of how not to get abducted also sound a little like victim blaming. Oh, don’t get me wrong – we should always practice safe measures and we should always be teaching our children to be aware of their surroundings. Most importantly, even moreso than stranger danger, we should be teaching our children how to listen to their gut feelings. If something doesn’t feel right, come and tell an adult.
And just like with rape victims, it is important to help children know that they will be heard and taken seriously. The greatest gift we can give our children is to help foster their own “gut feelings” and listen to them when they are expressing themselves. One of the most difficult social issues to deal with when working with survivors of intimate partner violence and rape, is always that women have been taught, cultured, that no doesn’t always mean no. And men have not been taught adequately that no means no.
But the sad reality is, that when someone wants to do harm, they are going to do harm, by whatever means necessary. So even if you do everything right, if someone wants to take your child they are going to take your child. In fact, it seems a bit ridiculous to expect children to be able to stand up to an adult and say NO! and be able to single-handedly avoid being abducted. It has happened, and kudos to those kiddos who have been able to accomplish that, but it seems unreasonable to expect all children to be capable of that.
So I thought a little about the theology of strangers. Actually Jesus taught his disciples to go to all the nations and preach and heal and minister, not to friends but to strangers. Jesus spoke with strangers all the time. In fact, Jesus went out of his way to encounter the woman in Samaria. He purposely traveled around the Sea of Galilee and found her at the well.
I realize we aren’t all Jesus and we don’t know people inherently as Jesus did. But I have thought about the many kind strangers I have encountered in my own life, and many of them have been like Jesus to me. There were kind strangers on motorcycles who helped me push my car across four lanes during traffic. There were kind strangers in the subway of NYC, helping us figure out where we were going and which train to take. There were the kind people of Germany, when we landed in a foreign country and could speak no German, who assisted us in acclimating to a strange land.
Strangers have changed my life, altered the course of my life, people I did not know showed me the kindness that is Jesus, time and time again. A few weeks ago a lady stopped in me my car. She was in a wheelchair, and she flagged me down. I rolled my window down and heard her asking for just a few dollars so she could buy her Albuterol prescription. I know enough to know that Albuterol is a medication that helps one breathe. And I was embarrassed that I had absolutely no cash on me.
I went to the bank, and drive back to try to find her and try to help her, but she was gone already. I will never forget how much I felt like I had let her down. The verses rang in my head loud and clear: “I was hungry and you did not feed me. I was naked and you did not clothe me.” I needed medication and you didn’t even have a few dollars on you.
Most people would be like, oh what do you even care? Who was she to you, anyway? She was a stranger. What was she doing stopping your car in the middle of the street anyway? Desperation looks like that, my friends. I vowed to always carry some cash in my purse from that day on. The guilt of how I failed her motivated me – this wasn’t just some panhandler on the side of the road, my friends.
A few days later I came out of Target, and there was someone else, approaching me for a few dollars. She spewed out her story, quickly, before I ran away. I already knew what I was going to do, I already knew to give her just a few dollars and bless her. And the funniest thing happened, because I had already promised to give – it really didn’t matter what her story was, it didn’t matter who she was, it didn’t matter what she was really going to do with that money. All that mattered was that I helped.
These are the encounters of the Jesus kind, my friends.
I’m not telling you to abandon all the things we know about keeping ourselves safe, and about making judgment calls about what feels right or what doesn’t. Sometimes we feel horribly uncomfortable when strangers approach us – especially if I’m in a strange city or I don’t know my way around. I don’t think we are kicked out of Heaven because we don’t help everyone, or because we don’t feel safe enough to roll down the window.
But we are financially empowered to help and assist strangers in many ways in our society. Sometimes helping others looks like donations to United Way or by creating food drives or by writing checks for the pastor’s benevolence fund. Sometimes helping strangers means voting so that the city/county/state/nation can expand healthcare and children’s services and veteran’s benefits.
We have a sense of distrust in our strange neighbors already ingrained and cultured into us. We don’t want our taxes to go to strangers who we think are abusing the system. We are automatically suspicious, even of a woman in a wheelchair, when people ask for assistance on the street. But Jesus calls us to a greater awareness.
Last week I went out to lunch with my husband. It was just a quick bite as he had calls to be on, but we sat and listened to a guy next to us, and his conversations with another woman. The woman was eating her lunch alone, and this man just walked up to her table, sat himself down, and began a conversation with her. They were both older, both from a different generation than my own, and while the conversation was just about every day stuff, I noticed patterns in the man’s language towards the woman.
