The system of racism…it’s not just the cops baby!

The suspicious death of Sandra Bland has been sitting with me for several days as the uncomfortable truth of just how fragile Black life is creeps into my soul. Lately, I find myself thinking that from cradle to death there are precious few, if any, spaces where Black people are seen simply as humans. Fellow travelers on this dusty rock we all inhabit.  Instead, Black people are seen through suspicious eyes, so much so that a lane change without using a signal ends up with a young woman’s life cut short.

The accessibility of technology now means we have the ability to consume a steady diet of Black pain and horror. We now know that Black children at play are killed by cops. Black kids at sleep are killed by cops. Black women who assert their constitutionally protected rights, if not killed by cops, end up dead in jail cells they ought not to have been in in the first place. Black women trying to secure employment as best they can are charged with abandonment for behavior that earns a white women a new career as an “expert.” Black kids targeted for teenage behavior by cops end up having their homes at risk.

It’s not just a corrupt criminal justice system that unfairly targets Black people; it is a society built on demonizing Black people. It is a system that doesn’t understand the psychic damage that was bestowed upon us all by people who are long dead.  It is a system that doesn’t understand the interconnectedness of all life: That when we create a system that bestows second class status at birth, that marker follows you through out life.

It is a system where a man broke the law by selling loose cigarettes and ended up dead yet few people ever thought to publicly ponder why was the man selling loose cigarettes in the first place. No one buys a pack of cigarettes to sell individual cigarettes unless they need money. Period.

Sandra Bland was in that jail cell three days after being arrested because she hadn’t posted bail which was set at $5,000, or 10% for bond coming to $500.  Despite being a college graduate with a promising future, she sat in a jail cell for lack of ability to come up with $500 immediately. Had she been able to post bond immediately after being arrested, she would have been released. No overnight in the cell much less three nights in the cell.  The racial pay gap is very real and has real consequences.

White people get arrested for minor and not so minor crimes too but unless they are the poorest of the poor, the odds are high they have access to the resources to come up with $500 to avoid a night in jail. If they enough resources, odds are high they can fight the charge by hiring an attorney and not worry about a criminal record that can impact them later down the road.

Ours is not a fair or equal society; in fact, the inequity is apparent at every level. So, while many of us are just now focusing on the glaring inequity of the criminal justice system and the police, we need to widen our lens to see the whole picture. We need to become whole-systems thinkers, we need to ask the hard questions and be willing to feel that lump in our throats when we see the horror of just how insidious racism is.

Sandra Bland made several  videos and in one of them she mentioned being depressed and maybe even having a touch of PTSD. That statement was loaded, especially now that the authorities state that she took her own life. I am not interested in trying to prove what happened because that isn’t my job, though I believe it is possible that she may have taken her own life. Hopeless moments make the impossible possible. Yet Sandra spoke a truth that I think few Black people will publicly give voice too.  There is a trauma to the current state of Blackness, to know that at any moment you are or your loved ones can be harmed by the very people your taxes pay for. That there is a point where this life on this rock in this Black skin feels heavy and that heaviness threatens to overwhelm you. To know that no matter where you go, the world will see you as suspect. That weight is heavy and it takes its toll.

Videos capture our endings but rarely our humanity. As I find myself struggling with wondering about the purpose of this space and at times whether I should retire it, I am reminded of the shortage of spaces that showcase Black humanity and in that moment I resolve to write one more post.  I am also thankful that Sandra Bland also showed her own humanity so that we will know that she more than just another Black body in an orange jump suit.  We are a people under siege, and as comedian Margaret Cho tweeted: “We are witnessing the genocide of African-Americans by police–if you do nothing to stop it, you have blood on your hands #BlackLivesMatter”  I would add that while the police are at the front lines of this increasingly visible war on Black Americans, don’t become complacent and assume they are the only ones we need to be concerned with. To dismantle structural racism means looking at all the structures and how they impact each other.
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8 thoughts on “The system of racism…it’s not just the cops baby!

  1. Thank you for your tenacity. To keep writing, to keep posting the stories, to keep sharing. Thank you.

    Sandra Bland is someone I would have like to have known. Assertive, smart, determined, real. When you first posted that story. I felt the loss, too. Happens to women all too often. The aftermath and the spew coming out is every kind of ugly. Social media offers it up in every form.

