I learned to drive growing up in Massachusetts. And true to the M*ss-h%le stereotype, part of what was instilled in me by my peers, was that blinkers (directional signals) were for wimps and stop signs optional. I regularly drove over the speed limit, receiving a speeding ticket at age 18.
And aside from a couple accidents, that was the only ticket I ever received. But certainly NOT the only time I was pulled over.
There was the time in Central New Jersey that the officer, seeing that my early twenty-something self had been bumped from decent insurance coverage due to the said accidents listed above, let me off for speeding with only a warning.
There was the time, working as a reporter in Northern Michigan, that the officer let me go – even though I was going at least 15-20 mph over the limit. I was on my way to interview his boss.
There was the time in South Jersey not all that long ago, while I was in seminary, that I was pulled over coming home from an evening church meeting because my registration had expired. I knew it had expired. I was lazy and missed the deadline. Lawfully, my car should have been impounded then and there. But the officer let me drive home.
I believe many of the reasons why my traffic stops did not result in anything more than an inconvenience to me, is the fact that my petite white as-the-driven-snow exterior is not one we are taught as a society to fear, disrespect, cause harm, or outright take from this earth. I don’t look like Sandra Bland.
I’ve heard chatter that Bland should not have “back-talked” nor should have “stood her ground” or she’d never been arrested, or had force used on her, and would be alive today.
No I say, she should have been white.
Because this young, white, college-educated women was told in my formative years that using a traffic signal didn’t even apply to me.
I was never cautioned, as people of color are, to be sure that if I ever got pulled over I’d better be submissive – because my life might depend on it. I was in fact, implicitly, taught the exact opposite, that as a white person I had the right to resist the system. Because white people created the system. And I was taught that based on the way I looked, most likely at a minimum, I could expect to be given the benefit of the doubt.
Young, black, college-educated Sandra Bland was rightly frustrated. She knew her traffic stop was not in isolation, that people of color are profiled all the time. She didn’t have the privilege to be given the benefit of the doubt that I take for granted every day. And in my personal history, my traffic offenses were clearly in the wrong. Failure to signal when you are trying to move out of the police car’s way? I believe Sandra had the right to verbally express her anger to the officer when he asked about it.
I am angered and outraged people of color continue to be disregarded. I am angered and outraged that people of color are told they need to silence their voice and “keep calm”. I am angry and outraged that the instant reaction many white people have is that “if only she kept quiet like she should have” everything would have been fine because we’ve all been conditioned to fear the “angry black person”. And as a white person—that “we’ve all” I refer to—I understand I inherited our current racist society and I am responsible for it. I believe when I do not get angry, speak out, or take action I am part of the energy that allows it to continue to operate. I am complicit in a society that allows people’s lives to be taken based on the color of their skin.
I want our children to inherit a different world.
I am marching with the People’s Organization for Progress in Newark, NJ tomorrow because BLACK LIVES MATTER. I am marching because I want to support the leadership of people of color in shaping a world in which they are respected, trusted, celebrated and PROTECTED.
I march to lift up Sandra’s voice and Sandra’s soul.
I march because Sandra Bland should have been allowed to drive home.
If you would like to join me and members & friends of UUCSH at the Million People March tomorrow, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can learn more about the march and Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey’s participation in it on the UULMNJ website: http://uulmnj.org/million-peoples-march/
If you are not able to attend in person, you can live stream video from the march: LIVE STREAM URL