Malcom Gladwell has so impressed the reading world with his analysis of life, that the term “Gladwellian intellectual adventure” has been coined.
But though I confess to not have jumped on his bandwagon before Talking to Strangers, when I saw he had written about Sandra Bland, I had to know his thoughts.
We now go through life with cable news. And then it was July of 2015. I’m white, Black Lives DO Matter, but hearing of a Black woman who had just arrived in Texas for a new job, a new life, had been arrested for a traffic stop, and then hearing just days later, that it was assumed she had hung herself in her jail cell—I was angry, had many questions, that to this day and even beyond this book, have not been answered. Why? Because we are still living in a time when these questions challenge us to give answers we don’t want to face.
HOW TALKING TO STRANGERS IS ORGANIZED
Gladwell starts with Sandra and ends with Sandra. In between, he works to reveal the disconnects in society, by exploring, as only he can, history, psychology and the roots of evil in our society. Oh, he wants to come to some conclusion about Sandra, but before that, he explores how often we just don’t have the big picture. Why? Because we ARE often STRANGERS to each other, and that means there are no exact rules to govern human interactions.
He attacks the problem in sections: some being Default to the Truth where he exams in detail the Sandusky (sex with a child) Case. Another being Transparency which includes the Amanda Knox case and a fraternity party sex case.
But the most interesting section is Coupling,where Gladwell makes the case that often two things that go together are hard to separate. Suicide is often coupled. Suicide and the Golden Gate Bridge; Sylvia Plath and how gas was delivered to homes before safety measures were introduced; preventive police patrolling in Kansas City, Missouri and the interrogation of Blacks.
Gladwell concludes the coupling section with this: “There is something about the idea of coupling–of the notion that a stranger’s behavior is tightly connected to place and context–that eludes us. It leads us to misunderstand some of our greatest poets (Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton), to be indifferent to the suicidal, and to send police officers on senseless errands. (Sandra Bland.)
SANDRA BLAND Note: All parenthesis are mine.
Then Gladwell asks, before the last chapter, when he discusses the Sandra Bland case…
“So what happens when a police officer carries that fundamental misconception– (that people are going to break laws, do wrong, especially if the are Black)–and then you add to that the problems of default to truth and transparency? (That by their very nature, police can make us feel afraid, feel wrong when we are right, liars when we are truth tellers, especially if one is a person of color) YOU GET SANDRA BLAND.”
YES, SADLY. You get that two personalities who view the world differently, should not be thrown together in a tense situation. And, unfortunately, as a reader and a human, we are left with this: “If you are blind to the ideas that underlie our mistakes with strangers—and to the institutions and practices that we construct AROUND those ideas—then all you are left with is the personal…and now Sandra Bland, who—at the end of the lengthy postmortem into that fateful traffic strop…somehow becomes the villain of the story.”
Original Sketch artist not listed