By Danielle Stevens
For those of us living while Black in the United States, particularly those of us who are also queer, trans, women, working class, immigrant, and/or houseless, the regularity with which we are met with dehumanization is obscene. When humanity becomes a luxury exclusively accessible to those whose skin tones are closer to white, who benefit from and are valued through the direct brutalization of my Black, femme, gender non-conforming body, it becomes clear how deeply internalized anti-blackness (not racism, but anti-blackness) truly is. How do I survive in a country that was built through the labor, exploitation, and extermination of my ancestors, that has always devalued my entire existence and is working overtime to actualize my death? Where is the manual on how to survive consistent direct violence toward my personhood? How do I survive when my body is under constant siege? What is the value of my life? What is the value of my body? What is my worth? Do I have any? Ain’t I a human?
So many Black people, women, queer, and trans people are living in darkness and fear these days, everyday. Wondering if we will die today, if our loved ones will have their lives stolen today. There is so much heaviness weighing on our hearts. Black folks are literally out here getting killed for existing while Black. I tremble in fear at the thought that one day my grandma or mama or sisters might get murdered by some random white person, some security guard, some cop who doesn’t see the instrinsic value of their lives. I fear they will die for not moving right, for not blinking correctly, for playing, for daring to being human. But then I fall into sadness realizing how seldom the deaths of Black women, girls, and femmes are centered within the public imaginary. and how their narratives will probably go untold. I shudder in coldness as I realize that their narratives will probably never be told.
I think of how often Black women, girls, and femmes are left out of national dialogues around state-santionced, anti-black violence. I see all of these beautifully organic protests unfolding in the streets; resistance movements where thousands of people collectively mobilize to assert our agency and humanity in regards to Ferguson and Mike Brown. I feel the fire, the urgency, the immediacy as I am inspired by the energy of the crowd. But I feel angry, invisible, heartbroken as I ask myself, where was all this beautiful Black rage when Islan Nettles was killed right outside a police station? Where was the urgency, the immediacy, the fire when a man was dragged from Islan Nettles’ dying body as she fell into a coma? Where were the protests, the rallies, the street takeovers when her killer, Paris Wilson, was aquitted of misdemeanor charges while Nettles’ mother, Delores, is still grieving the loss of her daughter?
When we are complacent about the violence against women, femmes, girls of color, we send the message that our lives do not matter, that the lives of Black women, femmes, and girls are disposable, that our lives hold no value, and that our deaths & neglect are all in a day’s work. Dismantling oppressive power structures that inflict violence upon Black women, femmes, & girls absolutely depends upon each and every one of us. It is urgent that we centralize the livelihood and self-determination of Black women, femmes, and girls in our freedom work and continue to transform ourselves intentionally to unlearn habits that uphold misogyny and misogynoir (anti-black misogyny against Black women, femmes, and girls). It is crucial that we demonstrate solidarity with Black women, femmes, and girls and critically examine the ways we are complicit in anti-black misogynist violence.
As I continue to embody my truth as a Black femme person/woman by expressing the ways I continue to endure systematic and interpersonal neglect, I am consistently told that right now is “too distracting,” “too divisive,” and just “not the right time” to talk about the lives of Black women, femmes and girls. But when is the right time? Why must we always take the back seat? When will be be prioritized? How long will I have to wait for my needs and concerns to receive spotlight? Where willl you be when the next Black girl, Black woman, Black femme person is killed cold in the streets? When is the right time? It is incredibly dehumanizing to tell Black women and femmes to “wait our turn” in order to advocate for our justice. This sentiment suggests that Black women, femmes, and girls do not deserve to garner the same sense of urgency that Black cis men and boys recieve. You do not get to tell me when to shout, when to raise my voice. You do not get to regulate my liberation. What does Black liberation even look like if it does not include all Black people of all genders? Intersectionality means that we can mourn and grieve our sibling Michael Brown while also calling out the violence against Black women at the same time. Islan Nettles’ liberation is directly connected to the humanity of Michael Brown. Mia Henderson’s freedom is inextricably linked to the freedom of Trayvon Martin. (And if you dont know these women’s names and narratives, then you are part of the problem.)
The right time is now and always and yesterday and last year and every moment. THE GENOCIDE AGAINST BLACK WOMEN, FEMMES, AND GIRLS, AND THIS NATION’S SUBSEQUENT NEGLECT IS A STATE OF EMERGENCY. We do not cultivate the sense of urgency that is needed for the murders against Black women, girls, & femmes by sitting idly by and allowing this epidemic to continue.
How will we uphold the infinite value and worthiness of Black women, girls and femmes today? Here are some things you can do, and this is by no means an exhaustive list:
- Write about it: Silence is not a luxury that Black women, girls, & femmes can afford. Write the truth. That all Black women lives mater. Expose the transantagonist/misogynist reality that continues to disallow Black women’s stories from being told.
- Tell the Black women, girls, & femmes around you that you love us infinitely. Tell us now. Tell us before it is too late. Tell us because Black women, girls, and femmes need love too. Laverne Cox recently echoed Cornel West in expressing that, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” We need some justice now, we need some justice today, we need some justice always.
- Listen to the Black women, girls, and femmes in your community by hold a convening for us to express our needs and concerns for safety and protection. Center OUR lives.
- Examine and evaluate your priorities: If you are going to rallies & protests for Mike Brown and Eric Garner but not Islan Nettles and Aniya Parker, then you need to ask yourself some questions about the bodies you believe do and do not deserve your compassion.
- Hold your folks accountable: If notice that your loved ones/favorite authors/speakers at rallies are up in arms about the killings against Black men and boys but not when it comes to Black women, femmes, and girls, speak on it. Now. Today. Remember, this is urgent.
- Ask yourself. What are you actually doing to demonstrate solidarity with Black trans women who are disproportionately subject to violence, homicide, and abuse amongst all other LGBTQ and Black communities across race and gender? If it is isn’t much, then you have some work to do.
My life is dedicated to Black trans women, to all Black women, to all women who risk their lives every moment by existing. If there is no justice for Black women in our communities, there is no peace for any of us. We all have a collective responsibility in resisting violence as it manifests within black communities. So I ask you, whose narratives will you remember today? Whose life is worthy enough for your energy tonight in the streets?*
Danielle Stevens is a radically compassionate warrior woman & afro-futurist healer with a gentle and sharp unapologetic tongue. A dreamer in all senses of the word, Danielle is enchanted by the limitless possibilities and variability of life. As a gender-nonconforming femme person and lover engaged in work related to anti-oppression education, social justice activism, and community organizing (particularly within femme, queer, and trans people of color communities), Danielle’s life work is engaging in coalition and movement building amongst various communities, as our liberation depends on it. She dreams of worlds in folx who are targeted by institutional forms of violence can posses and access the blueprints, tools, & frameworks necessary in activating our collective self-determination, authenticity, liberation & freedom. She is committed to honoring the collective ancestral truths & generous elder wisdoms that flow through her body, guiding her visions of liberation. She is currently the LGBTQ Community Coordinator at Oberlin College’s Multicultural Resource Center and also one of the Co-Founders of This Bridge Called Our Health.