This is Sandra Bland. When she was murdered, a little part of me died. I didn’t know her personally. I never met her. I have watched her Sandy Speaks videos. I have watched the edited dash cam footage of her arrest. I have listened to her cry in pain as Officer Brian Encinia slammed her head onto the concrete. When she tells him she has epilepsy, he says “good.” There is something about her story and all the other police brutality examples of Black people being assaulted and killed that makes me fly into a white hot rage.
I misdirected my rage over Sandra’s death at the wrong people. I’m telling you so that (if you are white) you will not make the same mistake. We are in a state of emergency. You need to do your part and I need to do my part. That means when we make mistakes, we take responsibility and apologize.
The police officer who arrested Sandra Bland kept asking her “what’s wrong?” She started off by being quiet and biting her tongue. He kept at her, asking her “What’s wrong?” So she told him. She was irritated at being pulled over for “failing to signal” (e.g., “driving while black). That’s when things escalated. The moment she questioned his authority, he stopped treating her like a person.
I have a lot in common with Sandra Bland. I too, try to bite my tongue. But I too, have buried trigger buttons that cause the white hot rage to erupt. The difference is, I will not be hanged for my crime, while she was. Because I am white and she was Black.
Sandra Bland’s unlawful arrest and treatment at the hands of the Waller County PD got me so passionately worked up on Twitter that I’ve literally been Saying Her Name every day. I wake up thinking about Sandra Bland. And I go to bed thinking Sandra Bland. I feel so strongly about the horrific treatment she received at the hands of the police. If you are not familiar with her case, check out WhatHappenedToSandraBland.com
Sandra was six feet tall, like myself. Officer Brian Encinia is a short man who approached her and (illegally) ordered her to extinguish her cigarette. She knew her rights. She was a #BlackLivesMatter activist. She said no. He threatened to “light her up” by using his taser. He told her to get out of the car; she refused. He pulled her out of the car and threw her to the ground. After he assaults her, she is heard saying she can’t hear anymore, and she can’t feel her arm. Thankfully someone was videotaping. But she received no medical attention for these injuries.
Please, I’m begging you, if you see police brutality, film it and share it on social media. It’s no longer enough to open our own eyes. The police lie. More people are upset about the death of a lion than the Black Lives taken from us every day.
Since Sandra died I feel enraged. I know I have never, ever, been subject to this type of brutality, nor will I, because of the color of my skin. We cannot tolerate this racist terrorism anymore. We need to speak up to end the white supremacist attitudes that caused her death. We owe it to her to do so.
I felt helpless and powerless at the idea of doing nothing. I wanted to do SOMETHING. I know I have white privilege and I wanted to use it to spread the word about Sandra Bland, not because I’m a white savior or because I have white guilt, but because it’s just the decent human thing to do. Care about other people regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, ability, or class. Demand justice when there is none. And in this case, there hasn’t been any. That’s it. I’m not here for Ally Cookies. I’m not here for a pat on the back.
So I made a video. I took a section of Sandra’s SandySpeaks video and mixed it with video of myself discussing the case and my outrage about it. My thought was that I could use my white privilege for good, to make some noise and light some fires under people so more people would wake up and see the routine killing of black people by police.
In my enthusiasm, I made a mistake. Actually several mistakes. I sent a link to my video out to the #BlackLivesMatter activists I admire and respect and asked them to retweet it. Some did.
The next day I began my day with a cup of coffee and a perusal of TweetDeck. If you’re not familiar with it, TweetDeck is a useful way to visually display tweets of people you follow by category. I do this because I retweet a lot. Why? Because when I opened my eyes and became a feminist, I looked around and did research and came to the conclusion that Black Women are the most oppressed and were therefore in need of the most amplification, so I retweet Black Women a lot. I was not trolling or spying. And I stumbled across something horrifying.
Feminista Jones, a Black Feminist I admire and respect, a woman I retweeted every day, was tweeting about a “horrendous” White Woman. And she was talking about me. She was upset that she’d been trying to take the night off when she received my request for a retweet. She was offended that I didn’t think her followers could get the message from her. She said I had “Miss Millie” syndrome. I literally sobbed like a baby. Miss Millie was The. Worst. White. Woman. In. The. Color. Purple. I felt like I had been slapped across the face. In public. For doing exactly what I preach not to do, which is offend Black women. Now STAY WITH ME because Black Lives matter more than hurt White Feelings and I WILL GET THERE.
I was ridiculed by commenters and called names like “heffer” (which pissed me off, because Body Positivity). I was accused of not respecting Black Women’s spaces, which hurt the most. I was angry, and I wanted to defend myself. I reacted. Badly. I was pissed. Offended. Typical White Fragility. I yelled. I swore. I cried. Let me be clear, Black Women are the people I want to help most in the world. Black women are the people I feel NEED THE MOST HELP, and they were telling me to shut the fuck up. And they were right.
When I got over my “me me blah blah I I I victim story”, I was able to see what they were saying. There were several things I was doing wrong and I want to amplify them to help YOU, the white feminist who wants to avoid being a White Feminist™, so you don’t make the same mistakes I did. A White Feminist™ has the trademark symbol after it to distinguish it from simply being white and a feminist. A White Feminist™ is tone-deaf to the concerns of People Of Color.
What I did Wrong
- Inserted mySELF into the video
- Asked Black Women to amplify MY voice instead of amplifying theirs
- Made it all about ME and MY FEELINGS instead of THEM and THEIR FEELINGS (I was selfish and arrogant)
- Derailed conversation
- Felt justified in going on an aggressive rant using SHOUTY CAPITALS to defend myself (because FEELING DEFENSIVE always gives a White Feminist™ the RIGHT to shout about themselves, right? (NOPE)
- Used the word “lynched” and “hanged” and talked about routine MURDER of Black Women without realizing this can be PAINFUL for Black Women to see and hear and read. Sometimes allies can hurt when they intend to help.
