Sandra Bland and Black Girls Matter

Kimberle Crenshaw, law professor and co-founder of the African American Policy Forum, discusses the death of Sandra Bland in the context of her report, “Black Girls Matter: Pushed-Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected”

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Story Transcript

JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: What’s up world, and welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.

On July 13, Black Lives Matter activist Sandra Bland was found dead in her Waller County, Texas jail cell. Officials claim she hanged herself, but many family and friends dispute the claim, saying first that the initial traffic stop and arrest were unjust, but also that she was not prone to such an act and was in fact happy and looking forward to a new job and renewed work in the struggle for black liberation.

But not only is Bland’s death part of an unfortunate pattern of treatment of black activists, it also appears to be a logical extension of the general treatment of black women and girls in this country. Joining us now to discuss this and more is Kimberlé Crenshaw. Crenshaw is a professor of law at UCLA and Columbia Law School, is a seminal founding figure in the development of critical race theory, and is a co-founder of the African-American Policy Forum.

Kimberlé Crenshaw, thank you for joining us here at the Real News.

KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Thanks for having me, Jared.

BALL: So last year and then into this year, you all at the AAPF published and conducted town hall around your Black Girls Matter report. I’m wondering how you think that report speaks to the conditions into which Bland began her activism, and how do you think we should interpret her arrest and subsequent death?

CRENSHAW: Well Jared, thank you for that question. I think that the Black Girls Matter report directly relates to Sandra Bland in that in that report we found that black girls were disproportionately subject to discipline and even school suspension based largely on stereotypes about how black girls behave. We frame that as an intersectional problem in the sense that black girls, who are six times more likely to be suspended or disciplined than white girls across the nation, 10 and 11 times more likely in New York and in Boston, were subject to racial stereotypes that framed black people, black bodies, as in need of discipline, as out of control, in some ways superhuman. And then as women who are viewed as black, they run up against certain expectations about how women are supposed to behave.

So their blackness made them more, appear to be more aggressive. Being women and being seen as being aggressive or non-normative subjects girls to different levels and different kinds of punishment than similarly-situated white girls would be subject to.

So you take that basic observation which we saw in the schools and apply it to women in the world at large. We know that black women are seen as brassy, bossy, rude, disorderly, defiant, having an attitude. Or in the words of the DA in Texas, uncooperative. All of these are particular stereotypes that black women face, and make them vulnerable to particular efforts to suppress them or otherwise punish them. That’s what many of us think we heard when the officer said to Sandra Bland, I’ma light you up. You can’t imagine him saying that to a white woman, or a young, a white girl. Imagine Katy Perry driving in a car and being impatient, and the officer saying to her or someone who looks like her, I’m gonna light you up.

BALL: Or to even tell her to put out her cigarette.

CRENSHAW: In the first place. Or to say, you look–what’s wrong with you. To basically goad her into an encounter.

So what we know is that black women confront racism as blacks who are women. And they confront sexism as women who are black. And this will create specific kinds of risk that an ordinary encounter like that would turn into an immediate effort to coerce, suppress, and punish. And then of course in the tragic case of Sandra Bland, lead to her incarceration and ultimately her death.

BALL: I know you work with the African-American Policy Forum, and I always am reminded of a statement that your late, great colleague Derek Bell once made in talking about the broader condition of black people, where he said something to the effect that public policy in this country was the equivalent of taking hundreds of black people each week out to a secluded place and shooting them. And I’m wondering if from a public policy perspective, not only if you agree with that statement but how you see that playing out today, particularly with the black girls and women that have been the focus of your recent study.

CRENSHAW: And Derek Bell was such a font of inspiration for so many of us, because he told the truth, at times when many of his colleagues would prefer him not to tell the truth. At least not as clearly as he did. I think the main point of Derek’s observation there is that structural and institutional racism is every bit the killer of black lives as is a gun or the bare hands of police who actually have killed so many black people, black women in particular.

So if anything what we hope this current attention to black lives being at risk through two-state violence proves is that number one, the state of affairs that allows this injury and harm and loss of life to go on without any significant changes in the policies, in the laws, in the institutional practices, is simply an intolerable state of affairs right now. And to the extent that Derek’s frame helps us think about it, if black lives are made vulnerable by policies that have to do with access to resources, access to jobs, access to education, access to security. If we think about the loss of lives in terms of well, the system might as well just have taken people out and shot them, if we think about it in that way it creates the imperative to address not just police violence, not just the bad cop, but the entire institution that rests itself and its very legitimacy on containing threats that are seen as black. Or more broadly, an entire political and economic system that is perfect okay with the idea that masses of black people live in poverty, and finally they put women directly into it. A system that’s okay with black women having a net wealth, meeting that wealth of $100.

so if we’re pushing back and saying black lives matter, then that black woman matters. The one who doesn’t have a job or the one who is raising children with a median net wealth of $100 as well as the black boy on the stoop, the black man in the car, the black community that is suffering from the contemporary aspects of white supremacy that are playing out in this so-called post-racial moment. We’ve got to be able to talk about all of it, and talk about it in a literate way, in a way that brings people into our movement.

BALL: Well Kimberlé Crenshaw, thank you very much for joining us in this segment here at the Real News Network.. We appreciate your work and your time.

CRENSHAW: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News. For all involved, again, I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. And as always like Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind. Peace, everybody.

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