black sheep, scapegoats and wild white horses

I’d been hired for my talent and experience. Little did they know I was not the yes-man—the minion—they’d been counting on. Once through the doors, I politely challenged their practices, disputed their logic, questioned their command—what I’d thought I’d been hired to do. It was clear from the get-go, though, that I didn’t fit the mold. Clad in denim, wild vintage shirts, and rugged western boots, I struggled amidst a sea of pastel and khaki and modest coifs. I became the thorn in their side, perhaps even a reminder of their own resentments. I was the wiry black lamb in a herd of lily white sheep. They bullied me, shamed me, tried to back me into a corner and shut me up. But I called them out, then fingered a hole in their design and freed myself without turning back except to acknowledge to myself that I’d been right to question their methods and the unfairness of their systems. I was ten weeks pregnant with Calvin; He and I didn’t need the shit they’d been shoveling our way.

If Calvin, who is now eleven and significantly disabled, could speak, maybe he’d tell me similar stories about being pushed around at school. It can happen to kids who are different from the rest. I’d believe him. If he’d gotten hurt fighting back, I’d have understood. I can’t ever know, but I doubt I’d tell him to stand there with idle arms and absorb their bully tactics. If he’d felt justified, or even perhaps safer by fighting back, I’d get it. And I'd have his back.

If a friend called to tell me she’d been sexually harassed by a superior, I’d believe her. If she’d resisted and had lost her job as a result, I’d say she'd done the right thing. I wouldn’t ask what she was wearing or what she might’ve done to provoke the jerk. I wouldn’t have advised her to comply and consent just to save her job or to save her skin or to save her life.

I feel similarly about Sandra Bland, the black activist who was pulled over by a white cop in a Texas town for ostensibly not using her turn signal. When asked to put out her cigarette, she at first did not comply, calmly citing her right to smoke in her own car. After all, she’d only been pulled over for a minor traffic infraction. When the officer quickly became agitated with her calm and confident dissent, he asked her to exit her car and when she questioned his authority, he escalated, began yelling, then threatened her with a taser shouting, “I will light you up.” The incident deteriorated from there, the cop leading her out of the scope of his dash cam, threatening to arrest her and roughing her up. Though she insisted on knowing why she was being detained and handled in such a vile manner, he refused to tell her. All the while Ms. Bland fought against the injustice, believing her rights had been violated. After she’d been thrown down, had her arm wrenched and her head knocked into the ground, she was cuffed and arrested for resisting arrest (though for what?) then died days later in her jail cell at the end of a noose fashioned with a plastic trash bag.

I posted video of the confrontation on Facebook, citing racism as its source. The backlash I received in comments from white readers astounded me. I watched the video more than a half-dozen times in case I missed something. Each viewing reconfirmed my belief that the officer had erred, and badly. My observation was validated by Texas public safety officials, who removed the officer from his beat for having violated protocol. One commenter, a stranger to me, posted this:

Sorry but why can't people follow directions. Just asking.

She went on to say that Ms. Bland’s cigarette had been a possible weapon. Other commenters reasoned that Ms. Bland's rolling through a stop sign, failing to signal and questioning authority were somehow grounds for her baseless treatment by the officer. I encouraged them to imagine their daughters meeting the same demise. They used racially-charged terms like “thug” and flabby platitudes chastising Ms. Bland and others who came to her defense for, “playing the race card.”

A friend, saying my post and many of the comments were “just plain wrong,” also insisted that Ms. Bland’s behavior, though completely within her rights as a citizen and in direct response to the officer’s escalation and improper, abusive handling of her, was the cause for her demise. By saying so, he’d reduced Ms. Bland—like so many other white people have done to African Americans who’ve died unjustly in the hands of the police or other armed civilians—to a scapegoat.

Watch the video. Study it. Mark the moment when the tenor of the exchange becomes truly, unreasonably heated.

My friend went on to describe a time when he was nearly arrested for a felony crime he did not commit. He insisted that his cooperation with the officers was what had saved him, and that by the end of his ordeal, when the cops realized the accusations against him were false, the group of them were “standing around laughing and joking about how it all went down.” He would not concede the remotest possibility that, had he been black, things might have gone south fast. He failed to see that his whiteness, and the police’s trust of his whiteness against a backdrop of an armored white criminal justice system, perhaps had saved him from a worse outcome more so than his mere compliance. I’ve seen too many videos and read too many stories of unarmed black men, women and children being assaulted, beaten to a pulp, strangled and gunned down, and groups of peaceful protesters being doused with pepper spray and tear gas, to believe that blacks are treated the same as whites. The failure by some whites to recognize even a morsel of chance that racism is at the root of incidents like the one with Sandra Bland is a good example of how white privilege distorts reality.

Those who deny the existence of their white privilege, I believe, either do so consciously or perhaps because they are so steeped in its advantages, which pad every aspect of society, that they seem to find it an impossible notion to grasp and own, their families having benefited from its coddling for generations. So sheltered and buffered are they from any first-hand experience of centuries-long oppression, like that of Native and African Americans, of discrimination and racial hatred, that they can’t discern their privilege, as if trying to see white on white.

Unjust treatment of this kind I partly understand because I am a woman. In this predominantly patriarchal society, women are often victims of bias. We are catcalled and ridiculed, paid less and discounted, overlooked, condescended to, taken for granted, abused, and our bodies legislated by men. Societal cues tell us we are supposed to look a certain way, act a certain way and talk a certain way. We are often expected to be ladylike, made-up, shaved-down, in shape and dressed in heels. We are expected to sit with our knees together and yield to the man, the husband, even the colleague who is our peer. If we challenge authority we are labeled bitches or are told we must be, “on the rag.” If we prefer women, men boast that if we'd simply have sex with them we’d change our minds.

Think about it: if an entire race of people must create a movement called #Black Lives Matter, prompted by the gross injustice they face on a daily basis, not only by law enforcement, but in employment and housing and education and health care, we should know it to be true, besides the fact that there are numerous studies proving it. How many of us white folks have been strangled to death by cops for ostensibly selling loose cigarettes on the street? How many of us white folks have been charged more for rent or told the apartment is no longer available because of the color of our skin? How many of us white folks have grade school children who are in jail for minor misconduct? How many of us white folks get shot and killed for knocking on a white person's door for help? How many white kids get gunned down for playing with a toy gun or wearing a hoodie? How many of us white folks get arrested for trying to enter our own homes? How many of us white folks have brothers or fathers or sons or uncles in jail for decades for minor offenses? How many white Ivy League students are stopped and questioned simply for walking across their own campus?

Read some gross statistics about criminal "justice". This is not opinion. This is fact.

Some might say I am beating a dead horse by going on about racism and incidents like the one involving Sandra Bland. They’d be wrong. The horse is not dead. It is alive and kicking, wild and white and frothing at the mouth, bucking and prancing and hoofing black bystanders in the teeth. The wild white horse is racism. It must be corralled, harnessed and broken or it's going to wreak havoc with everyone and everything we all love and value. We can't keep saying the horse is tame when we see the wake of its disastrous path and the bodies it continues to bloody along the way.

And if all this talk of racism irks you, then perhaps you've got something to explore.

Sandra Bland, jailed for resisting arrest, but for what?


  1. Christy,

    Very well said, and you are, of course, 100% right. However, what do we expect in/from a Country founded on the systematic genocide of its aborigenal population (estimated 100 million people over 500+ years - and it is not over yet), and 400+ years of slavery (estimated 50 million people mainly from Africa)? The nonsense that 'racism is not an issue" in the USA is total bogus. It is alive and well and rampant everywhere, whether it is obvious and evident such as in many cities/States that still proudly wave the confederate flag, or thinly hidden by a general attitude of refusing to see the evidence.
    What we lack of, sadly, is figures like Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Bobby Seale and the rest of the Panthers, who managed - against all odds and brutal repression - to galvanize and unite our black brothers and sisters and give them pride and hope; what do we have today?? A generation of kids lost in adoration of rap crap and the impossible dream of riches and fame through basketball, football, music ... a "black" president (more white than many whites), who bamboozled us with great words of hope and failed to deliver on most - if not all - his wonderful promises (and he STILL managed to become the object of an unprecedented level of hate, simply on account of the colour of his skin!).
    The racial problem cannot be solved, not as long as we tolerate the existence of KKK, NAZI parties, white fundamentalists, bigots and such. Not as long as the police is allowed to behave like the Gestapo and keep getting away with - literally - murder.
    Not as long as history books keep perpetuating the lies about this 'greatest Country' and hide the ugly truth. People are ignorant, either because they refuse to know or because they are brain washed and happy to be.
    There is no easy solution; MAYBE one day, when our Latino and Asian brothers and sisters become the racial majority, when more mixed kids grow up without learning to hate (of course kids are not born with the notion of racial, religious, financial 'superiority', they LEARN it from their families and the broken institutions).
    It will take a very long time before we truly become COLOUR BLIND.

    1. thanks stefano. so good to know you are out there reading. hope you are doing well. xo

  2. Quite simply, I agree with every word.

  3. Christy, thank you for this powerful, passionate piece. You've articulated so many of my feelings and beliefs, much better than I've been able to do so far.