Looking into Sandra Bland’s Eyes, This is What I am Told

The following was written by guest Author, Husayn Symonds. Follow him on twitter @_Symonds_
Continue reading Looking into Sandra Bland’s Eyes, This is What I am Told

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The Lie of Disowning White Supremacy From History

793307_1280x720A few days ago I posted a link to my Facebook wall with the caption that read: “A year since Eric Garner, and this is our country. It’s never easy realizing how little some people value your existence.”

The link was a Policy.Mic article showcasing pictures from a KKK rally from this past weekend. It’s disturbing to say the least. Another sobering reminder as to where the movement stands in many minds of the people who need to hear certain messages the most.

What was even more telling were the defensive responses that followed to my reactions. For a lot of white Americans, those pictures don’t represent a reality. To them, by us focusing on the racists, we are losing sight of the vision. The vision that “all lives matter,” and that “there are racists on both sides,” so “why give [The Ku Klux Klan] power by behaving like their words mean something?”

I can’t accept those responses as adequate resolutions. 30 people on the steps of the South Carolina State House screaming white power is 30 people too many who believe American pride rests in the oppression of others who history has deemed as “less than.” The concern being expressed by black Americans isn’t giving those bigots more power, because the power has always been with them.

It is a lie to believe anything otherwise. The lie rests in believing that these people are more extreme than history. The lie is told through not acknowledging that it was not those white men dancing like apes who invented the white supremacist rhetoric, but their countrymen, their ancestors, and the policies they enforced.

IN 1790, the United States Congress made it clear which lives mattered more than others:

“All free white persons who have, or shall migrate into the United States, and shall give satisfactory proof, before a magistrate, by oath, that they intend to reside therein, and shall take an oath of allegiance, and shall have resided in the United States for one whole year, shall be entitled to all the rights of citizenship.”

It is my belief that the plight of Black Americans can be best summed up to this paragraph. Black migrants were never immigrants, they were slaves. Their assimilation, in contrast to white immigrants, was to know as little as possible while being as obedient and docile as one could. The end goal set in place was never citizenship, but chains.

In 1790, the American dream meant two different things for whites and blacks. The gap remained a constant thread throughout American history. In 1890, the Black dream meant not dying at the hands of white terrorism–basic survival. In contrast, the white dream meant having better schools, public facilities, the vote and all the reassurances that come with whiteness. Every generation after, law and policy defined those dreams. From Jim Crow in the south to redlining practices in the North, there has always been two dreams. Those marching in the name of white power were told a certain dream. That dream was not their own, it was American history.

American exceptionalism embraces the pride in its heritage while disowning the dark side. We can’t embrace the rhetoric of freedom from our forefathers without looking critically at their actions as well. Yes, up until this past month, the South Carolina State House flew the rebel flag, but the White House auctioned slaves on its front lawn. Our nation’s capital building would not have been erected had it not been for the sweat of African labor. Thomas Jefferson, the father of our Declaration of Independence, was also the author behind all the black stereotypes and caricatures we have today.

Those Klan members were not exempt from that history, they were the rule. They can trace their steps to the same neighborhood as racist NBA commissioner’s, to white men shooting churches, and modern American policing. Their ideology hails from  the heart of the Confederacy,  everything that institution stood for, and the principle of unfailing whiteness which allowed the flag of the Confederacy to remain erect unquestioned for half a century after the Civil Rights Movement.

For 50 years until last month, South Carolina politics and the principles of the Confederacy remained synonymous–so long as that flag remained flown, or when those members tried to summon the ghosts of the good ‘ole days on the State House steps. The freedom so many synonymize with the American dream rests on the oppression of black bodies. The lie is the belief we can see people screaming white power and automatically disown them from our heritage; in the same manner to which we disowned the lives of Mike Brown, Jordan Davis, and Trayvon Martin when we try to call these events isolated incidents.

I have trouble differentiating  between those several dozen marching  in the name of white supremacy from the words the South Carolina Governor made saying that the rebel flag represents a prideful heritage and nothing else, along with the millions of Americans who stand behind her in such sentiments. But they will continue to be told the lie, because that’s what dreams are made of.

What happened to Sandy Bland Was That Her Life Was Never Her Own

lead_960“She was a very, very accomplished young lady.”

That was how the Reverend James Miller remembered Sandra Bland, or ‘Sandy’.

