One of my favorite gospel songs growing up said, “Give me my flowers, while I yet live, so that I can see the beauty that they bring.” The song always stuck with me now it resonates even more.
This past Friday, Joyce Quaweay was brutally beaten by her boyfriend and his friend reportedly because she would not submit. On Saturday, Skye Mockabee (26) was found dead in a Cleveland parking lot. And, on Monday, Korryn Gaines (23) was killed while holding her 5-year-old son in her arms. As Brittney Cooper so aptly notes at the Crunk Feminist Collective, all of these women’s deaths are connected. To see them any other way is to deny the culture of white hetero-patriarchy in this country.
As a queer Black woman in the United States, I am keenly aware that my mere existence in public spaces is seen as disruptive, agitating, confrontational, and deserving of violence. For many trans and cis Black women, these sentiments extend into their private spaces as well. So how do we work to protect one another in moments like these? What do we do next?
Here are a few things we can work on right now that can help move toward collective liberation.
1. Stop selectively expressing outrage as Black people are murdered or otherwise harmed by state-actors or citizen aggressors.
I am mainly speaking to cis-hetero Black men.
I cannot even count the numbers of conversations I have had with these individuals who bend themselves into pretzels trying to explain why we have to organize and demonstrate for slain Black men without any such uproar over the deaths of slain Black women. Even worse, they often come up with justifications as to why these women were killed.
This type of selectivity points to several things. First, it is rooted in patriarchy and the idea that men are simply more important, more valuable, and more worth protecting than women, specifically trans Black women. Second, it perpetuates violence against Black trans and cis women because it indirectly justifies harm against them. And, last, it shows that these individuals are not truly committed to a just world. They are just concerned with their own freedom, one which they don’t seem to understand requires freedom for us all.
2. Stop demanding that trans and cis Black women hold space for you without ever holding space for them.
Like the first concern, this refers mainly to “safe spaces” where we are supposed to be able to collectively mourn. Even in these spaces, many Black men find ways to take up space, speaking more often, leading conversation, policing our mourning, etc. These types of injections of maleness do not make Black women safer. If anything, they help promote a culture where women aren’t even allowed to present on their own behalves. It erases the voices of women in these spaces making them unsafe. The answer is simple: Check your privilege and STFU often.
3. Stop using the very same tactics to exclude, erase, undermine, and devalue trans and cis Black women’s lived experiences that are used against Black men by racial-profiling police authorities or other non-Black aggressors (also known as “gaslighting”).
I can’t emphasize this point enough. One of the key consequences of white supremacy has been the perpetuation of what Charles Mills calls “White Ignorance.” It is the idea that majority or privileged groups often do not have to understand the conditions facing minority or less-privileged groups because they are insulated from those conditions. But, this doesn’t only affect racial difference. This also extends to differences in gender and sexuality.
Cis Black women cause harm to trans Black women. Cis Black men cause harm to trans and cis Black women. When these harms mimic the same erasure used by white folx committed to a white supremacist vision of the world, it is a byproduct of that very same system whether they choose to admit it or not.
4. Stop relying upon trans and cis Black women to educate, guide, usher, or lead you to the answers you seek. There’s the Google. Use it.
One of the most poignant quotes this year came from actor Jesse Williams at the BET Awards when he explained, “The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander” and “If you have a critique of our resistance then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression.” While Williams does not have an established record on Black women’s issues (no shade, this just hasn’t been his primary focus), his words ring true in regard to how non-Black women and men of all races should approach the issues facing trans and cis Black women today. It is not the duty of trans and cis Black women to teach you how to not be harmful. It’s problematic to assume so in the first place.
5. Stop telling trans and cis Black women to wait their turn behind cis-hetero Black men. That’s not how liberation works.
We can’t get free until we all get free. This is why it is critical to empower and center the least among us if we are to ever see true justice.
We must protect trans Black women at all costs. The genocide against them is clear and unrelenting and has been erased by political actors and their own communities.
We must also protect cis Black women at all costs. This is a now problem, not a next problem. Yes, say her name. But, after that, you have got to actually do something to prevent more harm.
There is no waiting room for liberation. There isn’t a queue or tracking system. Our freedom is inherently tied to the freedom of our siblings and community. We have too be honest about that if we are ever going to get to the world we seek.
What other suggestions do you have? Feel free to share in the comments below.