Dear Sandra Bland,

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Dear Sandra Bland,

Now, I understand you like I did not before. Now, I know what you were up against.

Shamefully, I have been fighting the same system as you have, and I was colorblinded by Whiteness to believe that I could overcome racism. That if I showed White people how good and how smart that I was, I would break the barriers and gain the same opportunities as them. In my experience of proving myself, I lost touch with my Blackness and began forgetting that Whiteness was affecting me in ways that I fully realized has never went away.

At 10:15 p.m. after having fun at a hockey game with my boyfriend, I was stopped by the local police. We saw flashing blue lights behind us, and we realized that it was my car that he wanted to stop. I slowed down and decided to pull into a KFC parking lot. At the time, I did not know that it would be a safe point. Or maybe a point where there could be witnesses. I never thought of it that way, but it chills me to the bone to think about it now.

I rolled down my window. The police officer asks me…”Do you know why I stopped you?” I responded back in curious shock, “No, officer, I do not know why.” Reason being: I wasn’t speeding through town. If anything, I was going the exact speed limit and being very careful because it was a busy section in this part of town, and it is at night. There are a lot of folks who walk and bike in our town, and I don’t want to be the one responsible for an accident and it on my conscience. I’ve been living in this town for three years consecutively, and I know what the walking and biking population are like. Drivers aren’t usually fond with them sometimes, and I know that it is not always drivers’ fault. Yet, I have started remembering my roots about walking and biking because I was a poor Black kid from a rural country town, and it is hard to track and ride when there are more cars than you in the same area you occupy.

Anyway, the officer continues asking me, “Who car is this?” I said, “Mines.” He asked, “What is your name?” I said in a pleasant voice, “Sophia Flemming.” “When did you get this car registered?” I answered him that I bought the car two months ago, and I had my tag put on there then. And then he asked me for my driver’s license. When he looked, he said, “Your birthday passed. You were supposed to renew your license on your birthday.” I told him that I thought that my registration was good for next year. For those who know me, I don’t play with the law. I file my taxes on time and pay my taxes. I make sure that my registration is renewed on time. In our country, this is what is expected for us to inhabit it.

But what last night taught me is that…it doesn’t matter, does it, to a certain extent when it comes to police authority, and I finally understood Sandra Bland and how her death came about. You see, there are some ways, as a Black woman, I am fortunate. Somehow, that poor Welfare Black girl from a small rural racist and segregated town fought her way to go to college and obtained her BA degree. Somehow that poor Welfare Black girl entered into graduate school and started taking graduate courses. Somehow that poor Welfare Black girl got a job at a well-known university and got a full time job with benefits and is taking doctoral courses now to help her finish her graduate work with her MA degree and to start a PhD program.

However, last night, it didn’t matter. Why? It didn’t matter because as a Black woman I viewed my life at risk. A White police officer stops me. He stops me because he is able to RUN license plate numbers. Police officers even have technology where they can scan people’s tags and get an alert when registration expires (http://www.clatl.com/news/article/13071731/what-is-your-license-plate-telling-police). And what is my point of this?

My point is that there are parts of me that are you, Sandy Bland. You can see our stories are similar in many ways. We both attended college. We both graduated from college. We both are similar in age. We both believed in justice for all people.

Yet, the huge difference is. I am starting to see it. Being fortunate. I am more fortunate than you as a Black woman. I don’t have a record of misdemeanors. I am able to pay for my citation, so I can stay out of jail. Somehow, I have navigated my life in a way that I’ve been fortunate not to be jailed, to be label as a pariah by White people, and to be able to still breathe.

