Into Black Trans Liberation | Into America Podcast – Ep. 37 | NBC News and MSNBC

published on July 9, 2020

Last month in the middle of pridethousands of people gathered in BrooklynNew York for rally for black trans livesblack trans women in particular havebeen an important part of the gay rightsmovement since the Stonewall uprising in

1969 in New York City wait I bonded upbeing a dumb wall that night I washaving a party uptown and I didn't getdowntown – about two o'clock and we wereall thereMarsha P Johnson was one of those women

Wearing them over in the park having acocktail that's when I got downtown aplace of authority I'm firing it was araid already the riots had alreadystarted and they said the police went inthere and set the place on fire this is

From a 1989 interview with journalistEric Marcus leaders were saying no moreplease brutality and we had enough of apiece of ass and in the village in otherplaces oh there was a lot of littlechants we used to do in those days by

The time Marsha died in 1992 peoplerarely talked about her role in themovement with the fight for protectionand inclusion back then is so similar tothe fight we are seeing today blacktrans women continued to face

Disproportionate levels of violencewithin the past week 22 year-old mercyMac was killed in Dallas and braylastone was found dead in Arkansas policeare treating her death as a homicidebraila was just 17 there's this idea

That because we are having an openlydifferent gender experience that wedeserve the abuse that we may receiveand that's just not okayI'm mainly and this is into Americatoday a look at how racism and

Transphobia have pushed black transwomen to the fringe of the gay rightsmovement and the movement for blacklives and what's being done to changethat I got a chance to talk with RaquelWillis a black transgender activists and

The director of communications for theMS foundation a non-profit fighting forwomen's rights in front of a crowd atthat rally for black trans lives she hadthis to sayRaquel thank you so much for joining me

Of course thank you for having me we'rein this moment here where there is somuch energy around the black livesmatter movement and we saw just when theturnout for the rally for black translives that there is momentum there also

Is there a confluence they're likethere's one feed the other especiallywhen it comes to black trans lives Iabsolutely do think that there is aconfluence an overlap of lgbtq+liberation and black liberation you

Really can't have either one without theotherI think about the Stonewall Riots andthere were important black trans folkswho were on the front lines during thatqueer militant uprising back in 1969

Against the New York Police Departmentso people like Marsha P Johnson ZazouNova a black trans elder who still withus named Miss major were present thereand and were actively invested in thefight that sprang out of that moment so

There's no way to talk about us gettingto liberation without talking aboutblack trans people and I think what isconsistent unfortunately is thesidelining of our voices and thesidelining of our experiences and work I

Want to ask you though you say Marsha PJohnson and people who don't know shewas so about it right and so about thework but is her name andand folks who came after her and workedalongside her are those names forgotten

Overlooked by accident by intent Idefinitely think that names like MarshaP Johnson were forgotten intentionally Ithink we have to have a realconversation on how white supremacy hasalso plagued the lgbtq+ movement since

Its inception and so in the wake of theStonewall riots there was an entire webof nonprofit organizations that sprangout of that right and so there was aninfrastructure being built and fromthose earliest days people have concerns

About black folks brown folks people whoare incarcerated and of course transpeople because we were seen as not inline with some of the assimilationistgoals of many of those early movementfigures mostly white cisgender gay men

But also such a gender lesbians as wellso it has been intentional and it isstill intentional today how do you movethrough these movement spaces that arestill you know the bounds of whitesupremacy are still there how do you

Actually navigate those spaces the waythat I navigate these spaces shifts Idon't relish in these ideas of being thefirst or being a token or being an onlyI actually think we're more powerfulwhen we have numbers and so I don't want

To leave places as you know coming in asthe first black trans woman to do X Y &Z and then have not built any pathwaysfor more black trans people to come intothe space to carry the banner when Ileave and inevitably go do other work

But I'll be honest I mean I think thingshave definitely shifted in the last fewyears of my career but there's still alot of work to be done there's still alot of behind the scenes educating thathas to happen for sis people who

Understand transness or gendernonconformity and just so there's thateducation there's also the education onwhiteness no matter how marginalized youare you can still be an oppressor andthat's something other lgbtq+ folks

Particularly white ones need tounderstand and that's also somethingthat black cisgender and straight peopleneed to understand as well and of coursewe've had this conversation aroundfeminism and other movements before

Whether women who are part of themovement are black first or are theywomen first and gender first do youdisentangle your identity like that areyou black first or that your genderidentity first I don't think so I think

Some people try to but inevitably youare all of your identities at one timeand so for me it's been very importantto always be a black trans woman when Icome into spaces and I I think that wedo a disservice by allowing folks who

Lead black liberation movements toenvision liberation as contingent on oneidentity or one experience that is justanother element of the patriarchy andthat's part of why I have an issue withthe way that we have framed violence is

Simply something that happens from thestate that's something that happens frompolice officers who are white thatoverwhelmingly happens to cisgenderheterosexual men we lose a lot of nuancethere we have to be having a holistic

Conversation on violence that not onlytalks about state violence but it alsotalks about the violence in our ownhomes in our communities because as ablack trans woman you telling me youwant to abolish the police or are you

