The Black Lives Matter movement campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards Black people. Looking further into many cases between police violence and the Black community, two specific cases come to mind when looking at Ross Gay’s poem, “A Small Needful Fact.” I am particularly interested in how Garner’s actions are depicted in this poem. This then brings me to analyze my understanding of the poem and how I was only able to understand its complexity because I know Eric Garner’s story, and I also know Philando Castile’s, Trayvon Martin’s and Michael Brown’s but then realize I can only name one woman of color that experienced police violence, so in respect I will SAY HER NAME, Sandra Bland.
Who: Eric Garner
Age of death: 44 years old
Cause of death: CHOKED by police
Throughout the poem, Gay uses a mellow tone to describe Garner’s actions in his occupation. In the beginning, Gay tells us how Garner worked for the Parks and Rec. Horticultural Department. He says Garner “put (plants) gently into the earth” (6) which “fe[d] small and necessary creatures.” (11) Gay’s choice of diction characterizes Garner actions to be kind and giving. As Gay says at the end, Garner “ma[de] it easier/for us to breathe,” (14/15) which serves as an ironic ending because Garner’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” Gay’s characterization is important because black men tend to not get this characterization anywhere else. In “Is the Media to Blame for Police Brutality?” by Byron Mason II, tells us how mainstream media promotes a negative image of “black men [and] are associated with drug-related crime, unemployment, and poverty.” The media often focuses on Black men’s criminal record rather more than anything else. This brings me to think of how pieces like “A Small Needful Fact” are important for us to have AND read. This allows us to understand how complex and unjust these deaths like Garner’s are, because Black men are more than just what the media decides to cover, and so are the Black women they decide not to cover.
*Point of information: The police had the suspicion that Garner was selling single cigarettes from packs without tax stamps.
Who: Sandra Bland
Age of death: 28 years old
Cause of death: Ruled as SUICIDE
Sandra was found dead in her jail cell. This occurred three days after being arrested for failing to put her light signal while she was driving. Sandra appeared to be a very happy woman, so when her death was ruled as a suicide many people believed that it was staged. To bring these questions to the air Sandra’s sisters created a documentary, “Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland.” The inclusion of “Say Her Name” is what brings me to not only consider Sandra’s case but the case of many women*
*SAY THEIR NAMES:
Aiyanna Stanley Jones
Shelly Frey Tarika
that many people do not know about. This brings me to a very special woman, Kimberle Crenshaw, who coined the term “intersectionality.” Crenshaw held a TED Talk, “The Urgency of Intersectionality,” where she discusses the reality of race and gender bias in order for us to understand how the two can combine to create even more harm. At the beginning of her TED Talk Crenshaw does a short experiment with her audience (about 500 people) where she names some people. When they hear a name that they were not able to recognize they would take a seat and stay seated. Crenshaw started with Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray, more than half of the people were still standing. She then says Michelle Cusseaux. Tanisha Anderson. Aura Rosser. Meagan Hockaday, only 4 people were left standing. Both lists were African-Americans who have been killed by the police over the last two and a half years (this TED Talk was in 2016). The only thing that distinguishes this list of names is one thing: gender. I really appreciate Crenshaw’s metaphor of intersectionality as roads. Specifically how whenever there is an accident (problem) and the ambulance (the law) comes to help but they seem to only acknowledge one road where the accident happened but not the whole intersection. Women of color are more prone to police brutality because they are part of both the race road and the gender road. In relation to “A Small Needful Fact,” in the spoken word piece, “Sandra Bland,” by Kai Davis, Nayo Jones & Jasmine Combs brings me to distinguish how unlike “A Small Needful Fact” where they not only SAY HER NAME but feel it too. They say “black folk everywhere/ Erupted in grief/the voices calling her Martyr” which is in reference to her posting videos about many subjects, specifically the mistreatment of black people. Afterwards, they say “a trembling black woman with trauma stretching across Generations/ I’ve been crying for centuries” which emphasizes how this sort of treatment is not recent, it goes way beyond police brutality, it goes back to what they can remember. Moving towards one of my favorite lines of the piece, “Whether I jumped or was pushed/someone still put me on a cliff.” This specific line is amazing because it leaves room for possibilities. While Sandra’s case was considered a suicide (she jumped) in many other cases women were pushed. Some people are not put on this cliff, no one wants to be on this cliff, because this cliff itself is oppression, and again whether one jumps or is pushed, the oppressor wins. The last lines of this piece cover what I have been trying to say in this blog; “I (black women) still want to be worth fighting for, even if I (they) surrender.” Whether they are your sister, aunt or friend, Black women are humans. But they often feel like they are not because many of us choose to ignore them or not learn about them or their story.
Overall, I find it interesting how the only reason I was able to understand Gay’s poem was that I know who Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray were, because of the media. But I only know who Sandra Bland was because of a Facebook post. I think this says a lot about us and who we need to learn about, whether they surrender or not, it is our duty to SAY HER NAME.
I urge anyone who reads this blog post to take a looks at the links below.