Dear Sandra,

This is the fourth time I’ve tried to write this letter, since I started the first draft in 2015. Even now, it will be an imperfect version. It is not in my usual tone. There will be no witty sentences or swear-filled rants. This feels sad, and unorganized, and jumbled. But it’s time to write.

Whenever a Black person, particularly a Black woman dies, I struggle to articulate my sorrow. I want to honor the family. I don’t want  to make it about me. The problem, however, is that it is about me. And her, and her, and other Black women who see the news and wonder, “could I be the next one?” When I see a Black girl murdered, my brain goes into overdrive for the next 48 hours worrying what will happen to me and other Black women I love, because in the eyes of everyone except ourselves. we are less than human. Because I am a Black woman, I see that similarity with other Black women who are killed, whether I want to or not.

And in you, I see more similarities with myself than ever.

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Photo credit: Taken from The Nation article; original from Sandra Bland’s Facebook page

Of course, we are not exactly the same. This year, you would have been thirty years old, and I just entered into the last year of my mid-twenties. You left Illinois for college, whereas I stayed in the state for the first 22 years of my life. During the summer of 2015, you were heading South for your new job, while I headed West for mine. You were part of the Black Lives Movement in Chicago, probably around the same time I just started to wake up. I did not know you, and I strongly doubt you knew me.

And yet. We were both born in Naperville, Illinois.  Your old church is close to my house, so close, that when my dad pointed this out, I clenched my palms to keep from sobbing in front of my family. We both started our new jobs around the same time– student-centered higher education careers, jobs that, I believe, we believed could change the world. Depression is a label we knew well, along with Black, and woman, and beautiful.

Our birthdays are only one day apart.

This letter will be one of the shortest blog posts I write, not because I want to dishonor you, but because today, even two years out from your death, it still hurts to think about you. It hurts to think about how you were stopped for failing to use a turn signal (because, of course, driving while Black). It hurts me to see the courts drop the perjury charges against the state trooper who brought you to your death. It hurts me to read how the court system failed you way before, countless times. It hurts me that we didn’t have a nuanced discussion about Black women’s relationship with depression and mental health and suicide when we talked about your death. It hurts me that they killed you, and it hurts me that, even two years after your death, people will still say that the judicial system is fine, that police systems aren’t rooted in White Supremacy, that Black women deserve to be forced into the prison system. It hurts that, as the years go by, we (except for Black women) say your name less and less.

It hurts to think we could have been in the same place, at the same time. This is selfish and self-serving and doesn’t help anyone. And to me, it’s also real.

I don’t yet have the heart to watch your Sandy Speaks videos, but I want to, soon. I want to set the world on fire and challenge the system and love Black women even harder and do better. I want to be better, to take care of myself. I want to scream. I hate the phrase “die in vain,” and I refuse to use it to you, because you did not ask to die. And I won’t forget you, both your life and your death. Because it is one more name reminding me I need to do more, to do everything in my body to speak up and say we need to be treated better. And for me, it’s an important name.

Rest in power, Sandy.

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Neither steel nor iron, but flesh and blood

As humans, our beautiful bodies are made up of 70% water. Prick us, and we bleed plasma and cells. And although a few of people hardly get sick (note: this is not me, but I’ve heard of you magical unicorns before), no one body is indestructible. We all need a break from time to time.

I say this to remind everyone: Black women’s bodies are not unbreakable.

Three weeks ago in North Carolina, a Black girl, a middle schooler, was caught fighting. Or she was caught trying to break up the fights. There are different accounts. What I do know, what we all know, after seeing footage, is that a school officer came over, lifted her off the table, and slammed her to the ground. That is not an exaggeration. He slammed her like she was a rag doll, an item in the war against middle school fights. She later suffered a concussion.

It’s been 24 whole days, but I haven’t been able to put that image out of my head. It plays in my brain–this grown man, slamming a child to the ground. It reminds me of the Black women who, a few years ago, was thrown to the floor from her desk by a cop. And it disgusts me to my core. Even if this girl was the most frustrating shit-talker, even if she was leading the modern-day French revolution at her middle school..for what? That man has a good 75 pounds on her at least. Picking her up alone was not okay, but he could have done only that. Why did he feel the need to slam her?

Unfortunately, this isn’t new, and we know this will continue not to be new.

We live in a world where our bodies are disposable, casual objects. When we face police brutality, we may not only be murdered, but others will forget to say our names. If we don’t die, we are chased at pool parties and sat on. If we are sexually assaulted or harassed, we are mere Jezebels, our bodies “asking for it,” especially if the perpetrators are White men. God forbid if the perpetrators are White men. We are kicked in grocery stores, ignored when we need help in public places but shoved when we are “a nuisance.” Our hairs are chia pets, yankable in the eyes of non-Black folk. We are spat on or spat near for wearing a hijab or a dashiki or for speaking our languages. We are grabbed and pushed and pulled up–and this starts in elementary school. Hands are laid on us, and not just in church. And if a woman is Black and trans, we know violence is more likely to happen- 17 reported times in 2016, to be exact.

Often, and always, the breaking moves past our physical bodies: We will speak up against injustice, online or in person, either in the most blunt or passive way, and people will find a way to invalidate our experiences, or call us “irrational” or explain “what is or isn’t a big deal” (in fact, if someone does this with this article, congratulations: you are the annoying prophecy I predicted). We will be told we are untrained, or thieves, or dumb, even if we’re actually doctors (no, really, yes, we are). Or just trying to shop peacefully in Victoria’s Secret. Or demanding to be seen for our brilliance. We will be told we can walk home alone because “Black women are un-rapeable,” we will be called everything but n****r in college (and I do mean everything), our names will be stripped away from its native tongue and butchered and we’ll be told our beautiful string of consonants and vowels are “hard to pronounce” or “too ghetto.” 

And yes, to anyone ready to question–some of this, from the physical threats to the emotional dismissal–includes me. Although I am “soft,” I, by virtue of being Black and being woman, I know what it’s like to be seen and treated as “unbreakable.”

At times, we may be loud, angry, tired, sleepy, strong, sassy, and/or upset, but that doesn’t give others licence to treat our bodies like trash. These are, in fact, human emotions and traits that everyone possesses, demonized in us because it is easy to demonize Black folks and it is easy to demonize women, so naturally, “the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.”

We have got to do better. I think about the work I need to do, from making it a point to #SayHerName (and be active on Kimberle Crenshaw’s #SayHerName site), to constantly working against my cissexism and remembering trans and non-binary Black women in the fight for honoring our bodies. But I, and other Black women, are not the only ones who have to roll up their sleeves. Beyond recognizing this country is built on the backs of Black women, non-Black folks and Black men need to do the work with us, and give us space to tell our stories. And damn, we need justice for Black girls in schools, girls who are not only seen as problems but are manhandled instead of the humans they are.

But could we all vote, though?

Women’s Equality Day is creep creep creeping around the corner, a date I almost forgot until I saw a post on a Facebook page. According to the National Women’s History Project, August 26 is “the date was selected to commemorate the 1920 certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote.”

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That’s cute. First, of all, the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18th, so I don’t know where this new date comes into play. But besides that, I want to make something very clear:

  1. Women’s Equality does NOT celebrate the right for all women to vote. Let’s get this right. The minute the 19th Amendment was passed might have”legally” been for all women, but it was truly not the same minute, day, year, or decade all women of color could vote in this country. Thanks to some awesome disenfranchisement methods, it is only when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed that more people in our country could vote. Check out this handy dandy U.S. Voting Rights Timeline if you don’t believe me.
  2. Additionally, the suffragettes of lore were hella racist. As in, they were proud White supremacists. Proud White supremacists that forced Black women to march in the back. But of course, depending on where you go to school, educators won’t bring this up when you a baby glimpse of it in Iron Jawed Angels (it’s almost like the U.S. school system is run by White supremacy and privilege or something).

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I say this because I’m sure, like last year, Facebook is going to create a cutesy graphic with women of all races celebrating August 26, without acknowledging that only White women could vote when the 19th Amendment passed. And without fail, some White feminists will add some sort of pro-Women’s Equality Day post, and then get mad when someone calls it out. I can already see the “why are you dividing the movement?” comments, and it makes my blood boil. Girl, I’m not dividing the feminist movement; your refusal to name the exclusivity of the 19th Amendment and voter laws is doing the job!

I also say this because this is yet another blatant reminder of how WhiteFeminism™ refuses to acknowledge any intersectionality in the feminist movement, and SAYS THAT WE’RE THE ONES CAUSING TROUBLE when we critique the “equality for some” notion of feminism. And then refuses to stand up for anyone who, well, isn’t a White woman. For example, I think about the misogynistic hate crimes Leslie Jones is receiving, as her White co-stars sit in radio silence, with nary a mention of solidarity. I’m not saying the ones most responsible are not the racist fuckboys who are sending her hateful tweets and hacking her website (because White masculinity is so fragile, they  can’t handle a reboot of Ghostbusters. It is amazing how quickly racism and sexism comes into play when men feel their “nerd space” is “threatened.”) But I’m also asking… Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon. You self-proclaimed feminists. Where you at?

#sorrynotsorry if you think I’m being hateful. I think it’s hateful when one doesn’t want to admit to the whitewashing of history. And just know that if you can’t stand for all women (women of color, poor women, undocumented women, queer women, trans women, women with disabilities, womyn/womxn, women who fit all and any of these identities and more), and then get mad when we point out the inequalities in your feminist movement, you didn’t really want equity, did you? In a marginalized group, you just wanted to be on top. You just wanted things to be equal for those that look like you.


Shout-out to those who still cannot vote, such as undocumented individuals, those who are convicted of a felony, individuals in U.S. territories, those who do not have access to polling stations, those suppressed by voter ID laws, and more. In the spirit of what I just wrote, if I am forgetting a group please let me know. Also, shout-out to the baddest b, Ida B. Wells, who refused to march in the back during the 1913 suffrage parade and instead slipped into the Illinois delegation after the parade started. For the person who wrote the Wikipedia page for Iron Jawed Angels: I hope you meant the way Wells and Paul had the conversation during the 1913 march is fictionally portrayed in the movie, and not that Ida B. Wells marching into the Illinois delegation is fictional. If you meant the latter, know that Ida B. Wells is giving you side-eye from the grave, and is better than you.

