In the past few days I’ve heard the phrase “calling in black” several times. I even saw a video about it that seemed to sum up my feelings perfectly.
It was irreverent, tongue in cheek and slightly indifferent — a perfect execution, really. In it, YouTube vlogger Evelyn from the Internets woke up tired, remarked that as she was employed and not dead she couldn’t complain too much, but she needed “a solid day to reaffirm my humanity to myself. So, see you tomorrow.”
Evelyn mentioned a series of recent incidents, murders — some proven, others suspected, among these Dylan Roof’s massacre, poor defiant Sandra Bland — all of which had ground her down emotionally, spiritually. I empathize sincerely. I’m fighting a rather tragic sense of malaise right now, myself. Some might call it diversity fatigue, a race-related version of ennui, but I think Evelyn was on the money when she called it grief.
It is disheartening to see the same story play out over and over in the media, to feel powerless to help and change things for the better. Then I read comments after an Instagram post about Sandra Bland like this one: “if she would of just did what the cop asked, and not back talk, she would still be alive. What happened to her is so sad.. But responsibility must be taken for the fact that she was defiant.”
A black woman wrote that. A black woman with words like queen and #BlackLivesMatter in her Twitter profile. I looked. Of course, others were infuriated by her response. But I understood. I thought the same thing when I saw that video: He was gonna let her go with a warning. Why didn’t she just clam up? Give him a nice, “No, sir. I’m fine.” She knew he was baiting her, asking a stupid ass question like, “Are you okay? You seem very irritated.” After somebody pulls you over? Come on. It’s power tripping, plain and simple. Me needling you because I feel like I can, hoping you’ll jump so I can attack, and that’s exactly what happened. But if she’d just shut up, maybe she would have lived.
Isn’t it better to swallow your pride temporarily in the face of idiocy so you can live to fight another day?
Then I thought about it some more. Sandra Bland was a proud woman. She was tall, neat, pretty, stylish. She looked like she exercised, like she cared about her appearance. I saw a video where she had rollers in her hair, and she was talking about how — presumably in light of all that’s gone on in the world recently — change has to start with you.
That woman was tired.
She was proud, and she was tired, and she did not see herself as less than. Therefore, humbling herself may have been no more than a fleeting thought because, at first, she never dreamed that her life was in danger. She temporarily forgot how little value black life has in this country, particularly in that area of this country. So, when she was verbally attacked, she fought back. That was her instinct. That makes sense.
It’s right to fight one’s own spiritual and physical extinction. To glom onto the whole, “she shouldn’t have been defiant,” is to deliberately miss the point entirely. Sandra Bland is dead. She died in police custody. It did not have to happen.
A man’s ego led to her death. Yes, hers played a role too. But why focus on her and exclude him? Whether he caused her death or not, that person wearing that uniform, holding those weapons, believing in his own authority over another human beings responses and behavior, contributed to her death. So why don’t we hold him to a higher standard? Why don’t we expect him to shut up and move on?
Is he exempt from ignoring someone talking? I was taught that with authority and power comes responsibility. In addition to his responsibility to enforce the law — you get a citation or a warning because you failed to signal — as a public servant, is he not also responsible for his own temper?
Think about that.
The street goes two ways. She could have shut up, and so could he. And because he has — present tense because he’s still alive — the authority to write tickets and make someone respond, is his responsibility not greater when it comes to upholding a certain standard of behavior?
In that video, Bland was not brandishing a weapon. She did not physically attack him. She did not throw anything at him. She did not curse at him. She was talking, answering his asinine questions, and loudly talking. His temper exploded, and he became the aggressor. He threatened her with violence, not once but several times: “I will light you up … I will drag you out of this car.” He threw her on the ground. He called for reinforcements.
She did not pander to his ego. She did not bow down in the face of his inflated and spurious authority. Sandra Bland did not have any power in this situation, yet she is dead.
Side note: It is completely inappropriate to interject a conversation about the fact that all police are not corrupt into a conversation where people are expressing their grief, sadness, shock and horror over this woman’s suspicious, violent, race-related death. It’s disrespectful. It distracts, and it discounts.
There is a quote often attributed to author Zora Neale Hurston that sums up poor Sandra Bland perfectly: “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
So, yeah. There are many days, seems like most days lately, that I wanna call in black. But I don’t. My conscience — beastly, insistent thing — requires that I keep pointing out the apparently not so obvious in hopes that someone will hear me, listen, share and change.