    You have personalized racial issues I can’t say I’ve seriously had the opportunity or desire to address / engage prior to Ferguson. These are conversations I need to be privy to understand what it means to be you. A black woman transplanted from Chicago to Maine. I’m beginning to realize what I don’t know and that’s no small thing. Things I would not, could not learn from the books I read or my own limited experiences.
    I really like you, this woman who lives in Maine, my former home. I relate to you on so many things- as a woman, family stuff, keeping level through the onslaught of everyday shit and provocation, expectations. Nothing hits home harder than to realize our differences, the challenges you specifically face, the things I take for granted as shared or similar experiences.
    Take care. You are necessary and valued.

    • Please do not retire this space. I need your voice to say things I want to say but have not. Like Patricia, I really like you and relate to you on so many things. This whole Sandra Bland story is a tragedy — every day, with each new revelation, my heart breaks a little more. We need — or rather I need — voices like yours so we won’t feel alone in this struggle.

  2. The hard reality, the one that we’re reluctant to accept, is that blacks in this society are mostly seen as nothing more than a necessary evil, a people barely tolerated, a people unwanted, a people undervalued, a people seen as a hardship imposition on the majority population.

    Every right enjoyed by the majority population, blacks have had to fight for. Even with the backing of some in the majority population, the bestowal of rights have always come with a battle, an uphill climb.

    White abolitionists, along with Frederick Douglass, agitated for years for the abolition of slavery, which only ended after a bloody Civil War. Blacks pushed for integration, it was kindly offered. Blacks fought for civil rights in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, it wasn’t freely extended.

    Donald Trump’s attack on so-called “illegals,” and his call for an impenetrable fence or wall along the southern border has brought him a sudden, but not unexpected, rise in his poll numbers, outdistancing the Republican party’s favorite, Jeb Bush.

    Here’s what’s clear, taking into account this nation’s racial history: The impenetrable fence/wall between Mexico and the U.S. would have been erected years ago had those crossing the southern border been black rather than brown.

  3. I can re-read what I’ve written a hundred times, but still manage to make at least one goof. The partial statement, “it was kindly offered,” should read, “it wasn’t kindly offered.”

  4. As taken from the Catholic Catechism (day 208), “Society can never be more important than the individual person. Men may never be means to a societal end. Nevertheless, social institutions such as the State and the family are necessary for the individual; they even correspond to his nature.” And in the United States built on the back of red, brown and black bodies ….of course it’s very nature is that of bloodshed and an immature disregard for humanity or even humaneness of persons. Some ignored this reality, some deny it, some prefer to not be bothered by the inconvenience of it all !

  5. Hi, there, blackgirlinmaine! Wow, you spoke such so, so very sadly true and powerful truths here in your speaking truth to power! You are such a wonderful truth teller and I can truly see all of the all so true points you make. Please don’t retire this powerful space you have here-your voice is so important and you really make such relevant points! Thank-you so for all you do so well in all of your empowering writings and in general! Blessings To You For Always, Sherry Gordon

  6. Please don’t stop this page. I need to hear what you say. I live in. Portland. Me. And. I know you were planning to move down here. I wonder all the time, does Black Girl In Maine live in my neighborhood? I’d love to meet you. You say things that. I feel and think and. I wonder how can that be? I am a white older woman not a black women. My life circumstances have put me in a less than human class to people in authority. I’m afraid of them. The police, the Drs., the people who can cause physical/emotional harm. Every day of my life is a raging battle inside trying to be heard, to be treated like a person. So many ways the two of us understand (or maybe don’t) the world we live in. The daily struggles to stay safe and alive. To survive. You are so important Black Girl in Maine. I may not have the same color skin you do but we both have a common humanity. It is a shame, (and. I am so sorry) that you have, as a black person struggled and suffered so much because others cannot/will not see beyond skin color and recognize the common core of humanity that runs like a thread from everyone of us, back to the God who created us equally. I can’t fix it, but I can and do feel very saddened for you experiences and struggles. I read you pages every day you have it here. I save them in a file and re read them. I learn from you what it is like to be you. At least in knowledge. It’s not possible for me to experience it for you. I will try to find a way to donate $5.00 a month if. I can. I’m crying for no reason. It would be a terrible loss if you voice went silent. ❤️

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