Reflections on Sandra Bland: My Black Body Was Not Meant to Bear All This Trauma7/26/2015
by Michelle Denise Jackson Today, I do not feel like smiling. I only wish to buttress myself with...
by Michelle Denise Jackson
Today, I do not feel like smiling. I only wish to buttress myself within the confines of my bed. I wish to keep the world at bay.
I never know when this will happen. I wake up each morning, intent on being productive. I have plans. I have to-do lists. And then, I cannot move. I am emotionally and mentally paralyzed, and so my body follows suit.
Oh, what a strange friend my body and I have become. My body is the gateway. My body is vessel, a vehicle. And so many times within the last year, I have stalled it out. I have burdened it with too much, made it heavy.
Today, my body is heavy.
It has been over a week since I learned a new name: Sandra Bland. It has been over a week since this new name became a mantra, a meditation that I and so many other Black people repeat to ourselves throughout our days. I know her face now better than I know the faces of some of my relatives.
I have seen her smiling Facebook photos. I have watched her “Sandy Speaks” videos. In all of these, she is bold and vibrant and complicated. She is Black and alive. She is so full of life. She is still here.
I have seen dashcam footage of her arrest. Of the 50+ minute video, I watched half of it. I couldn’t hold the rage. I couldn’t keep the cells of my body from vibrating with a fury that so many Black people in America are familiar with. How the cells of her body must’ve been vibrating with fury when Officer Brian Encinia pulled her over. How the cells of her body must’ve been vibrating with fury when he told her she was under arrest, but could not tell her what for. When he opened her car door and told her he would drag her out. When he pointed his taser at her and told her he would “light her up!” When he put her in handcuffs and threw her Black body—now vibrating with fear, I am so sure—on the ground.
I have seen her mugshot, in which she looks defeated and hurt. In which she looks so hurt, she almost looks lifeless—and this has caused many to speculate whether her mugshot was taken after her death.
Today, I have repeated Sandra Bland’s name as a mantra. Her name is a prayer I wish I did not know, along with so many other names. Along with so many other Black women, men, and children’s names we learn for the wrong reasons. We learn their names not to celebrate and lift them up while they’re still alive; but instead, to honor and mourn them after they are taken from us.
My mouth wishes it didn’t know how to say her name. And yet, #SayHerName is the call of action that follows her name in almost every Facebook status, tweet, and online article I read.
And so I say her name. I write her name. I think her name. As we all do.
Today, my body is heavy, as I reckon with the fact that Sandra Bland is—or was—not so much different than I am.
She was a college-educated Black woman in her 20s. I am a college-educated Black woman in her 20s. She was beginning a new chapter of her life by taking a job at Prairie View A&M University. I am beginning a new chapter of mine by starting grad school. She was pulled over for a “routine traffic violation.” I, too, have been pulled over by police officers, and questioned whether it was the broken tail light or my black skin that was the criminal offense. She “mouthed off” at a police officer by expressing her annoyance. I, too, have been frank about my irritation with a police officer who pulled me over.
And in this reckoning, my body becomes familiar with a new trauma. I have already accepted that I, as a Black woman, will move in this world and be marked as “other”, as “dangerous,” as “problem,” as “deserving of less than my full humanity.” I learned this trauma early.
But this new trauma is one I was unprepared for. It’s the realization that everything I thought could protect me will not. I was brought up to believe that if I did the “right” things, if I was the “right kind of Black,” I would be OK. I could survive a routine traffic violation. Any officer who pulled me over would see the indications of my “good Black upbringing,” and would know that I am not a threat.
But my Black body is always a threat. Our Black bodies, so full of life, are always a threat.
Sandra Bland is gone because she was a threat. She is dead now because Officer Brian Encinia saw her as a threat. Her honesty, her boldness, her questioning, her insistence on knowing her rights were threatening. We may never know exactly what happened at the Waller County Jail, but we do know that Sandra Bland is dead because an officer saw her and her Black body as threatening.
And the trauma of knowing that at any moment, I can be removed from this world because someone with the law and a gun by his side could deem me threatening, is one that I cannot bear.