INTERVIEW: Fight trans homelessness with J. Skyler Robinson

There are at least 1.4 million trans adults and around 150,000 trans youth living in the United States today. Although they only make up .6 and .7 percent of their respective populations, trans people in the U.S. are much more likely to face astounding levels of interpersonal violence, lack of healthcare, and homelessness. The latter is often a function of various manifestations of discrimination and family rejection.

J. Skyler Robinson aims to tackle the issue of trans homelessness head on.

Black Youth Project sat down with the Black, genderqueer transwoman to discuss their plans to create a transitional living home to support especially vulnerable trans people.

How did you decided to start mobilizing to create this transitional living home?

“I used to live in a Los Angeles gay and lesbian transitional living program for youth. I was there for a two year period. Since this was something that I’ve actually lived through, I know how beneficial it is. So that’s what led me to try and start up my own version of it. However the biggest difference is that it’s specifically for the transgender community.”

What is it that you hope trans people will be able to experience during their time in the transitional living home?

“My biggest hope is that trans people have a safe space to stay, and time to recuperate from whatever troubles they were experiencing before, to re-enter regular society and the workforce. Trans people face a myriad of violence: interpersonal, economic––so much. So having an area to rest and recuperate, I think, is so important.”

How crucial is that area of reprieve––especially in the current political climate?

“It’s definitely been compounded by the Trump Administration. Even Ben Carson, the new HUD Secretary, stated that he didn’t want [public housing] to be comfortable for homeless people, because he thinks people would never want to leave. I think that’s very misguided, and really unethical, even more so with the specific situation trans people face.”

Would you say Trump administration’s views about poor Black people are even more dangerous when one adds trans people in the mix?

“Most definitely. The current administration has demonstrated no understanding of transgender issues and ignorance often leads to death. Black trans women already account for the highest homicide rate among all LGBT people in the US. Employment, housing and healthcare discrimination (which are structural) all contribute to our deaths. I don’t see any reason to think the 45th or anyone in his cabinet would do anything to change this.”

“Where would the transitional living home be located? Do you plan on opening up more around the country?”

“I hope to build this facility in Las Vegas. I live in California, but I travel back and forth between LA and Las Vegas. We didn’t want to build it in California because of the economic situation––California is very crowded and the cost of living is extraordinarily high. So I think Vegas would be the next best step. The trade-off is that California does have the best legal protections of any state for trans people. Nevada is very close on a number of points, but my main concern was for those exiting the program who might be looking for work and housing. So I think this location would make it a bit easier.”

What stage is the project in now?

“We’ve already handled the articles of incorporation, but we’re not tax exempt yet. When you incorporate an office, the first stage is actually getting the Employer Identification Number, but filing for tax exempt status is a completely separate process… But we’ve filed that paperwork already.”

How much overall do you think you’d need to raise?

“So far, our goal is set at $500,000. That cost right now is primarily to be able to buy land to build the facility, and hire an executive staff to work on the project. But within the next 5 years, I’d like to have a volunteer board of directors and a fully compensated executive staff who would guide the entire project. So the current goal would go to those two things.”

What message would you like people to take away as they learn more about your project and the dire situation many trans people are currently facing?

“We have a lot of people looking out for themselves and literally no one else. That selfishness is apparent across all marginalized groups living in the United States right now, so whatever we can do to pull together and ensure that the people who are most vulnerable are taken care of, I think that’s where a great deal of our focus should be. I know the end goal for this facility is at least a few years away, but what can definitely happen right now is getting the ball rolling so we can get to the next stage.”

You can donate to J. Skyler’s transitional living home project here.

Feminist triumph in action thrillers has always been for and about white women

By Sherronda J. Brown

*This post contains Wonder Woman spoilers*

The last time there was this much buzz about feminism in a popular action thriller, it was following the release of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. With a story about women fleeing sex slavery, it was not difficult to find the feminist themes in it.

That same year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens broke records with Daisy Ridley as the female lead. The conversations about her character largely mirrored what was said about leading women in action films who came before her, and also acknowledged the progress made.

Here we are now, in the wake of Wonder Woman, and we find ourselves amidst these familiar conversations once again, and once again we are reminded that feminist realizations in major U.S. action films thus far have largely been for and about white women.

Wonder Women set box office records last week as the first major superhero film with both a female hero at the center and a female director at the helm. It’s a well-made film. It certainly surpasses what the DC Universe has done so far with Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad. People are rightfully excited about it.

Many are also critical of it, especially given that its star is an unrepentant Zionist and that the plot affords compulsory significance to an unnecessary and distracting heteronormative romance in a film that has so much opportunity to be expressly queer. The love story––although barely there––is so integral to the overall narrative that Diana is only able to realize the true magnitude of her power after she suddenly loses her lover, harnessing her pain and channeling it to land a mighty god-like blow against her enemy. It’s a narrative that largely revolves around men and just barely passes the precious Bechdel Test.

Moreover, the film lacks intersectionality in terms of representation for women of color. This is another missed opportunity, and a familiar one.

