Black Women and Suicide: The Curious Case of Sandra Bland

Stefanie Brown James.

Stefanie Brown James.

The curious case of ‪#‎SandraBland‬ has really been on my mind lately not so much for the obvious reasons but more so for the fact that I don’t know with 100% certainty that she didn’t commit suicide. Sure, the civil rights activist/freedom fighter side of me totally believes that she was murdered in her jail cell because 1) she’s black, 2) she pissed off the cops and 3) she was in Texas. But it’s this same side of me that also totally believes that a woman who is embarking on a new journey in her life and isn’t afraid to speak up against injustices could actual hit a brick wall all of a sudden and commit an act that no one believes she’s capable of doing…because why would suicide ever be on her mind?

For years I battled (like for real) with depression and it wasn’t because I was jobless, or broke (even though I was) or needing a man (even though I wanted one real bad). In fact, I was well on my way up the success ladder as the National Youth Council Coordinator for the NAACP – spending my days training young leaders to be fearless advocates for Black youth across the country. Unfortunately, as my external persona shined, internally I was perpetually, deeply unhappy, sad, confused, lost…and suicidal.

If I was detained by the police as I constantly traveled the darkest back roads of the rural south or white as snow heartlands of the midwest, NO ONE (not even my momma) would have ever believed that in my jail cell, my ever present dark cloud overcame me to the point that I finally gave in to the voices in my head and just let go…

I didn’t know Sandra and I feel for all of the loved ones in her life who will have unanswered questions about her death – and life – forever. I feel for those of us who’ve grown weary because we believe/know another Black person has died at the hands of the police without any chance of justice being served or our lives mattering more today than they did “back in the day”. But I also feel for those who without a doubt believe that Sandra Bland was murdered because suicide isn’t something that a “strong” Black woman would ever consider – and the conversation about the need for mental health support in the Black community is an unnecessary distraction.

At this point, the only thing I know for sure is that you only have one life to live – and in this life it’s important that we all work to break the chains of oppression that hold people down physically, emotionally and mentally as well.

So today, don’t just “say her name” – that won’t bring Sandra back or prevent another life from leaving this world. Check in on your friends, your family members and let them FEEL that you’re there for them – to listen, to just be present or to take them to see a doctor if need be. It’s so easy to go about our days as online activists and forget to be offline support systems for those we say we love. Lastly, but most importantly, take care of yourself first…for it’s impossible to be strong in the fight if you’re weak in the mind.

This post was written by Stefanie Brown James, founder and director of Brown Girls Lead, a leadership development organization focused on cultivating positive social change on college campuses and in communities. Follow Stefanie on Twitter @StefBrownJames.

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