On Monday, Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell under police custody. You ask the police what events lead to her death, and they will look at you confused and tell you their only error was finding her too late.

Police say a suicide, her family suspects otherwise.

According to Waller County Police Sheriff, Sasha Bland was charged with assaulting a police officer. If we are to take Erik Burse’s–the trooper who was there–word into account, then Bland was pulled over for a minor traffic violation. It was when she was outside of the car, according to Burse, that Bland kicked the Burse. That was the alleged action which prompted her arrest, and indirectly lead to the taking of her life.

Reports tell us a lot. They tell us that Michael Brown was the aggressor towards Darren Wilson and that his death was warranted. They say Eric Garner was his own worst enemy for selling cigarettes on the corner of a Staten Island intersection. Reports tell us that George Zimmerman had every right to be suspicious of Trayvon Martin for being a threat, and that Jordan Davis’s worse enemy was his choosing to not be controlled.

What reports leave out is the humanity of black youth. They leave out that Sandra Bland was college educated. She was returning to Texas for professional job prospects. She did not ‘sag’ her pants. She was respectable. She followed the rules we prescribe to our black youth on how to guarantee survival,  yet her fate was already decided. The power over her life was never her own, but the State’s.

We know how this story ends, because we’ve had it tattooed in our memories too many times. One year ago this week, Eric Garner died at the hands of police. He broke a minor law, and yet he was forced to pay the ultimate price for it. With his fate in their hands, the State made a choice, they chose his life.

A year later, under the same circumstances, it would not be unreasonable to assume the State would make the same decision again.

There is a message from Sandra Bland all the way back to the good ‘ole days of Antebellum South: to be black in America means to follow the rules, but to give up control of everything at the same time–including ourselves.

In 2015, “Freedom”….

july4thI’m reminded of where I was two years ago on July 4th, 2013. I was at my mother’s home, just south of Boston, watching the trial of George Zimmerman unfold. That was when I started a series on this very same blog chronicling Trayvon Martin, and how a jury could come to terms with the weighty decision that he deserved to die.

The following year, just a week after July 4th, Eric Garner had the unlucky circumstances of being black on the wrong day. That next month, an unarmed black 17-year-old  was murdered,  and his body was left in the middle of the street for almost 5 hours. His name was Michael Brown. He wasn’t a drug dealer, but he was a college-bound high school graduate, but reports show those details can’t overshadow blackness.

Two days later, I went to Malawi, and as the news of protests reached me on the coast of Lake Malawi, I was undergoing my own kind of emancipating, soul-freeing experience that America could never give me. But from the trial of George Zimmerman, to the death of Michael Brown a year later, I could see that Black America’s “freedom” came with a set of terms and conditions.

6 months later, a jury would decide that Brown, just like Trayvon, deserved to die. I couldn’t find the words…I still can’t. It hurts to see the state dismiss your humanity, but it hurts even more to see the people who you love not value your life back. I made the choice to burn some bridges these last couple months. Not simply because differing philosophies, but as an act of self love, and in solidarity with the life of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and the list that goes on…..

Two years later, as a black man, 2015 has been a sobering year for me. Black people are being killed on the streets, for carrying toy guns, for having fake IDs, and for going to church–the one place that has served as a safe haven for black America throughout history.

We can’t breathe, and for some, we can’t even pray.

On July 4th, this ain’t freedom, or much different than the picture Frederick Douglas painted on July 4th, 1852 of what freedom isn’t. 

It has never been my intention to write solely about race on this blog, but it’s as if I’m given no choice. Two years ago, the American justice system showed us how broken it was through dishonoring the life of Trayvon Martin. I’m wondering how many more of these posts I will have to write. How many more names will be added to the list of stories we must honor, because no one else will?

Nothing about this feels good. Nothing about today, in 2015, feels like we are even close to being post-racial, or post-racist. Richard Wright’s words in  “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow” still speak to the black American experience, of how race can get you killed, and still I need to explain to the world why my life should be valued.

I know that Black lives may matter in many hearts, but still, not to the state. The mayor of Baltimore has promised more riot gear, and NYPD has employed 1300 more police.

It’s unbearable to think about: that they are killing us openly and un-apologetically, but we still must debate our right to live, let alone be “free.”

Freedom! You askin me about freedom. Askin me about freedom?
I’ll be honest with you. I know a whole more about what freedom isn’t, than about what it is, cause I’ve never been free” – Assata Shakur