Things that bring me joy: AMANDLA STENBERG GIRL I LOVE YOU

Last week, Amandla Stenberg, creator of the video “Don’t Cash Crop on my Cornrows,” portrayer of Rue in the Hunger Games, caller-outer of all things cultural appropriation, and all-around badass, came out. She CAME OUT, everyone. LIKE. OUT. AS BISEXUAL. On Teen Vogue’s video line/Snapchat video/something for youths that I’m fuzzy on. And I know it’s probably old news, but I don’t care, because it will always be new news in my heart, so there you go.

Please don’t think I’m over-exaggerating when I said I almost cried when I saw the video. Granted, I almost cry over a lot of things (pictures of polar bears, wedding gowns, missing my mom, dropping my phone on my face, etc.). But for real, the video brought up some real emotions. Maybe I missed the announcement and there’s been five other Black actresses who have come out as bisexual in the past year. But since my Android has me on news alerts for “Black girls” and “bisexuality,” I don’t think so. I’ve often seen us exist within spaces meant for each other (Facebook groups, niche magazines, certain podcasts) and around trusted friends. But never so openly, especially in a mainstream publication. Until now.

There isn’t enough bi-visibility, not to even to talk about Black women bi-visibility. And if you’re tired of hearing that, I’m sorry, but it’s true. Yes, let’s not forget there are some awesome celebrities championing the bi and pan cause. And let’s not forget the media’s portrayal of bisexual women is still not great. For every Brittany and Bo and Brenna, we have the sneaky/crazy bisexual trope, or the wishy washy bisexual trope, or the “I’m not that into labels” trope. I am hard-pressed to come up with a character who has actually identified as “pansexual.” Hard-pressed. Not to even mention the complete lack of Black bi or pan girls on television. Of course Tiana, from Empire, comes to mind. But she’s been gone for OVER HALF THE RUN OF THE SHOW, and her bisexuality only was mentioned for a few episodes (and sometimes, not in a super-positive way). #WhereisTiana? Come on, Fox. Do better.

(Frederic: sick of your shit since 1972).

I’ve been lucky to have supportive friends who totally understand my bis/pansexuality. And it isn’t always positive. Besides my general “I do NOT want to come out to my family narrative” right now, I often don’t feel comfortable coming out to certain people, including surrounding lesbians and gay men as well as straight allies. I’ve heard that so-and-so’s bisexual identity is probably a stop before inevitable straightness/gayness, and that my sexuality is probably a phase. Not to even mention that people sometimes straight up forget. Like. Just straight up forget that I’m a queer woman.

And that’s why Amandla’s coming out video is so important. How cool was it that she felt comfortable enough to mention it on Teen freakin’ Vogue’s video Snapchat thing. This isn’t to downplay how tough it is to open to conversation and be vulnerable (she talks about how hard this video was at the end), but to praise her directness and willingness to state who she is so strongly.  She was just like “I’m Black and bisexual, deal with it” (not a direct quote), and then talked more about how Black girls cannot be suppressed because “we are meant to express our joy and our love and our tears and be big and bold and DEFINITELY not easy to swallow.” YES, Amandla, yes. You better get on your Audre Lorde “if I didn’t define myself for myself” train.

May this start a movement: there should be no TIME to argue with fools about how your bisexuality is just a mere trend, or to convince potential suitors that your bisexuality does NOT equal a three-way. I’m going to start wearing a button that says “Please don’t ask me about my bisexuality after I tell you about it unless I feel safe enough to initiate conversation or you are also bisexual and we are going to take a moment to bond over it. Do not define me. Just let me live LET ME BE BOLD.” Maybe not, because that sentence was long as hell, and I’m not quite out to my parents, so a button probably would be unwise. But still. STILL.

To have a Black girl, a well-known, vocal Black girl, come out as bisexual is wonderful. I know that not all Black girls and women share the same story–maybe we’ve came out since we were 5 and Amandla’s video did not phase us; maybe we couldn’t dream of coming out and are nowhere near this stage of declaring our bisexuality; maybe we DID come out and are now facing emotional and economical hardships that this video will never be able to fix, that are bigger than this girl–and I want to acknowledge that. I do not claim to be the voice of the entire population of Black bisexual women, because our journeys are all different. But for me–a Black bisexual woman who, quite frankly, often allows herself to be crunched into other people’s fantasies and eaten alive–I needed so badly to see another Black bisexual woman tell everyone (on social media through a publication that reaches A MILLION PEOPLE)  “there is nothing to change. We can not be suppressed.” And I feel like at least one other Black bisexual woman needed to hear it, too.

So thank you, Amandla. And lemme know if you want me to make you one of those sweet buttons.

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YES LORD. Go ahead with your badass self, girl. Caption credit: instagram.com/amandlastenberg