Despite these truths, Wonder Woman has been and continues to be heralded as a feminist masterpiece and a triumph for women––all women being implied. Bloggers and writers are citing reasons from the jiggle of her thigh to the importance of seeing female representation in a major film. There are lines obviously meant to be interpreted as feminist (and perhaps misandrist) messages, like “Men are easily corrupted” and “Be careful in the world of men, Diana. They do not deserve you.”

It is clear why some audiences are identifying these moments as feminist, but for others this is simply not enough. And the ease with which Wonder Woman fans are able to ignore healthy critiques of the film and its star reflects how mainstream feminism and feminist solidarity have always been for and about white women.

This tunnel vision translates very easily to the reception of action narratives because filmmakers can easily place “strong women” within them. This was demonstrated exceptionally well with the response to Mad Max: Fury Road. It was declared an accidental “feminist manifesto” due to its narrative about Immortan Joe’s “prized breeders” escaping from his clutches, led by Imperator Furiosa. It’s a damn good action flick, maybe one of the best made in recent years.

But, like most others of its genre, it is overwhelmingly white, with Zoe Kravitz being the only person of color present. The film also treats fat characters and people with disabilities as grotesque and immoral clichés (aside from Furiosa’s cool-looking metal prosthetic), but the “sex slavery is very bad” theme was enough to proclaim it as a feminist victory for all, and anyone who disagreed was quickly dismissed.

It seems that all an action thriller needs in order to be considered “feminist” is for a white woman to be present, self-sufficient, physically strong and capable, able to hold her own in a fight without the help of a man, or able to dominate men in a way that is considered traditionally masculine.

Aside from Fury Road, Edge of Tomorrow, Hanna, Lucy, and Star Wars: Rogue One all feature “strong female characters” who have been declared feminist role models in film, as well as the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Terminator, The Hunger Games, and Divergent franchises. This list is in no way complete, and what each of these films and others like them continue to leave out is representation for women of color on par with the representation for white women. When women of color cannot find ourselves in the same types of roles in these narratives, then the “feminism” within them feels hollow.

This issue surrounding women in action films may seem inconsequential, but it is indicative of a much larger problem that is evident in mainstream feminism. Every year we celebrate the 19th Amendment and “women’s right to vote” in the U.S., citing 1920 as the year that solidified the position of women as enfranchised citizens. We do this annually even though the amendment only applies to white women, and it took many years before women of other races were legally able to exercise that right.

The problem is also apparent in how the Gender Wage Gap is discussed, with the claim that women make “77¢ to the male dollar,” despite the fact that this figure only applies to white women and men. It’s in the way that white women encourage us to “lean in,” ignoring that Black women have been doing so for ages. It’s in white women wearing their Pink Pussy hats at the Women’s Marches to protest Trump, but never showing up for Black Lives Matter.

It’s in how mainstream feminism often gets constructed as women being allowed to freely perform “masculinity” through icons like Rosie the Riveter, because while white women have historically been forced into the role of delicate and infantile femininity, Black women have been combating narratives which see us as being nearly always-already too masculine and indecorous. We are constantly left out of the narratives of mainstream feminism, just as we are too often left out of the narratives of mainstream action films.

White women have been starring in these films for years, and while there have been issues with character depth and forms of representation––namely being conceived of as sexualized subjects for the male gaze/consumption and the kind of compulsory heteronormativity which we see present in Wonder Woman––women of color are still mostly starved for any representation at all.

To be frank, we are exasperated with the homogeneity of whiteness, on the screen and off.

When women of color speak about our lack of representation and the inability to see ourselves in spaces where white women have been seen for a long time, we are always met with accusations of divisiveness. Because white women supposedly open the door for all other women, we should be grateful to lap up the crumbs that they leave behind while they feast on their “feminist” achievements. This is how white supremacy operates, by normalizing whiteness and demanding that the rest of us see it as the standard, while simultaneously denying us access to it as a property that affords social privileges. White women winning is simply not enough, and it is past time for white feminists to acknowledge this.


Sherronda J. Brown is a native North Carolinian with an academic background in Media Studies, Women’s & Gender Studies, and African American & African Diaspora Studies. She is passionate about social justice, black feminisms, and zombies. You can support her work at https://www.paypal.me/SherrondaJBrown

Juneteenth Wiki Commons

Juneteenth and our post-emancipation fight for liberation

By Kristen Adaway

 

As June 19th approaches, or Juneteenth as it is often known, many African-Americans across the United States will celebrate the day that marked the end of slavery in the states.

On this day in 1865, General Gordon Granger, leader of the Union soldiers, gave the executive order that “all slaves were free.” Yet, it is important to note that this order was given two and half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, thus showing how slow the United States and its people are to executing progressive change.

While this newfound freedom seemed like a breath of fresh air to those that had been abused in every way possible for over two centuries, becoming adjusted to independent living was not an easy task. Many obstacles, both legislative and social, proved to be sizeable barriers to free movement and social mobility. These factors combined created what I have come to describe as the “Black ceiling.”