He repeatedly talked down to her, talked over her, dismissed her opinions, and I’m not really sure she really wanted to eat lunch with this guy, but he remained seated in her booth talking to her! I’m not even sure if she knew she wanted to eat with him, but she did not know she could politely ask him to leave. I’m not sure she recognized how he was subtly demeaning her with his language, but Alan and I both heard it and both shook our heads at his attitudes towards this woman.
These are the types of strangers who make me very uncomfortable. The types of strangers who impose themselves upon you only to talk down to you, and often we aren’t aware of what was going on until they walk away.
Jesus calls us to awareness of these things when he encounters the Syro-Pheonician woman. Her repeated requests to Jesus, asking for her daughter to be healed, go unheard. She is not going to stop until grace is extended to her, and finally she calls Jesus out and says, “Jesus, even the DOGS get to eat the crumbs from the table.” In other words, Jesus we have been treated like and we have been called dogs for years in our own community, this isn’t grace this is hell. Extend grace to us, Jesus, even to those who are less than dogs. She experiences the intersection of racism, classism, and sexism every day in her life, and she stands strong.
A few years ago we sat in a restaurant and heard a guy tell his son,who didn’t want to sit next to his sister, “Oh come and sit over here, I know you would rather your sister sit outside, if you had your way. So you don’t have to sit next to her.” I was appalled at what the sister, a little girl who was maybe 7 or 8 years old, had just heard, from her own father. On my way out the door I handed that man a note that simply said, “Every girl is a princess, and every girl deserves to hear from her father and her brother that she is important enough to sit at the head of the table, or anywhere at the table, but never EVER outside.”
He followed me out the door and proceeded to tell me in the parking lot how he was only just kidding and he wasn’t really like that. And I was like, then you go back in there and you show your daughter that.
Those are the kinds of strangers I am wary of. The likelihood of our children being abducted is pretty slim, but the likelihood of strangers needing our assistance happens quite often. And the likelihood that strangers are going to demean and degrade women and steal from their self esteem and take away their abilities to say I’d rather have lunch in peace and quiet, thank you, occurs every day as well. In the end, our children act the way we model to them. When they see us helping the stranger who needs assistance, they too will be the ones who stop what they are doing and assist. When they see us discussing with others what it means to treat women with respect and dignity, they too will treat others with respect and dignity. And when we empower women to say no, and teach men to listen to the word no, we teach consent and we teach mutual respect. Stranger or not.
Ok, so I’m seeing and hearing a lot around the interwebs about why Black people are dwelling on the past, and why they don’t just get over it already.
I cringe whenever I hear words like that. I think every Black person who just spoke their every day experience of loss and fear and oppression cringes at the insensitivity and the pure cold nature that lies in those words.
I can’t claim to know fully the experience of Black people in the country of America. I can’t write for them or to them, I can’t tell Blacks when to just get over their oppression. I think it’s pretty ballsy, actually, for white people to do that to Black people, because it reeks of privilege.
It is also very anti-Christ.
I’ve heard those words myself whenever I speak about my experience as a survivor of domestic abuse. I can’t compare the two situations, but I can express how it feels when I have become vulnerable and brave enough to express my pain, and someone knocks my breath completely out by asking me why I don’t just get over it. It happened so long ago, they tell me.
Whenever I read the gospels, as different and unique as each one is, I never find that Jesus tells anyone to just get over it. There is tender compassion when he stops what he is doing, and demands the children come to him. There is a gentle listening when the woman touches his hem, and he asks who touched him. Who are you, and what are your needs? What is your suffering, my dear woman who braved the ridicule to show up? Jesus rebukes those who stand in his way. Jesus rebukes us for standing in the way.
There is one woman who put Jesus in his place – the Syro-Pheonician woman who reminded Jesus that if salvation was for all, and if healing was for all, then salvation and healing must even be for the ones who have been named dogs. Or thugs. Or hoodlums. Or the horrible n-word. She throws it in our face – hey, don’t be calling people that. Don’t be denying grace to ALL. And we are left to wonder, is this what God sounds like, when God refuses to see people as human? Does God stop viewing people as human, simply because of the color of their skin?
I see in Black people a courage and a vulnerability, even when expressed through riots and burning, right now. And I see some white people who dismiss them, who ask them just to protest peacefully – hey, why aren’t we making it so they don’t have to protest at all????? Don’t you hear the absurdity in that request? Haven’t you ever been so angry that you wanted to burn something down? No? Well then, consider yourself highly privileged, my friend.
And then, the most difficult words of all to hear, those that demand you just forget what happened, and here are your two choices: you can sit and bitch about it, or you can move on with your life and show them different.
