Here in south Asia, Sandra Bland is leading the evening news. Her death is resonating in an area where every daily newspaper chronicles women’s deaths by beating, being burned alive by their families; where Malala was shot in the face for attending school.
My in-country counterparts are horrified by the story – and the treatment, over-all, of African Americans at the hands of U.S. police officers. “Why?” they want to know. There seems to be more name recognition of Bland here than among my white friends in my own country.
“Black don’t wash off,” is a phrase I learned decades ago while working in Anacostia with gang members. Another was “I just don’t have time to educate you right now”.
The first acknowledges the simple truth that white America can’t hear a thing black America says. The second acknowledges the Herculean effort –and possible punishment – inherent in insisting on being heard.
Today some – very few — white people are learning that black America routinely faces a potential death penalty just for a minor traffic violation – even when, as in Bland’s case, the arresting officer’s driving forced the violation. This is no news to African Americans. My brown-mother friends train their children from birth to be more polite, more respectful, to be mindful of their provisional place in our violent culture.
Enter a new generation of activists, the African American millennials and digital natives. The power of so-called “black Twitter” is going to be heard, no matter what, white discomfort be damned. This is the true power of the Internet: a citizen journalism that demands discussion, education, and political action – even in the face of that majority of white Americans who have the privilege of ignoring what’s going on.
When the messenger is another white face, we white Americans listen. When it’s a black face – especially an angry mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-any-more face – we deny the truth. We retreat into our white privilege, ignore or exact punishment.
The typical message interaction goes something like this:
She killed herself in her cell.
OR THE WORST (and most common) WHITE RESPONSE:
When the people in distant Asia take Sandra Bland seriously, but the regular white person-on-the-street in the United States does not – what does that say about us?
List of black women killed in police custody
Social media tool kit including photos and bios of women killed by African American Policy Forum
Recent report by African American Policy Forum
Suzanne Turner is the President and Founder of turner4D. The photo of Sandra Bland is from Wikicommons.