Saturday, 5 March 2016

Death of a Mad Black Woman: A reflection on the death of Sarah Reed

It has long been the case that the maltreatment of black women is a constant component of colonial power. In the history of our arrival upon shores unknown, one single element was crucial to our   enslavement: the domination of the mind. After all, something that is dominated can be owned and thus controlled and manipulated.    
I have a word for you and a little something to say about it. Drapetomania. 
Drapetomania. This, was the name given to the ‘mental illness’ that enslaved Africans demonstrated whenever they endeavoured to escape the slave-masters. As far as white doctors in the 1860’s were concerned, black people were diagnosed as mentally ill if (when physically abused and tortured) they chose to escape. To abandon the shackles of enslavement showed a strength that had to be quashed in order for slavery to flourish. 
Muck-raking and mud-slinging is at the core of the Western approach to control. The cementing of the polarisation between black women and white has been expertly poured and placed, for centuries; slowly erecting the microstructure of black women and madness. 
The colonialist agenda took all of their fears upon first seeing us, cornfed them, beefed them up and set about propagating the hype. The hype was of the oversexed, rabidly murderous black man whom would rape white women. The other was of the crazy black woman. She was irrational, violent, angry, she could lash out at anytime with brute and manlike strength. 
It was the perfect stalking horse; to harm a woman might be cowardly and weak. To silence a Mad Black Woman? A stereotype developed and propagated for centuries. Well now that is an entirely different game. 
Allow me to tell you a true story. In 2003, a doting young mother lost her 9-month old baby girl.  The baby had suffered a short bout of illness before dying in a hospice with her loving parents at her side. 
In a bizarre turn of events she and her child's father were asked to  transport their deceased baby from Beckton Children's Hospice to a Woolwich undertakers in a taxi. I can only imagine the horror of that journey as she cradled the limp body of her beloved baby in her arms. It was a nightmare sojourn from which she would never fully return.  The torture of losing her child compounded by the memory of that harrowing journey haunted her relentlessly. 
She wouldn't be the first woman to have lost a part of her luminosity to bereavement. Throughout the next decade she would go on to suffer periodically from bouts of mental ill-health. 
Almost ten years on, this young woman, still reeling from the death of her girl child, was approached by police officers in a Uniqlo store who accused her of shoplifting. Cornered into a claustrophobic changing room area she lashed out defensively. A well-trained police officer would have seen the fear in this young ladies eyes. He might have utilised this training to reassure her. He might have seen  behind her defence mechanisms and communicate sensitively and with professionalism. 
Instead, Police Constable James Kiddie brutally dragged and punched her in a ferocious onslaught. He issued a series of punches to her head. You see, when Kiddie looked upon this young woman he did not see her vulnerability. He saw, a rabid animal; the consequence of centuries of patriarchal conditioning. Where others would see mildness, he saw hysteria. 
Let us for a moment look at that word.  Hysterical. It's a word with a deeply misogynist history, derived from the Latin hystericus (meaning "of the womb"). In days of old, this was a condition exclusive to women. It might send them frantically and uncontrollably cuckoo at any given moment. Why? Well of course it was due to an inherent dysfunction of the uterus (the excision of which is still called ahysterectomy). These etymologies have cemented a hatred for women as prone to unpredictable emotions and outbursts. Now, add into this patriarchal mixing bowl the word Black and something darker emerges. Something that must be put down. Stifled. Kicked. Punched. Erased. 
The assault had a profoundly negative impact on this young woman's already fragile state of mind. The horrific ordeal was caught on CCTV camera and resulted in the dismissal of PC Kiddie who was blithely handed 150 hours of community service and a fine. She in turn became frightened of tall, Caucasian men. At times she felt so vulnerable that she would return to the sanctuary  of her family home to sleep beside her cherished mother.
Such was her trauma at having been treated with such brutal malice, she spent phases of the proceeding years sectioned in hospital as she struggled to rebuild her life.
The story does not end there. It was whilst she was spending time as a patient detained under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act (the very act designed for the health and safety of human beings) in Maudsley hospital in October 2014 she suffered a sexual assault.
A born survivor, she fought off her attacker, injuring him. The staff called the police. 
They arrested her. 
If this concept is hard to understand then it is just one example of the vagaries of a mental health system designed from a western perspective and used to diagnose black people.
The fact that she had previously dared to challenge a violently Metropolitan Police Officer leads one to imagine she was arrested as an act of retribution. Or, to set an example. 
Mental health is still a taboo. It is still a dirty word despite what statistics may tell us. People still fear it makes us erratic, impossible to control, understand, a danger to others and themselves. 

