We Must Change the Ableist Language Surrounding Sandra Bland's Death

by Danielle Stevens for This Bridge Called Our Health I think some of the discourse emerging from...

by Danielle Stevens for This Bridge Called Our Health

I think some of the discourse emerging from these ‪#‎IfIDieInPoliceCustody and ‪#‎WhatHappenedToSandraBland‬ conversations are dangerously limited. Folks are saying “Sandra Bland was mentally sound” and “Black women like her would never commit suicide”, etc. Not only are we upholding precarious and dehumanizing ‘strong black woman’ archetypes that neglect to hold Black women in the fullness and breadth that we embody, but our failure to operate within a mental health & disability justice framework by making the assertion that Sandra Bland was ‘mentallly sound’ in order to prove that she did not commit suicide is a dangerous narrative that both devalues black people who navigate mental health difficulties and trauma and also erases their/our narratives from the conversation.

To suggest that Sandra Bland was not the type of person to commit suicide results not only in the absolving of any accountability/responsibility police have in leading people to committing suicide, but can also lead to a really victim blaming narrative of ‘she did it to herself”. An empire of white supremacy and police terror predicated upon anti-black racism killed Sandra Bland. Being a black woman in the United States who is living through inherited and embodied instances of state-induced trauma for lifetimes is what killed Sandra Bland. The carefully calculated last moments of Sandra Bland’s life of getting pulled over for a minor traffic violation on her way to work, being brutalized by law enforcement officers, and subsequently seized and held in captivity for being a Black woman is what killed Sandra Bland. THE STATE DID THIS TO HER. Whether she committed suicide or not THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE.

In discussions around Sandra Bland, it is imperative to hold nuanced conversations that address the pervasive murders against black women in police custody, while also destigmatizing people who are subject to suicide and recognizing the systemic forms of violence that lead people to make these decisions. Some black women don’t just wake up one day with mental health difficulties while the prized black women are strong, resilient, and beyond the impact of white supremacist state sanctioned violence. Black woman are not the curators of white supremacy and misogynoir, we are the targets. We can bring attention to the state-sanctioned violence of police murders against black women in custody while also understanding suicide as a manifestation of structural violence that is delicately crafted by a abusive sociopolitical context that is obscenely anti-black, wildly misogynist, and buttressed upon legacies of misogynoir.

This essay originally appeared under a different title at This Bridge Called Our Health and has been republished here with the the author's permission.

Photo: Facebook

Danielle Stevens is co-founder and editor-in-chief of This Bridge Called Our Health, an online healing space for women and femmes of color. Danielle is a radically compassionate warrior woman & afro-futurist healer with a gentle and sharp unapologetic tongue. A dreamer in all senses of the word, Danielle is enchanted by the limitless possibilities and variability of life. As a gender-nonconforming femme person and lover engaged in work related to anti-oppression education, social justice activism, and community organizing (particularly within black femme, queer, and trans communities), Danielle’s life work is engaging in coalition & movement building amongst various communities, as our liberation depends on it. She dreams of worlds in folx who are targeted by institutional forms of violence can posses and access the blueprints, tools, & frameworks necessary in activating our collective self-determination, authenticity, liberation & freedom. She is committed to honoring the collective ancestral truths & generous elder wisdoms that flow through her body, guiding her visions of liberation.

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