Friday, September 18, 2020
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Sandra Bland: Blacks are treated differently

Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old woman with roots in Chicago’s suburbs who police say killed herself in a Texas jail on July 13, tried to address racism in America in a series of videos on Facebook, posted using the hashtag #SandySpeaks, the Chicago Tribune reports.

A #SandySpeaks video dated April 8 is posted to Facebook

A report by the Associated Press out of Hempstead, Texas, says the FBI is investigating her hanging death, which came just three days after she was taken into custody in a controversial traffic stop, just as thoroughly as the agency would investigate a homicide. It’s “much too early to make any kind of determination that this was a suicide or a murder because the investigations are not complete,” the AP quoted Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis as saying.

The medical examiner for the county has ruled her death a suicide, though, but the family has strongly questioned that interpretation of the evidence. She was said to be upbeat and in pursuit of a job at a university in Texas when she was stopped for failing to signal a lane change, arrested, and held in jail for three days.

“With the police brutality and all the things that have been going on in the news, a lot of people have been making noise and expressing opinions about how they feel,” the Tribune quoted her as saying in one of the videos she produced on Facebook. “It’s time to do something.” Addressing “white people” in an April 8 video, she says:

Black people know that all lives matter. But what I need you guys to understand is that being a black person in America is very, very hard. Although you all love to say, “Oh, nobody should see race. People are the reason that racism is still alive.”

Well, what kind of people are these? Black racists have no power. Whereas white racists do. … They have power because they are in positions of control, or they are in positions where they can influence the control over black people.

If we can get enough white people to show that all lives matter, maybe they’ll stop killing our black brothers. Because obviously that’s what it’s going to take: for white people to get tired enough of black people saying “Black lives matter.” So if you all want it to stop, you get out there and do something about it.

I am not a racist. I grew up in Villa Park, Illinois. I was the only black girl on an all-white cheerleading squad. So, I had to learn how to deal with it. Black people, you will not be successful in this world until you learn how to work with white people.

In a brave editorial, the New York Times on Sept. 4, 2015, had this to say about the phrase “Black Lives Matter”: Demonstrators who chant the phrase are making the same declaration that voting rights and civil rights activists made a half-century ago. They are not asserting that black lives are more precious than white lives. They are underlining an indisputable fact — that the lives of black citizens in this country historically have not mattered, and have been discounted and devalued. People who are unacquainted with this history are understandably uncomfortable with the language of the movement. But politicians who know better and seek to strip this issue of its racial content and context are acting in bad faith. They are trying to cover up an unpleasant truth and asking the country to collude with them.

That certainly seems positive, albeit a little ambitious in today’s racist climate, but Ms Bland honestly believed that not all white people were racist—she carried a sign to that effect at a mall near her west-suburban home of Naperville not too long ago—and that a big contributing factor to racism in America is that white people don’t realize black people actually are treated differently in the world.

Her final #SandySpeaks video was dated April 10. Many of her messages ask people to get out and be productive with the day. “Go out there and do something great today … go change a life, even if it’s just smiling at somebody,” she said in a video dated April 7. “Love you guys.”


As a white man, I simply can’t say anything except that Ms Bland spoke her honest opinion, and we should listen, not because she was depressed or may have committed suicide, but because she is honestly speaking her mind about racism in America, a very important subject from the older generation all the way down to school-aged kids. Her initial traffic stop may indeed be one of the worst examples ever reported of police brutality and institutionalized racism.

It disturbs me greatly that for African-Americans, the “American dream” is so elusive. As a teacher, I have to live with the uneasiness it causes to hear that some of my students have the deck stacked against them before they even start. Before black students even set foot in a school classroom, they’ll have been judged by many people as being less trustworthy, less deserving, and less valuable to our communities than their fellow Americans.

I can only imagine, since I find this fact so disturbing, that black people, who have to live with it every day they wake up and try to “be productive,” as Ms Bland put it, are in a much more disturbing position.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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