Sunday, August 19, 2012

An American Pandemic: The Murder of Black Trans Women

We all know that in this country, the value of a Black life as measured by the institutions that prop up and run this nation is measured only in meager labor. Slavery may have ended in 1865 (I use the date of Juneteenth to mark that ocassion), but we know that real wage slavery still exists even as the overt trappings of slavery and Jim Crow have been dismantled. We like our oppression to look neat and pretty, so Black folks that don't tow the line and keep in their place are placed in prison now. Much easier to lock them up than lynch us on a regular basis. And as my former boss and life mentor Paula Austin once told me, "You have to think and act smart. There is a place for angry black men in this world. It's called jail."

There is also a place for black bodies, over and over again, and that is six feet under at the hands of power, ignorance, and violence.  And in no community of black folks is that threat and reality more present than amongst Black transgender and gender nonconforming women.

There are a number of lists that honor the murdered dead by remember their names and sharing them with the community. There is one such list on Wikipedia. The same article suggests that according to global statistics, a transgender person is murdered every three days just on the basis of their gender identity. And the European based Trans Murder Monitoring Project has tracked 800 transgender murders globally in the last four years. As of March 2012, the United States has the fourth highest rate of transgender murders in the world (52 in the last four years), only slightly behind Mexico and Columbia, though distantly behind Brazil, which has had more than 300 murders of trans individuals in the last four year.

Just a quick Google search of transgender murders in 2012 offered up the names of these black women that were either killed in 2012 or their killers were acquitted or got off without justice: Brandy Martell (Oakland, CA), Paige Clay (Chicago, IL), Victoria Carmen White (Newark, NJ), an identified yet unnamed black transwoman was found murdered in Detroit last Monday morning (the police refuse to offer up a name), and I am sure there are more. Today we add another name to that list: Tiffany Gooden, 19 years old, Chicago, found not two blocks from where Paige Clay was killed earlier this year. Tiffany was stabbed and left in an abandoned building on the Westside.

I didn't know Tiffany. Until this afternoon when the article concerning her death was posted on my Facebook wall, I didn't know she existed. I promise you, however, that I will never forget her. Or any of the faces and names of trans folks from my community in NYC or my community globally that have been brought to my attention. Nor will I forget CeCe McDonald, who is serving prison time for killing an attacker that would have gladly added the name of that innocent black woman to the list of those taken down by hate, racism, sexism, and transphobia. 

And like every other non-white queer or trans person that is murdered, Tiffany's death will occupy precious little column space. She may get a quick mention on the evening news once or twice. But power doesn't care about black bodies. Power  most certainly does not care about black transgender bodies that are often classed, raced, and gendered out of the workforce and so therefore have no value to the power structure. Tifany will be forgotten along with so many others, unless we make an effort to remember her. To speak her name in our holy places, in our gathering places, in our places of community, at Trans Day of Action, in the offices of Queers for Economic Justice, in the Miss Major-Jay Toole Building for Justice, which is named in part for a black trans woman elder and a gender non-conforming white super butch and houses the Audre Lorde Project, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, FIERCE, and QEJ.

We know from experience that most of our own national organizations could actually care less about these lives lost as well. Even the best of them, the Task Force, is preciously weak on issues related to trans people of color. Apathy and disinterest is as much a factor in creating an environment where these deaths are permissible as is the structural oppression and hate that results in the physical destruction of the lives of our trans brothers and sisters.

And so to is the silence of black mainstream organizations. The NAACP and other black institutions are culpable as well for ignoring, silencing and closeting these most vulnerable members of our family. Our silence has never protected us from anything.

So today, I am remembering Tiffany and holding up her name in light. I hope she has found in the next life what was denied to her in this one: justice, dignity, honor, love, and the right to grow up.

Rest in peace Tiffany, while the rest of us rage.

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