Yet, you and I are still similar in the same. I, too, when I finished my BA degree and attended graduate school, I had a rough time finding a full time job. I struggled, and I was depressed. It was difficult to navigate the waters. If you examine my resume, I have consistently worked since 2000—part time. Some Black folk even haven’t had the consistency as I have. I’ve also had a significant other to help out, but it has come with many prices. Those prices were losing a lot of my self-worth as a proud Flemming. What it really was as a proud Black woman, I discovered that I am not invincible. I am not a Black wonder super woman. I am vulnerable and not immune to the cruelties of Whiteness. Those same White characteristics I’ve adapted: the way I carry myself, the way I talk, the way I walk, and the way I act…doesn’t matter when a White male police officer pulls me over for a traffic violation. I want people to know this is not about me COMPLAINING ABOUT a traffic violation. I get it. I violated the law unintentionally by not seeing in time that I need to renew my registration. Yes, I will pay my fine because it is the law, and Monday morning, I will get my registration and pay for it.

What this is about is bigger than me and is about me. What this is about is that I finally understand that none of us people of color are immune to the dangerous of Whiteness when it comes to its authority. White people have more authority than us. They matter MORE THAN US. They have mattered in this country and even other countries for centuries. Aryan races have nearly decimated cultures (Hitler and the Holocaust) because they know that they have a superiority card. Superiority in human beings is an evil practice because it causes people to commit harmful and even horrendous acts.

The very laws that are supposed to protect all of us only protect and benefit some of us. I was in your place last night. What if I was a little sassy with that cop? What if I began questioning why he was pulling me over? What if I didn’t say good evening office, how you doing?” What if I didn’t comply the way that was expected to not cause harm? I got a little taste of the bigger bitterness you experience on a consistent basis.

I don’t want to keep having this fear…and this stress of being afraid of officers, but I know that if I don’t compile as much as possible, I may be put in a jail cell. Or my life a threat to where I may get a bullet in me. That’s is horrifying. I can’t imagine what you final moments were in that jail cell. I am sure that you were scared, and you felt so alone. Tears are pouring down my face because it hurts. It hurts to know that you died with all kinds of thoughts circling your head. Maybe feeling like no one loved you. In my pain, I understand your struggles because there are parts of me that am you. All Black women are you. We struggle every day to continue to prove over and over again that we exist. That we matter. We have always mattered. Your life didn’t mattered that day, and it was taken. It is sad that you are gone, and I can see you now.

I want to live over a hundred years old and look back at these times as being an agent of change. And I will get there. I claim it, and I will make it. But, I struggle with what happened to me yesterday. A routine stop to give me a ticket so the system can keep making money off my Black body. You were continually stopped and continually had fines on your Black head that you could not pay because you did not have steady income. You struggled with your Black self-esteem because our system continues to take and take until…what…we are tired. Folks are trying to claim us one way or the other: get our bodies and/or destroy our souls. The psychological warfare is deadlier than physical violent one.

Lesson learned: I will keep breathing because it is a part of the destiny that I have determined for myself. Other lesson learned: I have to keep breathing for you, Sandy. You and other thousands of Black women and their lives…I have to be accounted for while I am still breathing. The veil has been lifted from my eyes. I have to do my part and not hide. I have to show that our lives matter. Our stories matter so we can live in a country where we don’t need to hold our breath. That we can inhale and exhale for ourselves, our children, and our country. That Black women are not a threat. We have been exploited for so long, but we belong in this country as well. We are valuable to this country. Our contributions of valuable. I am a storyteller first and foremost. Our stories are important. My story is important and yours is. Our peace is important as well. We want to co-exist with everyone peacefully and live our lives to the fullest. A part of that is recognizing that system of Whiteness harms all of us. Not just Black women. White folks. Black folks. All people of color. How are supposed to become a stronger nation when we continued to be racially divided and certain folks are looked upon as their lives not being as valuable as theirs?

The one that will continue to keep breathing and make it to over a hundred,
Sophia

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The White Privilege Course

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I decided to take a doctoral level course because my advisor coworker friend was emailed by another advisor who advertised that this instructor needed students to take her course.

The advisor friend pleaded with me to take this course with her. I decided to do it, and I applied to the graduate school as a non-degree seeking Master’s student. There was a lot I had to do in a short period of time to get into this course. I went ahead and contacted the instructor of the course. I already met the instructor of the course. She did a presentation a few months ago about the history of sexual violence and how it was tied to the university campus. It was a great presentation. Anyway, once I found out from my advisor friend who taught the course, I definitely wanted to take it with her. She and our other advisor friend told me I should apply to the TAP program to take the course.

