“It’s a girl!”
That was the first thing I heard after the doctor pulled my second child from my womb. We didn’t know her sex before that day. Immediately upon her arrival, her father began worrying about boys, proms, and makeup. She wasn’t two seconds old and he’s worrying about what would happen 16 years later. At that time, we couldn’t imagine that we would also have to worry about her safety – just for being a brown girl.
The birth of my daughter, who is now 13, crossed my mind on Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of the death of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old Black woman who was found dead in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas, after she was pulled over for a questionable traffic stop.
Bland’s death sparked protests and outrage across the nation over the treatment of Blacks by law enforcement officers. And now, a year later, the nation is struggling with the same problems following the death of five police officers in Dallas, and two Black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, which brings me back to my story.
You see, we live on the right side of town. We travel in the right circles. We’re both college educated. We’ve seemingly done all the right things to ensure our daughter and our son would have opportunities that didn’t exist for us, because we grew up poor in North Carolina.
But we didn’t account for the turn of events that would occur eight years after her birth. Our fear of her traveling the natural, human road to womanhood suddenly turned into a fear of her even making it to become a woman of age in America. The fear started with the death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman.
The reality became even clearer when on July 13, 2015, Bland, who was pulled over by then Texas state trooper Brian Encinia for a minor traffic violation, was reported dead in her jail cell. The words she reportedly left in a voice mail message continue to play over and over in my head, “How did switching lanes with no signal turn into all of this?”
I grapple with the answer to that question because the response that I come up with reaffirms what I don’t want to be true: being Black or brown in America creates a duality that is difficult to navigate.
It’s a point made clear by White Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, who in criticizing Encinia for how he handled the traffic stop, also noted that Bland should have maintained a meek demeanor: “… [Y]ou must always defer meekly to the police. Even when they’re acting like bullies, goading you or issuing you preposterous orders like to put out your cigarette as you sit in your own car, don’t challenge their authority. … Comply. And if you feel your rights are being violated, take it up later with a judge.”
I won’t even ask if Bland would be required to have the same meek demeanor if she were White, because I already know the answer: No. The real question is, why should she have to have a meek demeanor when her rights are being violated? I would suggest that it is because she is Black, and a Black woman. It is that realization that scares me for my daughter.
In what has become known as “The Talk,” which parents give Black boys about police encounters, I also teach my daughter to respect authority, but that she should never allow her rights to be violated. I encourage her to be articulate, remain calm, but assertive, and respectfully disagree with evidence to support your point. Could what I am teaching my daughter, the very things that her White counterparts do daily, get her killed? Should I reinforce the advice of Eric Zorn and tell her to lay down and take civil rights violations because she has brown skin and that alone could get her killed?
I wish I could tell you that I have an answer for these questions. I don’t. I struggle daily with teaching my 13-year-old pretty brown girl how to deal with her reality. Maybe tomorrow I will have an answer for her.
In the meantime, #SayHerName.
Brandi N. Williams is a broker for change and Leadership Chair for the Hip Hop Caucus Charlotte. The bicentennial baby, accredited PR pro, and hip hop music lover uses her formal training in public relations and nearly two decades of experience in non-profit and government to advocate for causes; bridge the divide between the streets and the suites; and develop innovative solutions to communities’ most complex problems.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty