From the beginning, #BlackLivesMatter as a rallying call was meant to undermine all forms of state violence that affects all Black lives in the United States. After the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the call took on a momentum of its own and Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and myself quickly realized that a movement could and was being built around the hashtag/phrase that we co-developed. That movement has grown into a nationwide network that alongside the tireless protests and demonstrations against the killing of our loved ones by law enforcement and vigilantes, is also trying to push the conversation of state violence beyond the normal confines of cisgendered Black men as the centerpiece of our moral outrage. As the whole nation is galvanized around the murder of young Black cis* men by law enforcement, the lack of outcry around violence against Black trans people and Black trans women specifically, is devastating.
After the murder of Mike Brown, myself and fellow activist Darnell Moore along with dozens of folks across the country organized the Black Life Matters ride to Ferguson. We organized over 600 Black people to converge in St. Louis, where for one weekend we supported the call from local organizations to build their capacity. During the ride, Black trans women from TWOCC (Trans Women of Color Collective) were important leaders who reminded us that too often we forget not only that Black trans women are also targets of law enforcement violence and vigilante violence but that they are also leaders in the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Black women like Lourdes Ashley Hunter, National Director of TWOCC, are important leaders who remind us that violence against Black trans women is in itself deserving of a moral outrage that challenges the idea that Black men are the only targets of law enforcement violence. In fact, transphobic acts of violence are often rooted in maintaining a hetero-normative and binary notions of gender. These same notions of gender describe Black men as criminal, aggressive and deserving of excessive force. Therefore it is not possible to challenge one without taking on the other and it is time for cisgender Black people to be proactive about defending the rights of Black transgender women as an investment in all Black Lives.
“It is time that we have courageous conversations in our communities that acknowledges the complicity and lack of action and response for Black trans lives,” says Hunter. “This year, 12 trans women of color were brutally murdered in a 6 month span in this country with no national outrage. For our collective liberation, it is imperative that we acknowledge how structural violence manifests in all our lives.”
As a Black queer cis woman these last few months of uprising have pushed me to grow my imagination about how I fight for the lives of all Black people. I have been pushed to show up and name where my privilege has kept me complicit in not fighting for the lives of Black trans women, and in that naming I have made a commitment to push cis Black folks, including myself to broaden our narrative about whose lives are worth saving.
L’lerrét Jazelle Ailith, board member of TWOCC expressed how important it is that Black trans women and cis Black men come together in this movement that is killing both of them: “I want to see trans women being able to hold space with cis black men and not feel threatened or invalidated. I want us all to be able to get back to where we were before we felt this pressure to compete with one another in futile pursuits. I love my black family and I just want them to love me too.”
It is the work of the #BlackLivesMatter movement to evolve our politics and our practice. The politics and practice of shaming. The politics and practice of exclusion. The politics and practice of believing that we can only save some of our lives.
We are in a war that has captured Black folks’ hearts and it’s time to reclaim our narratives, reclaim our stories. #BlackLivesMatter is the most affirming call we can provide ourselves in this moment in history. Let’s not get trapped in narrowing our purpose.
*A cisgendered person identifies with the physical gender they were assigned at birth.