I’ll be honest, the last week (month? year? decade?) or so has not been fun. The U.S. “justice” system is intent on communicating its lack of regard for black life. But, the silver lining has been witnessing the growth of a persistent and powerful nationwide movement to declare that #blacklivesmatter.
What we don’t need in this moment of pain and opportunity is a movement that ignores trans women, cis women, gender nonconforming/non-binary folks, and trans men who are impacted by state enacted and state sanctioned violence. We also don’t need a movement that silences the voices of all the bad ass people from those communities who are fighting against it. If you are part of this movement- on social media, in the streets, in your cubicle, or anywhere else- here are some steps you can take to make sure these voices are amplified:
1. If people talk about how black “(cis) men and children” are dying from state sanctioned violence, correct them. If the names of women or trans people or gender nonconforming folks are missing from a list of victims, add them.
Add them to your tweets and your Facebook posts. Add them to your rally posters. Add them to your cries of grief and the names you speak when you call out to the ancestors. If you don’t know their names- names like Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Duanna Johnson, Rekia Boyd, Kathryn Johnston, and Yvette Smith– make it your business to learn them.
Tell other people to add them too. At a Mike Brown action in DC last week, a friend of mine saw protesters carrying a bed sheet covered with names. No trans people were on it. She tapped them on the shoulder and informed them of the issue; in just a few minutes cell phones were whipped out, googling occurred, and names were added.
2. If people refer to a group of gender diverse organizers as men, correct them.
At the same Mike Brown action, a speaker took out time to commend and encourage the “young brothers” who had planned the die-in. Because our group of organizers for that event could have included non-binary people (although, problematically, it did not), “young people” would have been a much better phrase for that speaker to use.
About ten people yelled out “AND SISTERS!” and the speaker quickly corrected his statement to reflect the full gender diversity of our planning team. If we (and particularly the men among us) had not spoken, our silence would have made an equally loud statement.
3. Be aware of who you look to for direction.
We all drink the patriarchal punch on a daily basis, so it’s easy to assume that the tallest, loudest, or most charismatic man in the crowd is the leader of an action, a rally, or a teach-in. But…. don’t.
4. Bring people who are not cis men into conversation with media.
Members of the media drink the punch too! Often reporters on the scene will be drawn towards interviewing the (literal) hypemen in the crowd. You can’t help that, but you can smoothly turn a solo interview into a joint interview between you and your femme friend who’s standing next to you. You can decline your third interview, and point the reporter in the direction of someone else who you know will do an equally great job.
5. Literally amplify the voices of people, especially women, who are speaking but cannot be heard.
At a recent rally I attended, a fierce black woman and labor organizer stepped up to the stage to talk to a crowd of at least 1,000 people. Several men had gone before her with no problem. As she began to speak, it became clear that no matter how loud she screamed, her voice simply was not carrying to the back of the crowd. People started yelling “speak up!”, unrest grew, and at some point the back half of the crowd stopped listening entirely and broke into chants. But then, something beautiful happened: after each sentence she spoke, hundreds of people in the front of the rally began repeating her words in unison so that everyone could hear them. The crowd had collectively decided that this woman would be heard. This strategy is called the Human Megaphone. When this type of dynamic becomes apparent, it only takes one person to begin amplifying a voice. That person can be you.
These suggestions are just some of the low hanging fruit, starting points on the long road of building a freedom movement that is truly inclusive and intersectional. But they are something. Black trans women, cis women, non-binary folks, and trans men are criminalized, and they are at the forefront of this movement. Let’s make sure that when we say #blacklivesmatter, we mean all of them.