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Cis Black Men: If Black Lives Matter, We Need to Support Our Trans Sisters

If Black Lives Matter is to mean anything, it must be that the whole range of black performativity and identities is welcomed, protected and supported.

Chyna Gibson, Ciara McElveen and Jacquarrius Harris, three black trans women out of New Orleans, Louisiana, were killed within a two-week period last month. And not so much as a pin smattering has been heard from black cis men, particularly those black cis men who tout Black Lives Matter. No outrage. No hashtag. No marches. Nothing.

What happened?

Cis black men monopolizing and narrowing the prism of black victimhood, authentic blackness and the banner of Black Lives Matter, that’s what. And you know what? It’s getting kind of old and tiresome. FrFr.

Especially after one takes into account all the receipts pointing to the high level of violence that haters have perpetrated specifically against trans women of color in the past three years — pretty much the extent of the existence of Black Lives Matter.

In 2014 — the year former police officer Darren Wilson shot 18-year-old Michael Brown and Cleveland, Ohio, and officers murdered 12-year-old Tamir Rice — 12 trans women who identified as either Black or Latina were murdered.

In 2015 — the year South Carolina ex-officer Michael Slager killed Walter Scott — nine black transgender women lost their lives to a toxic cocktail of transphobia, cis privilege, abuse and violence.

In 2016 — the year an officer murdered Philando Castile in cold blood in front of his family — 15 trans black women became the tragic victims of hate crimes.

And, since January 2017, at least seven blacks trans women have been killed.

Yet to let cis black men tell it, cis black men and cis black men ALONE are THE priority, the only targets of violence, the only racially victimized members of the black community who warrant attention. Let cis black men call it, there’s not enough room in the black freedom struggle to be concerned about and address the dreadful circumstances and regular deaths of trans sisters. Entertaining these folks, we’d be tempted to walk away with the preposterous notion that cis black men, by default, constitute the totality of black culture and single-handedly ignited the Black Lives Matter movement.

Of course, all of this is a lie.

Related: Dear Black Men: Black Women’s Lives Matter, Too.

Three black women — Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi — founded the Black Lives Matter hashtag that would eventually evolve into a movement. Even before this recent resurgence of the black power movement, Garza, Cullors and Tometi were committed to advancing black issues within their own fields and invested in the long-term work of organizing on behalf of ALL black people. Equally important is the fact that at least two of these women, Garza and Cullors, are visible, proud members of the LGBTQ community — a note which, said out loud, makes it all the more peculiar to endure cis black men revising contemporary history to depict the movement for black lives as a struggle started by black cis persons, but — through some form of covert manipulation and scheming — co-opted and led by “faggots.”

In a movement whose expressed mission is to encapsulate the specific experiences and unique struggles of a diversity of black bodies and black sexual identities, incubating this kind of perspective simply won’t do. Permitting the continued spread of this mode of thinking won’t do. Black transphobia, period, won’t do.

For nothing short of the integrity and enduring legacy of moral leadership of a group of people is on the line.

On this question, this issue, cis black men gotta get their shit together and do better than this. And, truthfully, the “this” that we should’ve been doing should’ve been done yesterday, but today and tomorrow will have to suffice.

Related: Homophobia in the Black Community and The Rise of The Hotep

One of first things I would suggest we must do is deal seriously with our own inner gender insecurities. From there, we have an obligation to conquer our homophobia and transphobia. From there, we are obligated to recognize that black transgender women are still black, and just as authentically black as any other slice of the black community.

Cis black men must start organizing and showing up for protests that center black trans women, and deploy their cis privilege on their behalf of trans sisters. Cis black men must start viewing their trans sisters as allies, not antagonists and abnormalities, as well as empathize with and memorialize their fallen black bodies with the same depth of pain and emotion that they, we, would a Trayvon Martin, an Eric Garner or a Freddie Gray.

And if black lives matter is to mean anything — anything at all — it must be that the whole range of black performativity and identities — cis, trans, queer, bi, etc. — are welcomed with opened arms and protected with closed fists.


Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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