No Leaving Sandra Bland Behind

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The morning of the race was the sticky hot that reminded me of Houston in August.  Think: running a half marathon in a steam room with 13,000 people.  I never thought of not running because of (1) the 150.00 fee for the privilege of running down the street so hell no I’m not going back to bed, and (2) a masochistic streak I’ve been cultivating over four decades.

I elbowed my way to my starting corral, fine-tuning my running mix and arranging my energy gels in my pocket.  I was focused on me, myself, and I.

The temperature soared over 80 degrees at 6:15 a.m..  Houston in late July.

I saw a downed runner at mile eight just past an aid station.  Someone in an official-looking red vest (Red Cross?—did I really pay to participate in an event where the Red Cross was called in?) was putting an ice pack on the woman’s neck.  I didn’t stop because … well, I didn’t have a red vest.  The overheated runner was in good hands.  I wondered where her people were.  Was she alone? That must be scary.

At miles ten and eleven, where the unshaded white concrete shimmered in the heat, I saw two more runners down.  One was being dragged over to a shady spot on King Drive; the other was sitting on a curb with cheeks the color of stop signs.  No red vests in sight.  Still I didn’t stop.  The litany in my head: I’m not a doctor; I don’t have any water; and I was voted the person most likely to hide in a closet and binge on Dorito’s during a crisis.

No, they were better off without me.

Half a mile from the end, after an uphill on a particularly punishing stretch, I saw another runner down.  This guy—a kid, actually—was out cold.  Right as I approached, someone hooked their hands under his arm pits and lifted him up.  If you would have told me he was dead, I would have believed it.  He was surrounded by four people. Maybe five.

You know I didn’t stop.  After I passed him, I saw his running mentor, someone I actually know well, racing against the tide of finishers lurching toward their post-race Gatorade.  The panic look on his face said it all.

It was an emergency.

I didn’t stop.

I keep replaying that morning and my inexcusable inaction.  “I’m a mother, for God’s sake. If I don’t stop, who will?  One of them was just a kid.”

I’ve blogged about so many things over the years, most of them trivial, vain, absurd, obscure, or flat-out ridiculous.  I’ve never once blogged about race. It’s the most glaring hallmark of my white privilege.  I’ve let other bloggers cover Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Jr., Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Rumain Brisbon, Tony Robinson, Jordan Davis. There are others.  Sadly, we know there will be more.

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Am I really about to pass Sandra (Sandy) Bland, like a downed runner who’s not my responsibility?

No, I’m not.  No more focusing on the finish line while other people around me are perishing.  No more hiding behind feeble, “I’ve got nothing to offer” excuses.  No more criticizing Lena Dunham for saying so little about race, while churning out another blog post about Willie Nelson.  No more forwarding other #BlackLivesMatter posts on Facebook without generating any of my own.

She was all alone in a jail cell in Texas, about to start a new job as a student ambassador at Prairie View A&M.  Something about the promise of her working with young students tears me up.  I can’t bear the thought of leaving her by the side of the road for someone else to pick on the pages of her blog.  Roxanne Gay wrote that “we all should [feel this tragedy in the marrow of our bones], regardless of the identities we inhabit.”

I’m scared to fuck up being an ally. But I’m in the comfort of my air-conditioned home; Ms. Bland was all by herself staring down a man acting under the color of (Texas) state law who was goading her.  Hers was real, life-and-death terror. I’ll never know what that feels like, which is exactly why I must give my own anxiety the finger and step up.

This is my start. This is my fumbling over to a critical situation saying, “I’m here.  I’m engaged. I’m educating myself.  I’m an ally.”

Because Sandra Bland’s life matters.  #BlackLivesMatter

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16 thoughts on “No Leaving Sandra Bland Behind

  1. “I’m scared to fuck up being an ally.”

    But look — you’re on your way! Race isn’t easy to discuss, and you and I have the choice to check in and check out if we want to. I have reached the age of no longer giving a crap if anyone else agrees with me. I’ve also reached the age where I don’t feel obligated to stay in my lane. Your voice is needed and wanted and it is smart. Thank you for starting.

  2. I have talked to friends and I’ve talked to family. But I haven’t talked loudly or publicly because I have no right, and I have no idea, and I have nothing but deep, terrifying sorrow that I am not entitled to. How dare I feel awful? But dear God, I do. I don’t know how to say that wrong is just wrong and we can’t keep living like this. That there are not two reasonable sides to this story of race in America. There is one very, very UNreasonable story vs. the overwhelmingly silenced voice of humanity. We can’t keep letting family and friends justify the thriving legacy of a system that taught our whole nation that black bodies are not human. Socioeconomic abuse. Physical abuse. Institutionalized hatred.
    How do we talk about that without saying the wrong thing or looking stupid or unpacking our seven layers of privilege? What if we make it worse? What if we look like jackasses?
    I would have cried for each of those runners on the course, but I wouldn’t have stopped. But this is different. This is our society pushing people down. Not people falling from the stress of tough conditions, though I strive to help those who fall, too. This is people stumbling because they were pushed. Violently. Cruelly. And specifically because, as a society, we collectively pre-judge others’ lives, telling their story for them, because of their skin.

  3. I’m going to go and read more about her… For now I can only say that we often stop ourselves from doing something, anything, thinking what can we offer or what would it matter..But it matters, every step matters..Every small , even trivial, step matters!

  4. Excellent essay, Christie. I love the running metaphor that extends even further than you realize. It’s good that allies are finally realizing their partnership is more than not saying racist things or allowing black people into their homes. It’s about saying “you are wrong” to their white friends when their white friends are misbehaving, then feigning ignorance. It’s about showing those friends, not always gently, why they are wrong and how they can do better.

    There are many ways to fuck up being an ally, and staying silent is one of them. Speaking up to your friends will help the next runner, fallen or not.

  5. Sometimes it is difficult, to speak, to know what to say, to not fuck up. Sometimes even as an ally we fuck up. That is the nature of it. So we ask, “how can I help, what can I say, what can I do?”

    Sometimes the answer is nothing.

    This was excellent.

  6. Well I certainly could have written this… (or something like it but not as good). I am guilty guilty guilty of being silent in the background… not feeling justified or knowledgeable enough to shout my voice. I think mostly I worry about being insensitive or ignorant without realizing it. But you’re all so right, being silent is the worst offense. You’ve stepped outside of your comfort zone and that’s huge. I going to try and follow your lead.

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