Friday, July 24, 2015

Being Educated and Black Can Get You Killed: What Sandra Bland's Death Teaches Us

Photo acquired from

Like most educators, I am a firm believer that education is a surefire path toward upward mobility, financial security,  success, and better life chances. I am a testament that a quality education can provide one with an innumerable amount of opportunities and freedom.

This very message is one that we impress upon our students. At the beginning of each school year, most teachers facilitate community building activities centered around students' hopes and dreams and how education plays an integral role in the attainment of said goals. Many of us who teach Brown and Black young people, express to them that as they acquire more education and success, that they not only have a responsibility to their communities, but it is their ticket out of their poverty stricken neighborhoods.

Outside of these neighborhoods is where life and possibilities reside. There is freedom here, there is greater privilege. Education grants you privilege that you've earned. You've earned it through maintaining a high sense of self-efficacy, resilience and perseverance, all of which are attributes we impress upon our students.  As a well educated Black women, I can attest that my education has granted me all of these in addition to a false sense of security. And this is true for my peers.

What is this false sense of security? It is simply the idea that because you are well-educated, you know your facts, you've gained access to spaces (i.e. predominately white universities, corporate offices, etc) that Black & Brown people were historically barred from (some may argue that not much as changed). Our education substantiates that we surpass mediocrity and we are more than capable to contend with our white counterparts. Our education is the fuel to our rocket that can fire us away, obliterating the boxes and constructs society quarantines us to. It reaffirms that we know what we are talking about. That little piece of paper holds a lot of power, and it is one thing that we have control over.

Sandra Bland was a well educated Black woman. She attended a university, maintained a commitment to her community, and believed in giving back. Through her experiences, (and I'd like imagine that her education played a role in this), she possessed great courage to speak against injustices made against those within her community. Through her experiences, Sandra felt empowered and invigorated to clamor and make noise. These are things that we teach our students to do, I know I have. We teach them that this education is something that will propel them to the next level, and that they have a task to take others along with them.

If you look at the dashboard camera video of Sandra Bland's arrest, you will see a woman who is fed up, albeit well-informed of her rights. She is aware that the officer's tactics are not proper protocol. So like any knowledgeable person, she is protesting against injustice. Which, from recent videos, was typical for Sandra Bland.

We teach our students to be empowered by their knowledge. Sandra was empowered. So empowered that she refused to take what was being handed to her, especially when she knew it was wrong, and even if it could put her further into danger. Her empowerment, self efficacy, and perseverance, led to her arrest, which subsequently ended in her demise. The audacity that her education granted her, got her killed.

So what now? Sandra Bland's education gave her the chutzpah to speak up and fight, and she died. What message do we share with our students? My charge for teachers, or anyone who touches young lives is, as you prepare for the upcoming school year, continue to give your students' something to fight for. Yes, share with them the unfortunate truths that society is afraid of educated Black and Brown people. Share with them that, no matter what, no one can take their education from them. Share with them that they owe it to Sandra Bland, their families, their communities, to continue to fight the fight, to make noise, to make a difference, and make change.

Photo Credit: Sandra Bland via Facebook

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