First, I had to apply to the graduate school. I went online and completed the graduate application. I kept on it, and they admitted me as a non-degree seeking graduate student (Master’s). Next, I had to complete the TAP program application. Before I did that, I ask my supervisor for approval. The course was after work hours. She agreed and approved the application. Next, I sent off the TAP application. The TAP director could not approve it until I was admitted as a non-degree seeking graduate student. Once I was, I contacted the TAP director, and he processed my information. Next, once I was in the system, I checked the student website to make sure I was integrated as a graduate student. However, I had several holds on my account. First, hold was easy to remove. I had to complete emergency contact information. The next holds were tricky. I had went ahead and pay a three dollar fee to have my undergraduate BA transcript sent electronically to the graduate student. They received it and took the hold off. The toughest hold item was the immunizations. In order to get the immunizations, I had to go to the county health department. All my immunizations are not on the national database. My immunizations were still on the health department cards that they filled out back in the day to document babies’/children’s immunizations. In order for me to get them, I had to go to the local health department, complete a release form, and the local health department official had to fax the form to my hometown’s health department where the my hometown’s health department had to fax a copy of my immunization records. The administrator was griping about how they need to put the immunizations on the national immunization database. I told her that they were old school, and that’s how they were.

Finally, after three hours (because the administrator keyed in the wrong fax number), my immunization records were faxed in. I went ahead and had the administrator key in my immunizations, and I decided to get the outdated immunizations done. I was due for a tetanus shot. As for the chicken pox immunization, the records state that I had a titers, and I was immune to it, but I didn’t know how true that was. So, I went ahead and scheduled the chicken pox shot as well. The nurse that did the shots were great. We had a long talk about education. After she finished my shots, I drove over to the university’s health center to turn in my records. Come to find out, the titers counted, and I didn’t need a chicken pox shot.

Then, my student accounts record was cleared, and I was ready to register. The way the TAP program works with registration is that university/college employees have to wait a certain date to register. Our registration date was this past Monday. After 5 a.m. this past Monday, I registered for the course that I was granted department of permission to register for. My TAP waiver took effective twenty four hours afterwards. I get to take a course that will help me finish my Master’s thesis.

The course is White Privilege in Education. You ask…why would I take a course as such?

First, my graduate work for my master’s program is on Toni Morrison and her works. For the past several years, I’ve been writing about privilege concerning race, class, and sex. It is only natural I want to learn more about how white privilege is playing into our cultural and what new ways can I learn to help educate people in collegiate environments and in my life about it. I also believe that this will help with the significant revisions of my thesis work so I can move on to doctoral work and get a PhD next.

Today, the instructor email all of us in the course so far. She hasn’t completed the syllabus yet, but she did complete the first week. I have my texts, and there will be a lot of reading to do, but I am looking forward to it.

I will be writing about the course and what is going on in it and what I am learning. Another reason why I am taking this course is I want to further understand and share what is going on in my department. I work in a science department where we hardly have any minorities training out PhD/MS graduate students. We have four black female PhD graduate students, an African male MS student, and we have one black male graduate student. We have one Puerto Rican female graduate student, and one biracial graduate student who is Mexican. We have one Pacific Islander male PhD student, and one multiracial female student who is part Pacific Islander. Of course, the rest of our department is white graduate students—half of white female PhD students and the other half is white male PhD students. Yet, when you look at higher up administration who have PhDs in power, the majority of them are white males. If any white females with PhDs that are administration have power, they don’t have nearly as much power as their white male counterparts. Any people of color who have administrative positions, they are lumped with the minority and have to work thrice as hard to get heard. So, the question is…why are we still in a racial hierarchal caste system that is run by white males? More important, to me, what tools and actions we need to take to make spaces more diverse because folks this caste system still exists in America and is several hundred years old.

More on this development,
S