It is still an effective brush to tarnish black women with; take 500 years of myth making, blend it carefully with attributes common (but far from exclusive to) black women - bind them - label with those magical words 'mental health' and what do you have? Something that must be put out. 

Held down. Locked away. Medicated. Hunted and billeted like an escaped zoo animal; pleasant to look at and be entertained by, but a danger to all society if unleashed without supervision.
We cannot survive in an environment of male sadism mostly because the psychological process is too abiding. 
On the 11th January 2016 Holloway Prison telephoned the young woman's family and informed them that their daughter was dead. They were told they couldn't see her body. They were told that she had 'strangled' herself whilst lying on her bed. Her name, was Sarah Reed. 
They say Sarah Reed 'strangled herself in her bed.' I say, the police began her lynching that day as they laid blows into her fragile head with hateful fists. It simply took two years for those blows to arrive at her cerebral cortex where it finally took hold and dulled her luminosity. It took two long years for the anguish of his heavy handed flogging to shackle itself around her weary heart and stop it's beat. 
I've no doubt in my mind that Kiddie enjoyed the spectacle of watching a fragile young woman cower at his feet. Most bullies do. 
I balked at every blow; raising my own hands defensively. I wept as they crouched down to cuff the hands that had held once her child's lifeless body. I laid down as she took her final sigh, vilified and swept aside. I felt her pain as my own. 
Drapetimania: In America, Tinisha Anderson, aged 37, died after her concerned mother called 911 while Anderson was experiencing a meltdown.  Officials say when officers tried to take Anderson to a treatment facility, she struggled and then went limp. The truth was  that police slammed her to the ground and put a knee in her back. Her death was ruled a homicide. 
Only in a world driven by the white patriarchy that established slavery could mental health be used as an subterfuge to lynch black women. Only in a racist world could black women be so easily discredited and discarded, their voices invalidated and unheard. 
Now is the time to speak loudly. Above the din and ballyhoo of a system that seeks to malign and crucify us. 
It is with pride and solidarity I will stand up and say in a loud and undimmed voice: I Am Sarah Reed. 
And so are you. 
Over a hundred years ago in 1918. Mary Turner was chased by an angry lynch mob of several hundred men. Eight months pregnant, she fled, driven by her maternal determination to protect her unborn child. The mob pursued her and found her the next morning. They took her to a stream, tied her ankles together and hung her from a tree upside down. They finished Mary off by riddling her body with bullets – to teach her a lesson.
Part 2: I Am Sandra Bland
Part 3: I Am Miriam Carey 

#SarahReed #SayHerName #BlackLivesMatter #WearRed
Sat 19th March 2016 
 #M19 National Demo; 
Meet at 11.30am at the foot of the stairs of All Souls Church, 2 All Souls Place, London, W1B 3DA 
Black Lives Matter - Refugees Welcome Here - Stand Up To Racism . 
Speakers at the demo will include Marilyn Reed, mother of Sarah Reed, Blaksox and BARAC UK.

This Bloc Is Organised by Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK, BlakSox and the NUS Black Students Campaign . 
We oppose deaths at the hands of the State including the catalogue of failures by public authorities experienced by #sarahreed #sayhername , institutional racism, race discrimination in education and employment, the disproportionate impact of austerity and much more are all contributing to deepening racism faced by Black Workers, Students, Service Users and Communities. 
Join the Black Lives Matter Bloc on the demo, wear red clothing, bring home made solidarity placards, whistles, drums,horns.