Telling me you want to abolish prisonsthat she wanted to fund the policedoesn't necessarily put me completely atease because I know that I could stillbe and am likely to be harmed bymen in our communities particularly

Black sirs have men and people don'twant to say that because I think there'sthis idea that the biggest enemy iswhite supremacy but that is a fallacy onone hand I get tired of the trope thatthe black community is somehow more

Homophobic or more transphobic we knowthat homophobia and transphobia knows nobounds but when it comes to black translife-and-death and the violence heapedupon themit comes likely from inside the

Community so the proximity or is thereactually a different dynamic happeningthere I think a lot of it is proximityoverwhelmingly black people are aroundother black people right you know and sowhen I think about the murders of black

Trans women at the hands of blacks s menI'm very particular about how and whenand where I have those conversationsbecause inevitably what is happening tous will be used in the service of whitesupremacy against blackness writ large

And I think that we have to be able tohold that so if we're gonna say we'regetting rid of prisons we're defundingthe police which I support we have to bejust as much or maybe more invested inbuilding up the consciousness of our

People to be able to actually hold thosepeople who commit harm and abuseaccountable in the ways that we needthem to be held accountable and it's notjust black trans women I think about howblack sis women like Brianna Taylor so

Often fall under the radar of azeitgeist that prioritizes menregardless of your racial or ethnicbackground and so since women are alsoharmed by the patriarchy and since womenare also harmed by men in our

Communities I always wondered I havebeen a police reporter for a long timeso I've covered all kinds of crimes andsometimes it seems obviouslythat this person was killed because theywere trans other times it seems like the

Vulnerabilities and the layers ofvulnerabilities that black trans willfind themselves in are those layers ofvulnerability that many black peopleface poverty abuse and trauma but do wehave a good enough holistic nuanced view

Of that violence I don't think sowe don't really talk about how we haveour own conceptions of what's victimsare worthy of our empathy I think aboutjust two days after George was murderedTony McDade was murdered in Tallahassee

Florida a black transgender man and thecircumstances around his case admittedlyare very murky and yet we have tocontend with the fact that even if therewas a clear story which there rarely isfor any victim particularly if you're

Black he would not have gotten any moreof an attention from most people becausepeople have a bias against trans folksthere's this idea that because we areopenly gender non-conforming or havingan openly different gender experience

That we deserve the abuse that we mayreceive and that's just not OKhow much is class blatant Audis I thinkclass affects all of it we have an issuewhere particularly in media where weoften get to be either victims of course

And not alive or we're a superstar orcelebrity and we need the in-between youknow we need the community organizersand activists and all those types ofstories as well and we don't often getthat and when that doesn't happen I mean

You're being dehumanized on two levelsbecause it's like you're only cherishedif your dad or your only chairif you can be in the spotlight and insome ways serve this desire of a systperson for you to be a spectacle right

So they can add another layer ofdistance to you we'll be right backI think people have a pretty decentgrasp of of lesbian gay bi when it comesto transgender issues I don't thinkpeople fully understand and the idea of

Womanhood is it worth having to explainto people what it means to live in thisidentity well you know what isinteresting is we've got to get out ofthe space of thinking that transgenderpeople are having some kind of magically

Different gender experience honey Ipromise you I'm not like we all carryinsecurities about our gender about whowe are and who we're supposed to be inthe world perhaps you could say thattrans people may have more drastic

Experience but it's so connected to theways that boys and men in general aretold that they can't have a certain wellof emotion that they can't be intimateand have other ways of moving throughthe world that don't involve control and

Dominationit's not entirely different from howwomen and girls of all experiences facenot being seen as competent intelligentbrilliant and capable of leadership andthen also of course extends to folks who

Are non-binary or gender non-conformingwho straddle all of these struggles andso we've got to understand that and thenthe last thing I'll say is you know youbrought up the contours of womanhoodparticularly as a black trans woman I'm

Dealing with the dual history of transwomen not being seen as a woman enoughbut also black women I mean I thinkabout the early feminist movement andhow people like Sir John or truths I tobe Wells Anna Julia Cooper were

Sidelined as black women they werepushed out of the fight for suffrage inthis country and so black women ingeneral have had to fight against thisrestrictive idea of womanhood that hasbeen contingent on a white Buju

Nation speaking of white women that's aperfect segue speaking of white womenand as we know that white women played arole in white supremacy and have alwaysplayed a reinforcing role in that andalso a role in the patriarchy right and

When you think about people like JKRowling and I want to read this quoteshe said quote if sex isn't real thelived reality of women globally iserased when you hear JK Rowlingsaying that what's what's your response

To that first of all any time acelebrity tweets I'm like how you gottime for this I almost don't think I'mready to make right I almost don't havetime to tweet on some days because I'mso busy

So like what are you doing but then thefact that she had the energy to use herplatform to demonize trans peopledemonize a more marginalized group ofwomen is problematic to me but it's alsoemblematic of white womanhood and so