Again, words of privilege and insensitivity. Words that cut like a knife. Oh, yeah, because it’s that easy to overcome the decades of housing markets that have been redlined so Black neighborhoods aren’t worth what white neighborhoods are. And oh yeah, because it’s easy to overcome your dad, your uncle, your brother, and your son, all carrying lifelong records of crimes they did not commit, or of crimes that were non-violent, but crimes that render them unemployable and unhouse-able for the rest of their lives. Sure, that is as easy to overcome.
What a gross over-simplification those comments are.
And I argue there is even a third option: we discuss honestly and painfully, so people are allowed to heal, and we continue speaking and advocating for others, so they can heal as well.
Black people are speaking their pain, my friends. Honest, raw, vulnerable pain that white people have caused. It is awful to hear. It is necessary to hear and to make safe spaces to hear.
Ah, safe spaces. That’s hard, isn’t it? White people don’t consider the spaces where Blacks speak, to be “safe.” White people see the labels on Black music, and perpetuate the warnings of Black neighborhoods, and carry a tradition of fear against the color Black. The only reason these fears exist is that being in those spaces makes white people painfully aware of the strange dichotomy that exists in our nation right now.
It’s as if America is a big family, and there are two kids – the white kids and the Black kids. And the Black kids are saying, gee this family is horribly dysfunctional for me. I can’t breathe. And the white kids are holding the mouths of the Black kids and saying what, it’s warm in here! It’s lovely in here! Just get up and move on! You can’t breathe? I can’t hear you! Look at how lovely it is in here! Look at all this wealth! Look at all these opportunities! Just get up! But the hand is still over the mouth.
Being survivors is difficult work. I am a survivor of my own micro-cosm of pain. Blacks are survivors of multi-generational oppression that has gone on for centuries now and continues to keep them locked in patterns of human behavior that mean their children are marked for life. No one can tell any person how to grieve, or how to heal, and simply pushing it off on Blacks completely erases the responsibilities of white people to assist. The white kids in my example have to actually recognize their hand is on the mouth. Their hand is on the mouth because they know if they release, they must share all the goodness, and they don’t want to share.
Jesus, give us ears to hear. And willing hands to turn around long enough to ask, who are you? What are your needs today?
We can neither criticize nor praise that mama for beating and chasing after her son on public streets in Baltimore, my friends.
That mama makes for an easy distraction from the real issue. Alan so very poignantly stated to me this morning that people are parading her video around today as if to say, “Look, see, if ALL Black mamas were doing this to their sons, this whole big messy racism problem would all go away.” And really? So we think Black mamas aren’t trying to raise their boys right? How many times have we participated in discussions that pushed much of the blame for America’s problem with race right back on to Black mothers, claiming that if they only did something different the whole thing would be all gone?
There are several ways that video is disturbing for all of us. To lift her up as a model only teaches children further violence in response to situations. I can’t say she was doing the right thing or the wrong thing in her situation. I think it is easy, as a white woman, to say oh I woulda beat my kid up too, but would I have? If I said that, wouldn’t I be speaking from a certain position of privilege – the privilege of having boys who don’t feel the need to protest because they stand in very different circumstances in their lives?
To lift her up only means we automatically assume Black women are not the mothers they should be – as if we had the right to tell Black mothers how to raise their sons? As if Black mothers aren’t doing their absolute best already? As if we can deny the true hardships Black mothers face every day, trying to raise their boys?
To lift her up only belittles the reality of a very deep, systemic issue that is the result of the actions, beliefs, ideals, and systems of many. Of all of us. The problems of race exist in America not because Black mothers failed, but because we all failed. We are all participants in this problem, many of us the problem because we refuse to acknowledge there is a problem.
And to raise her up makes her the cop, pitted in between white cops and Black men, trying her hardest to keep peace somehow. But in reality she is desperate to keep one more Black man out of prison. She can’t afford for him to go to prison. Black families can’t afford for one more Black son or husband or father to go to prison.
No, this issue is much bigger than one mama, my friends. This mama reminds us of the stigma we all view her video with – the preconceived notion that media wishes us to buy into. Look, a Black mama punishing her son. That is newsworthy, as if Black mamas don’t punish their sons or as if this issue were as simple as that. I doubt many of us white folk really understand the realities of being a Black woman, or a Black mother, and what life looks like for these women of valor. It’s easy to speak from our little white worlds of comfort, where the husband works and the kids go off to college. For Black women, the landscape looks much different, as they live the reality of statistics of Black men who are incarcerated and marked for life. For them the landscape looks much different, when it is not only their sons or husbands in prison, but the sons and husbands of the entire neighborhood. Gone. Absent, not because they are “promiscuous” as the rhetoric would have us believe, but missing because they are incarcerated within a for-profit system that preys upon them simply for the color of their skin.