- Seeking (wanting) CREDIT/validation for being a GOOD ANTI-RACIST WHITE PERSON
- Assuming Black Women are always in activism mode and ready and willing and desiring to comment or amplify a video about police brutality
- Did not factor in BW exhaustion from having to
- a) deal with this shit every day, day in, day out, constantly hit with “another death?”
- b) educate everyone about a) all the time
Why It’s Offensive to Black Women
- I am not their white savior
- They can save themselves
- If they want to speak on or amplify a topic, that is their choice
- They don’t owe me any free labor of retweeting something I’ve done, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER OR NOT IT’S ABOUT BLACK WOMEN; that assumption is part of the devaluation of Black women. Just because I’m being a decent human being doesn’t mean I earned a medal or praise or their undying gratitude
- Black Women deserve the right to control their own spaces. They deserve the right to want the night off from police brutality. They deserve the right to control whether or not they get spammed with links or asked to retweet. They deserve to be treated like human beings. They deserve to be asked ‘how was your day’ or ‘how you holding up?’ instead of HEY TWEET MY VIDEO ABOUT POLICE BRUTALITY. They deserve not to have see continuous pictures of Black people being hanged or lynched.
What I could/should Have Done Differently
- Made a video featuring Sandra Bland alone
- Used my frustration over the erasure and murder of Black Women to fuel constructive action
- Taken a STEP BACK and not REACTED but waited until I had cooled off to RESPOND
This is not FUN to admit this shit. But I NEED TO DO BETTER. And so do you. I have felt terrible about all of this and I have cried a lot. But guess what?
So I was challenged, made uncomfortable, and held accountable. Boo Hoo. I wasn’t MURDERED. I need to be able to look myself in the mirror and so do you. I need to show a positive example of what it looks like to be anti-racist for my son. And I need to apologize.
A PUBLIC LETTER OF APOLOGY
To Feminista Jones (and any & all other Black Women I may have offended): I am so sorry. You were right and I was wrong. You did not deserve to bear the brunt of my anger. I’m sorry I invaded your space. I’m sorry I was disrespectful.You have the right to have your space respected.You deserve to be able to control your space and to say or do whatever you want. I’m sorry I offended you. That was not my intent, but intent does not erase impact. Thank you, for showing me myself in the mirror. Although it hurt, I am grateful to have learned. I don’t expect any kind of acknowledgment. I just wanted to apologize. Know that you have always and continue to be an inspiration for me to do the White Folk Work of continuing to remove layer after layer of White Privilege. Thank you for being so fierce and unapologetic. Thank you for the feminist activism work you do. I do not demand or expect your forgiveness or unblocking. I understand that my behavior caused harm. I just wanted you to know I’ve been looking in the mirror ever since and am thus blessed by our encounter. Peace.
When all this went down, Glenna Norlin, a white feminist (who is NOT a White Feminist™) gave me some great advice. She said “As I try to be an ally to black women, I have to remember 3 key things:
- Intent doesn’t erase impact
- Listen. Then listen more.
- Always follow black women’s lead
#whitefolkwork -How to #staywoke
If confronted by an accusation of White Privilege, pledge to:
- Step back. Breathe. Do Not react. Do Not feel defensive. Do Not defend yourself. Be quiet.
- Take time out. Reflect. Absorb. Wait. #LookInTheMirror at yourself. Take a hard look. Look at your ego. Look at your behavior and how it’s impacting others. Put yourself in their shoes. Look at your attachment to your ego. Look at the racism in yourself. Look at it. I know it’s unpleasant, but the future of the people of this earth demand and deserve your willingness to be uncomfortable. Look at yourself.
- WHEN YOU ARE ABLE TO SEE IT from the Point of View of a Person of Color, then
- Respond or Do the Next Right Thing.
- Apologize. That’s right, YOU were wrong.
- If you are receiving hostility from Black ppl, it’s because you’re demonstrating white privilege. There is no alternative answer. Cut that shit out. Remember Stop, Look, and Listen? Look. Listen.
A Public Thank You to White Feminists (who are not White Feminists™) like Emer O’Toole who spoke the truth and helped me see it:
THANK YOU Emer O’Toole. This is what we have to do. CALL. IT. OUT. In a gentle care-frontation. Not a confrontation. Notice she said Peace? She spoke the truth and she wished me peace. I wish I could say I’m as forgiving to the racism I see.
Spiritual activism is not for the faint of heart. It requires that you:
- be willing to LOOK at yourself
- BECOME introspective
- EXAMINE how you may have caused harm even unintentionally
- Apologize and do better next time (GROW)
Spiritual activism is hard work. It requires being willing to be uncomfortable. It requires looking in the mirror to confront your demons. If you are passionate about social justice like I am, and you are white, it requires confronting your racist self. THIS IS NOT FUN. No one ever said activism was FUN. Activism is the RIGHT THING TO DO. And it can hurt. The right thing to do is not always the softest, easiest, way.
I had to barf at the reflection in the mirror. I had to discard old beliefs and attitudes. I GREW. Growth is good because it means there’s gonna be less racism in this world. YOU HAVE AN OBLIGATION, a responsibility to do this work if you are white. You need to be strong enough to face yourself in the mirror and accept things about yourself. It can be humiliating. It can be humbling. And it’s all in the service of a greater good, so keep on keeping on.