We Care

Last week, two articles came out on this site about Black women. One of them was about Nicki Minaj and the way media tried to force a “beef” between her and Taylor Swift. The other was a reflection on the death of Sandra Bland. On the latest Arsenal for Democracy radio show, Maria (the writer of the Sandra Bland article) and I tried to articulate how these two things are connected in terms of the lives of Black women. (You can listen to a clip here before reading the rest below.)

Still, I feel the need to make this important point: Black people are allowed to care about both.

There is a quiet suffering that is expected especially from Black women the moment tragedy hits our communities. With every case of a Black man’s death at the hands of police or racist vigilantes, after the gruesome videos of death that are becoming more and more common since last year, there has then been a video of a grieving mother, sister, wife, or daughter who — when asked over and over again about the death of their family member — is expected to give calm and even-voiced answers. If ever they stray away from that restrained grief, if ever they show anger towards the person who murdered their family, their emotions are considered too aggressive. When Eric Garner’s widow refused to accept the condolences of the man who killed her husband, it was a shock for some to see her react so negatively at a press conference.

The same attitude is used against Black people as a whole. This week, after the death of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe, outraged protesters gathered at the office of the dentist who killed him. On the internet, Black people began to compare the outrage over Cecil’s death with the lack of outrage shown over the deaths of so many Black people at the hands of police over the past year. It wasn’t long before people began to accuse Black people online of not caring about Cecil’s death and accusing us of being myopic in our fight for justice.

While I cannot and will never claim to speak for all Black people, I can say this for sure: we are capable of caring about two things at once. Despite stereotypes about our ignorance, Black people have long been able to deal with the oppression of systemic racism and also other issues as the same time.

It is not our responsibility to forgive those that are killing us. Nor is it our “place” to ignore when our lives aren’t treated with the same dignity as the lives of anything else, including wildlife. Not only that but we also have a right to take a break from dealing with systemic oppressions day in and day out. We are people, just like you, and because of that we’re not only capable of focusing on multiple issues, we’re also capable of taking a break from that when the weight of the world is too much for us.

We can care — and talk — about several things at once. Stop telling us which ones to focus on.

July 29, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 136

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.


Topics: Nicki Minaj, Sandra Bland, Misogynoir; No Child Left Behind, Illegal Immigration, Prison Reform. People: Bill, Kelley, De Ana, and Guest Maria. Produced: July 26th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– Why it’s ok to talk about both Nicki Minaj and Sandra Bland in the same week (and how the two stories relate to each other).
– What Pres. Obama is doing on prison reform. Can Congress find a compromise on No Child Left Behind? Texas isn’t handling illegal immigration very well.

Episode 136 (52 min):
AFD 136

Related Links

AFD: De Ana: Policing Black Women’s Emotions and Opinions
AFD: Maria: What Happened to Sandra Bland?
AFD: Bill: Utah’s Homicide by Police Epidemic
AFD: Kelley: President Obama stands up for second chances
AFD: Kelley: 8 years late, Congress ready to revisit No Child Left Behind
AFD: Kelley: 3 Dem Senators say NCLB reforms don’t go far enough
AFD: Kelley: Texas abandons the 14th Amendment
AFD: Kelley: Mass graves of immigrants in Texas elicit little response


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iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

What Happened to Sandra Bland?

Sandra Bland’s life ended when she met a wall of misogynistic racism centuries in the making. Guest post by Maria Jackson.

Sandra Bland was making her way through Texas, having just accepted a position at her Alma Mater, Prairie View A&M University, when she was pulled over, supposedly for changing lanes without signaling. Detecting that she was less than pleased, Trooper Encinia asked Bland what was “wrong”. After Bland responded in a very clear manner, Encinia described Bland as “combative and uncooperative”.

As if Bland should have greeted his traffic stop with smiles and handshakes. As if being irritable and not prostrate is a crime. When she declined to extinguish her cigarette and leave her vehicle, Encinia threatened to pull her out of the car and “light [her] up” with his taser.
After making a phone call and eventually being able to post bail, Bland was found dead in her cell.

What happened to Sandra Bland is something that has been happening for a long time, continues to happen, and will happen again.

However, this is more than a matter of the long history of suspicious deaths and sketchy police stops. There’s another context that makes it easy to get away with doing those things — especially to Black women in America.

It takes bricks to build a wall. Dozens and dozens of hardened clay pieces fitting together precisely. These bricks don’t mean much independently, but when affixed to another the walls they build can protect, defend, or deter. These walls can stand — impenetrable — for multiple generations, through hundreds of years, in near permanence.

Sandra Bland was, in part, the victim of a culture that, brick by brick, had assembled stereotypes of Black women as angry, aggressive, threatening — something to be contained forcibly. It is that wall, part of the foundation underlying Anti-Blackness, that continues to dominate our daily lives — and daily deaths.

Each week, in the news, even in “pop culture,” you can see the bricks being laid and the wall growing ever higher, even in a supposedly post-racial society.

When actress Amandla Stenberg was accused of “attacking” Kylie Jenner and being an “angry black woman”, that was a recent brick. Another brick was set in place when Nicki Minaj correctly called out the racist preferences of MTV and the VMAs but various media outlets instead depicted her as an angry, ungrateful, attacking bully (see AFD essay➚).

There are so many bricks being produced to support American racism and misogynoir against Black women, that there are even some left over to hurl. Like all stonings, those bricks are meant to silence. Ever since Sandra Bland’s murder, the same old bricks have been thrown at her corpse, attempting to bruise and sully her name to make her humanity unrecognizable.

Yesterday, Bland’s death was ruled ‘suicide by hanging’. The announcement of these findings were coupled with toxicology reports of marijuana found in her blood. However, without results that speak to how long ago Bland smoked or ingested the drug, Warren Diepraam, the first assistant district attorney of Waller County, felt free to hypothesize (rather implausibly) that it was “possible that it could have been smoked in the jail.”

Brick, flung.

Like me, Bland was searching for meaning. Like me, Bland had reportedly suffered from joblessness. Like me, Bland was was sick and tired institutional and systemic racism. Like me, Bland was a Black American Millennial. She was connected to a community of like minds who support #BlackLivesMatter. Bland made videos expressing her frustration with racism and gave voice to the movement.

The bricks that build the walls that divide us, crush us. Bland and I used the same hashtags and technology to talk about the sorrow and rage felt at the deaths of black men and women at the hands of those (supposedly) sworn to serve and protect. No one wakes up expecting to become a hashtag at the end of the day, but now we #SayHerName too: Sandra Bland.

Guest essayist Maria Jackson is a thirty-something, 4th generation Georgia Peach who writes for Shakefire.com and can be heard trading opinions and laughter on the Nerdgasm Noire podcast, with Arsenal For Democracy columnist De Ana and others. Co-owner and full time fatshionista for luvfattax.com.