Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Sandra Bland and The Grapes of Wrath

By Jean Mavrelis - 07.24.2015

At the end of Steinbeck’s, “The Grapes of Wrath”, Mama Joad asks Tom as he flees from the union busting police, “Where will I find you?”  Tom says, “Where ever anybody stands up for injustice, “I’ll be there….”

Many White People don’t understand that Ms. Bland’s response to the officer, as shown in the video, was ultimately about preserving her dignity.

Ask yourself, “Why do so many white people comment, “If she had only complied with the officer, none of this would have happened?”

One White friend of mine said, “When I’m stopped, I immediately wonder what I did wrong, and I’m super respectful to whatever they ask”.”

For her, being stopped is about how to act in front of the power of the law enforcement officer when you have committed a violation. Not not all equal or equivalent to having been stopped essentially for being Black.

A white woman in Ms Bland’s position in Texas would have probably never been stopped for lane changing without signaling. But if she were stopped for that infraction, she’d assume the officer was a jerk, and “work” him by saying, “I’m soooo sorry, officer, I won’t do it again” and the officer would probably have let her go with a warning.

Why is it different for a Black woman being stopped? For her, to have smiled at the officer and say, “So sorry”, “Yes, sir, I’ll put out my cigarette, officer. I won’t do it again”, and otherwise “know her place”, would have seriously compromised her dignity, and, for Ms Bland, at that moment, it was not about just getting out of that one situation.  It was about standing up against all the oppressive abuse of power by white men against Black people, including the “legal” rape of Black women during slavery.

She would feel “dirty” if she didn’t stand up for her rights.

Let me offer a couple of analogies:  One young white Jewish man and his colleague were working in Munich and stopped in a club after work for a beer.  Some local German fellows sat down with the “Americans” and after a bit told an anti-Semitic joke.  This fellow said, “I’m Jewish”.  Suddenly the tenor changed, and some large guys came and stood behind him.  His friend said, “Let’s go”.  And they left.

Afterwards, the young Jewish man felt “dirty”. The experience conjured up all the horror of his relatives who had been in Nazi camps and the shame of many Jews for perhaps not having put up more resistance.

For Sandra Bland, simply complying with outrageous orders felt like that.  She stood up for herself and for her ancestors.

Ms Bland is a hero in my book.

Tom Joad would be proud.






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