When I think about womanhood we have tobe expansive with all of these gendercategories there are plenty of sis womenwho don't check off a lot of criteriasthat are considered womanhood so youcan't really say that womanhood is based

In the ability to procreate as a womanyou can't say that it's about having aparticular set of chromosomes you can'tsay that it's about having a particularset of body you know thinking of themany women I know who have had

Hysterectomy is right so I mean thereare so many ways in which the argumentagainst trans woman being women alsoerases swaths of cisgender women whodon't have those those particularexperiences you know I don't want to

Either or it or make it too reductive ortoo simple but in this moment in thefight for trans equality is it moreimportant to grow allies in the blackcommunity or allies with other women Ithink that we need all the Allies I

Don't think any of us have the luxury offocusing on one groupor the other I would love for there tobe a massive mobilization of allies ofblack folks are we seeing it are weseeing a little bit now no I mean I wish

I could say yes but black says folks arenot doing enough I think about our mediaoutlets and how often we don't havespaces like this Tremayne where a blacktrans woman can come on and be indialogue with a black sis man about the

State of the world I mean how often doesthat happen I also think about ourinstitutions you know I think about howmore work needs to be done at ourcolleges and universities and our Greekorganizations and our professional

Organizations in the Congressional BlackCaucus on every levelblack sis folks are not doing enough toshow up in new and expansive ways aroundgender and it's a problem and that isalso violence you know every level

There's a systemic transphobia that isnot being addressed what do you think itwould take to get that kind ofAllegiance especially among black folksright when we're talking to white peopleabout white supremacy we could say read

How to be an anti-racist riot readingstand for the beginning right we can geteducates you learn the history but whenit comes to this kind of ally shipespecially when we're talking aboutblack people right what does it take the

Education is it a dropping of ego is itwhat is it you think I think it's all ofthe above I think the first thing peopleneed to do is really sit down andanalyze themselves analyze what theirinsecurities are around anything you

Know but particularly around genderbecause we're all caught up in it I feellike what fuels a lot of the violencethat may happenblack men towards black women comes froman innate feeling of not being man

Enough for whatever reason that is agender issue and then our families righthow are you going to supporttransforming our families having thosehard conversations with our elders Ijust recently had a really hard

Conversation with my brother you know Ithought that we were at a point where wewere past a lot of his misgivings ormisconceptions about transness turns outwe're not there does that and I don'twant to say use the word hurt but when

People are close to you and they're sideby side maybe their family or peoplethat you really respect and they don'tget it does that sting a little bit itdoes hurt um you know when I had thisrecent conversation with my brother

I left the conversation you know theangry and I was tearful because it doeshurt I think when you're close to peopleit does hurt in a particular way and Ithink for me as an activist I take italso to be like is what I'm doing even

Working if if I can't even get thepeople closest to me to understandwhat's going onhow am I gonna get the masses to get ityou know so it is hurtful but I don'thave the luxury of giving up you know I

Guess it was maybe two weeks ago now atthe the black trans lives rally inBrooklynwe were actually driving home toBrooklyn and it was like I've never seenalmost that many people it was an

Impressive sight and you said let todaybe the last day that you ever doubtblack trans power and in these momentswhere we see people rising up and we seecoalition building and we see peoplecoming together in the name of equality

Do you believe in this moment that thereis a true chance that real step closerto the Equality that folks claim andthey believe in for black trans laughsespecially is this a time I don't knowit feels like a different time it feels

Like a revolution but I don't know ifwe'll even completely know we're in arevolution probably until maybe it'salmost over right like it's hard to knowin the moment but I will say I don'tthink that this is just a moment for

Black trans people we are movement wehave been fighting to be respectedfighting to live for centuries and it'sjust a reminder that we've been here andit's a reminder we're gonna be here andwhatever I can do to use the access the

Bit of access I might have or privilegeor platform to push the dignity of blacktrans people I'm gonna do it we gotkovat 19 white supremacy uprisings theweight is heavy and there's a lot to beconcerned sad angry about but how are

You finding joy in this moment that wasit too tough no I think that um we haveto find pockets of joy for me I foundjoy and having a chance to connect withthe people closest to me in new ways indeeper waves reminding myself to take a

Walk not only for exercise before thefresh AR cooking for myself right I'vealso been planting and reminding myselfthrough gardening and doors I guess thatregardless of what happens growth isstill possible Raquel

Thank you so much for your time I wouldsay this was a joy I found a little bitof joy having this complex smartconversation with you so thank you verymuch for your time I really appreciateit of course thank you thank you for

Having methat was Raquel Willis a black transactivists and director of communicationsfor the MS foundation into America isproduced by Isabel Angel Alison BaileyErin Dalton max Jacobs Barbara Rabb

ClarityAisha Turner and Preeti vara thonoriginal music by Hannah's Brown ourexecutive producer is Ellen FranklinSteve lick ty is executive producer ofaudio special thanks to Erik Marcos

Founder and host of the podcast makinggay history for the use of his 1989interview with Marsha Pete Johnson thatinterview originally appeared on a showmaking gay history I'm trained Lee hopeyou all enjoy the long holiday weekend

We'll be back next week

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