The following is old news. But, as of yesterday, it was entirely new to me. And something we should discuss. This week, HBO has begun promoting their documentary, Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland as it will air on their platforms in December.
As her family traveled, campaigning about the project, the response has been generally positive: the story should be told.
But yesterday, I learned that there are some people who don’t want to watch it because they believe Bland was homophobic. In a March 31, vlog, Bland shared her thoughts on the infamous debate an Indiana pizza shop and whether businesses should be required to serve gay couples if they argue homosexuality goes against their religious beliefs.
In the video, she said,
“This morning, what’s on my mind is this whole law that’s trying to be passed in Indiana. People are upset because they feel that it discriminates against a group of people and against a certain culture. And my question is, what about all the laws and practices that have been in place since the beginnings of time? What about that one big thing called slavery? That was quite discriminatory, yet it doesn’t even get the same amount of attention that it should. We are still dealing with discriminatory laws, in place, from slavery, that are still in effect today.
So for everybody so mad about some business people choosing not to cater to that…*shrugs*. Being gay is a choice. Being Black ain’t. That’s just how I feel. You don’t agree? That’s ok. And I’m not totally against homosexuals. I have homosexual family members, homosexual friends. That’s their choice. I don’t agree with it completely, but I feel that if a business chooses not to cater to that, that’s their choice. Being Black was not a choice, yet I’m discriminated against everyday. People who look like me are discriminated against everyday.
So while everybody so mad about this one law, think about the millions of laws that have been passed based off of slavery practices.”
God rest Sandra Bland’s soul but this video, this thought process was hurtful, harmful and reminiscent of the ways, White people dismiss and diminish our voices when we bring up issues of racism—right down to the “I have a ____ friend.”
Yes, Black people have been discriminated against from the foundations of this country. But it’s also true that gay people have faced discrimination–and likely longer than the birth of America. While one minority group may be easier to identify than the other, it doesn’t negate the discrimination that each group experiences. And contrary to Sandra Bland’s analysis, there are many people for which being gay is not a choice. Much like our Blackness is not a choice. Not to mention, there are Black, gay people who experience oppression for their race as well as their sexuality.
And there were people who occupied both groups, Black and LGBTQ+, who decided that they weren’t going to rally behind Sandra Bland because they didn’t appreciate the remarks she made against their community when she was alive.
That was news to me, yesterday. I had no idea, Bland had said such things. And I had no idea that there was a sect of the Black community who felt conflicted about marching and protesting for her, when there were other Black women who had presumably and definitely been killed by law enforcement.
For as much as the gay community has contributed to the fight for Black liberation, with people like Baynard Rustin, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes (allegedly), Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Marsha P. Johnson and in more contemporary times, DeRay McKesson and Black Lives Matter co-founders Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors, there are still so many Black people, who don’t consider the struggles of the LGBT community as a problem—because being Black is harder.
Our liberation can’t be that shortsighted. And I’m sure Black LGBT folks are tired of being used to fight our collective battles and then being abandoned when it comes time for the rest of the Black community to speak out against the injustices perpetrated against them.
The way some members of the LGBT community feel about Sandra Bland is the same way, many Black women felt about Stephon Clark, the 22-year-old father who was shot in the back and killed by police officers. After his death, we learned he had made some disparaging remarks about Black women.
No one is arguing that Clark or Bland should have had their lives snatched prematurely because they spoke against further marginalized members of their own community. But we can’t blame Black women for not rallying behind the late Stephon Clark.
And I certainly can’t fault the LGBT community for deciding to do the same in the case of Sandra Bland and this documentary. If she had not been killed, there is a chance that she could have lived to evolve and adopt a less exclusionary stance. Maybe she would have learned that liberation is not complete until it involves all of us. Perhaps she would have realized that some people experience more than one form of oppression. But since there was no evidence that she had reached that point, I understand anyone refusing to exact retribution for someone’s death when they spoke against you during their life.