The bottom of the totem pole…THAT is the focal point of black women in today’s society. In fact, that has always been our focal point. Even in the slogan “black lives matter” the focus is men. Apparently we are not important enough because the world seems to forget about the hardships that the women in the lives of black men endure as well. No more!
We, as black women, have the right to say that black female lives matter too, that our concerns are just as powerful, and that by recognizing our struggle we then also recognize the struggle of our black counterparts being that we are the mothers, the grandmothers, the daughters, the sisters, the wives, the girlfriends, and the friends of our black men. Our stories prove that we give validation over and over again. For every black male’s life that has been taken, a female’s life has countered that.
A couple of weeks after Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012, a Chicago police officer shot an unarmed 22-year old black woman in the head as he fired into a group. After the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, a 21-year old black woman was found dead in a Pagedale, MO cell, allegedly hanging herself with her own T-shirt, after being picked up on warrants. Before Freddie Gray “died from injuries sustained while in the custody of Baltimore police in April”, a 37-year old black woman inmate died after being shocked with a stun gun although she was mentally ill, handcuffed, feet shackled, and wore a hooded spit mask. And all of these cases did not rule in their favor. Again our stories prove that we give validation over and over again. So how do women fit into the black lives matter movement you ask? WE ARE ever so often the victims of racism and police brutality, WE ARE the family and the friends, WE ARE activist like my black sister Bree Newsome, and WE ARE the extremes of almost every situation. Although news channels may overlook our stories, I, Kimimnickque Harbert, will bring them to the forefront starting with the story of my black sister Sandra Bland whose black life did matter.
Friday July 10, 2015 Ms. Bland was pulled over in a routine traffic stop in Prairie View, Texas. According to the statement from the Department of Public Safety Ms. Bland became very uncooperative and was arrested on a charge of assaulting a public servant. However, the story told from Ms. Bland’s point of view was very different when she spoke on the phone to her friend, LaVaughn Mosely.
Bland recalls she was smoking a cigarette when the officer pulled her over. The officer asked her to put it out, the two exchanged words, and everything went downhill. She told Mosely that “he snatched her out of the window and slammed her on her face.” Weeks later, video surveillance began to surface on social sites confirming Ms. Bland’s story. In the video police told the man who was recording to leave the scene. Shockingly, on Monday, July 13, 2015 Ms. Bland was found dead in her cell. The district attorney of Walter County said “It appears she had used a trash bag to hang herself from a partition in the ceiling which was used to give inmates privacy.”
I find it hard to believe that anyone over 5 years old could hang themselves with a plastic trash bag. To confirm my suspicions and curiosity I began to do a little research. Shortly into my research I came across a video that could counter such an accusation. ABC news showed a customer report performed by a man named Bob Karpel in 2012. He tested over 10 brands of trash bags including the most famous two, Hefty and Glad. What he found was that even the toughest trash bag could only hold about 50lbs which is the weight of a typical 5-6 year old kid. I highly doubt that the strength of a trash bag has changed in 3 years to allow for the death of Ms. Bland.
Further research led me to this website documenting the unchanged weight criteria in 2014 (http://thesweethome.com/reviews/the-best-kitchen-trash-bag/). Somehow the story of suicide is starting to look a lot like homicide. It would also seem odd that a woman who spoke out actively on social media about police brutality and racism would then endure it herself and not live to speak about it again.
As ironic as this is, unfortunately this has become our reality as blacks, but especially as black woman in this society. Our resilience is one to be dully noted. No matter how hard they try to break us or beat us we find new ways to overcome. When we are not subjected to playing the lowest extreme of being the victim, we rise to meet the challenge of being the highest extreme: an Activist like Bree Newsome, who took the world by a lovely surprise when she removed the confederate flag from South Carolina’s Statehouse grounds.
Her explanation, “I removed the flag not only in defiance of those who enslaved my ancestors in the Southern United States, but also in defiance of the oppression that continues against black people globally in 2015, including the ongoing ethnic cleansing in the Dominican Republic. I did it in solidarity with the South African students who toppled a statue of the white supremacist, colonialist Cecil Rhodes.” She added, “I did it for all the fierce black women on the front lines of the movement and for all the little black girls who are watching us. I did it because I am free.”
Although South Carolina officials hired two black men to raise the flag back up moments later, Ms. Newsome has changed the game for 2015. Her example symbolisms that although we are often the victims, we can also be the victors and black woman are more powerful than we think. The time to take a stance is now. Not only did she take a stance, but she recognized the black community when she did so. She showed black America that it only takes one to start something big, and that one person could be a woman.
So again, how do women fit into the black lives matter movement you ask? WE ARE ever so often the victims of racism and police brutality, WE ARE the family and the friends, WE ARE activist, but most importantly WE ARE the extremes of almost every situation and if we have to keep climbing poles around America and removing confederate flags or dying in a jail cell to get our message across, we will be recognized.
Instagram: K.T. Harbert