Did you know the average age of a black transgender woman is 35 years old? Do you recognize these names: Shade Schuler, Ty Underwood, Penny Proud, Aprina Paul? How about these: Tanisha Anderson, Shantel Davis, Rekia Boyd, Natasha McKenna? The former are black transgender women that have been killed — Tamara Dominguez was the 17th murder of a transgender women this year. The later are a list of black women killed by police.
When you think about police brutality, who are the people that pop in your head? Be honest with yourself: what are the images that come to mind? Think about every detail, race, gender, sexuality … who are these people? When you think of state violence, what are the first images that come into your head of their race, gender, and sexuality? When you think about the school-to-prison pipeline, who are the populations that come to mind? What gender and sexuality are they? I’m betting that for most of you, the first images were that of cis, probably straight, black males. This must change; any Black Liberation movement that doesn’t have black women and black queer folk and transfolk at the center is not a group or movement that is truly about Black Liberation.
Black Lives Matter was founded by mostly queer black women. For those that don’t know, Young Gifted and Black is made up of “young Black women, queer folks, straight folks and feminist men who are fighting for Black Liberation.” We place black women and queer folk at the center of our group. We must make sure that those that are most impacted have a voice and are at the center of Black Liberation.
We are often blind to the violence that black women and black queer folk and transfolk people face. State violence, police violence, and societal violence is more than just murders. When we, YGB, talk of state violence, yes, we mean police murders, but we also mean poverty, sexual assaults at the hands of police officers, physical assault at the hands of police officers and so much more. Black women and black queer folk and transfolk aren’t being killed at the same rate as black men, but their police interactions are no less terrifying, are no less a danger to their body. Black women and black queer folk and transfolk at every police interaction are in danger of being sexual assaulted, of being assaulted, or broken. Every black woman can end up the next Sandra Bland at the end of a police interaction. Black women and black queer folk and transfolk also face dangers of violence within our own community. Every day out could be their last. Their life could end at the hands of a homophobic man. Their bodies are in danger in an unimaginable amount of everyday interactions.
The non-centering of queer black people and black women is a problem that extends to many parts of our society. It comes from the media, to our president, to clergy members, to other so called black freedom fighters. Even the great writer Ta-Nehisi Coates is not exempt from this criticism; in his writing he centers the black male experience at the expense of black women and black queer people. Now this is his experience, but this is a man that when he wants to learn something he dives in; if you don’t believe so, read his writings on him learning French. Proclaiming ignorance as an excuse to not talk about black women or black queer folk and transfolk issues, especially for such a scholar, is a problem. Learn, as we all are … read, listen, and learn.
This must change, just as white people must take it upon themselves to learn about the systemic racism that they take part in, we, cis black men, must do a better job of learning about and centering black people of all genders and sexualities. We must center those most oppressed, most impacted by systemic racism and oppression. We must take steps back; we cannot center ourselves at the cost of others. In doing so we are replicating the cycles of oppression, the cycles we are fighting to break.
We must hold the Ella Bakers, Fannie Lou Hammers, Angela Davies, Marsha Johnsons, and M Adams of the world as high as the Malcolm Xs, James Baldwins, Stokely Carmichaels and more. It means we boycott the ‘Stonewall’ movie, it means that when a black women, or a queer black person is asking to speak, you let them, when they’re asking us to listen we listen, and we let them lead as we lead. To win this it means that we must #Sayhername as much as we say the names of Michael Brown and Tony Robinson. It means that All Black Lives Matter.
I will not let any black voices be silenced and I will give all black voices space to speak, especially black women and black queer folk and transfolk. I will continue to learn and listen from them. I will learn to speak up about these matters more and with increasing clarity. I will continue to deconstruct the patriarchy in myself and among my brothers. And I hope you dedicate yourself to the same promises. We must hold up our women, as they keep us rooted. We must love our queer folk as they love us. If we do not do this, then indeed we do not hold up, root, or love ourselves.