Drawing its roots from the famous term “glass ceiling”, the Black ceiling consists of every hurdle and disadvantage Black people specifically face as a result of slavery and its aftermath. Despite Merriam Webster’s definition of the glass ceiling stating that it is “an intangible barrier within a hierarchy that prevents women or minorities from obtaining upper-level positions,” when used in cultural context, the emphasis is usually placed on women while minorities’ experiences and attempts at creating inclusive environments are criticized.

When Black people’s experiences post-slavery are analyzed within this context, it becomes clear that the Black ceiling has shaped financial and educational opportunities for this group for more than a century.

 

Sharecropping and the limitations of Economic Freedom

For the first time since 1619, freed slaves were faced with the full responsibility of finding and obtaining their own living arrangements for their families. According to a Washington Post article, some chose to stay on their former slave owner’s land and work as sharecroppers, while others fled to larger cities to pursue the previously unattainable idea of success. This idea would eventually be coined by James Truslow Adams as the “American Dream”.  

There were also some freed slaves, specifically the men and fathers, who worked together to gather any money they could to buy land from their white former slave owners.

Although the latter approach seems like it would have been the most sought after, sharecropping was a more popular option for many Black Americans in the South. HISTORY describes sharecropping as a method where “black families would rent small plots of land in return for a portion of their crop, to be given to the landowner at the end of each year.”

Some sociologists and researchers have called this system of survival “neoslavery,” due to its structural similarities with the slave master to slave dynamic apparent pre-1865. Pulitzer-winning writer and journalist Douglas Blackmon wrote in his book Slavery By Another Name that “the slavery that survived long past emancipation was an offense permitted by the nation.” Blackmon argued that slavery did not in fact end with the 1865 order and that it actually continued on for decades after during what he called the “Age of Neoslavery.”

Sharecropping was one of the most explicit exploitive practices that took advantage of freed slaves. With no cash or credit system available to freed Black people, sharecropping resulted in sharecroppers owing more to the landowner for the use of tools and other supplies than they were able to repay, according to HISTORY.

In turn, this sent many Black sharecroppers into debt with poverty or violence hovering over them if they refused to sign unreasonable contracts that would ultimately leave them with less money than they worked for. This unfortunate situation was not shared by all Black people during this time, however. Some were able to earn enough money over several years to rent or buy their own portion of land.

RELATED: A Case for A National Juneteenth Holiday

 

Learning While Black: Education after emancipation

In an age where the phrase “reading is fundamental” is casually dropped in everyday conversation, and there are entire campaigns focused on the literacy crisis, it can be hard to imagine what life would be like without the ability to read. Unfortunately, being able to read or having the opportunity to learn how has not been a reality for all Black people in the states.

According to Heather Andrea Williams, a professor of Africana Studies at Harvard University “white southerners’ fear of an educated Black population did not dissipate” upon emancipation. Williams is the author of Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom, a book on how freed slaves educated themselves throughout the Reconstruction era.

In the book, Williams goes into great detail about the different ways that freed slaves managed to seek out education, including them building their own schools.

The first Black public high school was Paul Laurence Dunbar High, which opened its doors in Washington, D.C. in 1870. The school came about after failed attempts at integrating in nation’s capital. However, even though the school originally provided educational services for over 40 Black students, it received little funding for this very reason. According to Blackpast.org, there were “ongoing teacher shortages, insufficient classroom space with poor maintenance, and lack of athletic facilities” as years passed.

The Freedmen’s Bureau is often credited with providing the greatest amount of educational resources for freed slaves. In March 1865, Congress created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, popularly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau. It was created in order to help former slaves and poor whites in the south after the end of the Civil War.

According to the Georgia Encyclopedia,even though the bureau did not actually hire teachers or operate the schools, it played a vital part in establishing schools for former slaves. The Freedmen’s Bureau was responsible for renting buildings for schoolrooms and providing books were. Military protection for the students and teachers was also provided by the Bureau to fend off opponents of Black literacy and angry white supremacists.

The Freedmen’s Bureau was officially shut down in 1872 as the Ku Klux Klan violence intensified and by Congress’s refusal to renew the legislation that kept it running.

 

Turning toward the present

Black Americans today have been surmounting these obstacles.

Non-Hispanic Black people make up roughly 13 percent of the United States’ population according to a 2015 report from the United States Census Bureau. Although this percentage is small, the contributions made by Black people, both credited and uncredited, have resulted in an everlasting impact on the United States. Despite every trial and tribulation forced upon such a resilient group, Black Americans have prospered in the same areas that were once completely out of reach.

Examples of this success can be seen on various social media platforms through the hashtag “#BlackExcellence.” This hashtag has broadened to include not only college-related achievements but also any accomplishment that contradicts negative stereotypes that have been attributed to Black people.

So while the anniversary of Juneteenth can be seen as a time for celebration, it should also be a time where we reflect on the great lengths taken and bravery that Black people as a whole have shown, and look ahead at how far we have to go as a nation.

 

Photo via Wiki Commons


Kristen Adaway is a senior at the University of Georgia pursuing a degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. She has a passion for writing about social justice, mental health, and culture. Her work has been featured in Her Campus, Elite Daily, and HelloGiggles.