Black Lives Matter - But Which Ones?
by Destiny Pitters
If you’re unfamiliar with the bolded terms in this article, check out the definitions at the end!
Although the slogan “Black Lives Matter” has been a rallying call for the world to recognize dignity in the Black community and put an end to anti-Black racism, often those further marginalized are left on the sidelines and not defended. Black people across the globe are incredibly diverse, so attempts to tackle racism must also investigate other sources of oppression. Queerphobia, transphobia, misogynoir, and ableism in the Black community - among other things - are often a reflection of oppressive beliefs gathered through colonization. When Black folks demonstrate any of these things, it only contributes to and cements systems of racism that benefit from this lateral violence. So what does that look like, and more importantly, how do we interrupt it?
While the Black community is rich with activism, joy and creativity, like all cultures we also have skeletons in our closet to grapple with. This is no less true when dealing with systems of oppression like queerphobia and transphobia. On a smaller, more intimate scale, it can be incredibly difficult for Black folks to engage with their own gender and sexual diversity due to longstanding stereotypes and harm, translated as jokes and judgmental whispers at family gatherings. This kind of ostracization causes Black LGBTQ+ people to feel as though they must hide or choose between Blackness and queer/trans identity. Unchecked, this discrimination seeds large-scale disaster. Violence against trans folks is a national epidemic, and every year, Black trans women comprise most of the victims of fatal, transphobic violence. 2021 witnessed a record number of anti-trans killings in the United States.
Misogynoir is also a lethal form of discrimination that cost Black women their peace, health, and often lives. For example, Black women are far less likely to be believed when disclosing experiences of sexual assault, often due to stereotypes of hypersexuality plus a national history that forced Black women’s bodies to be seen as readily available to men. As well, ableism can rear its nasty head when Black folks deny conversations about disability and mental health or endorse the concept of “grinding”, perpetuating beliefs about the human body existing mostly as a tool of production. These are only a few examples of the harm being done not only to us but by us as well.
Image of an All Black Lives Matter solidarity march in West Hollywood, 2020. It features a crowded street with signs and a giant banner reading: “Together *heart shape* United (in rainbow colours) We’ll Never Be Divided!” From Spectrum News 1.
Interrupting this cycle depends on intersectionality. This term was coined by Black American lawyer Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989 as a way to describe how Black women’s experiences of race, gender and class overlap. At large, it’s a useful tool to examine how anyone’s identities overlap and understand how those experiences interact with each other simultaneously. For example, I’m never just a Black person here vs. a woman there; I carry both of these identities - and resulting discrimination - everywhere I go! Unfortunately, many object to this term and its uses. Conservatives especially see it “as the upending of racial and cultural hierarchies to create a new one. But Crenshaw isn’t seeking to build a racial hierarchy with [Black] women at the top. Through her work, she’s attempting to demolish racial hierarchies altogether” (Coastan 2019). This goal of eliminating hierarchies is key to all solidarity work and especially that within the Black community.
Importantly, grappling with intersectionality depends on fundamentally seeing Black people as human, and thus subject to the same range of human diversity as any other group. We too are disabled, we too are queer and trans, we too experience poverty and classism. Too often, non-Black folks view and interact with Black people through sub- or super-humanized lenses. The former looks like negative assumptions, behaviours or violence against Black people. The latter, less commonly talked about, looks like overcompensation, “over-praising, weirdly exalting and deifying” Black people which still reinforces the idea that there is something intrinsically different about us (The Darkest Hue 2022) and that whiteness is the natural default: whiteness is human, everyone else is a deviation. Similarly, that able-bodiedness, straightness and being cisgender are the default and everyone else is a deviation.
Until all Black folk advocate for all Black folk, we will continue sowing seeds of oppression that eliminate our own kin, through queerphobic, transphobic, sexist and ableist violence. “Allies” must also question who they centre when seeking to uplift the Black community. Interrogate your assumptions: do you undervalue the contributions of Black women? How do your actions and words protect queer and trans folks? How regularly do you make room to think about health impacts on the Black community, on yourself, or on others? Justice depends on grappling with these questions, and only then might all Black lives matter.
- Lateral violence: violence and anger displaced against one’s own community/peers rather than towards the oppressors of that community.
- Intersectionality: a theory developed by Kimberle Crenshaw about Black women’s experiences of race, gender and class overlapping to produce multiple experiences of discrimination.
- Queerphobia: prejudice, discrimination, hatred or violence directed against queer folks (i.e. not straight/heterosexual) and concepts or demonstrations of sexual diversity
- Transphobia: prejudice, discrimination, hatred or violence directed against trans+ folks and concepts or demonstrations of gender diversity (i.e. beyond the binary of man/woman).
- Misogynoir: coined by Moya Bailey, this is the combination of misogyny + racism that Black women face. This presents itself in harassment, stereotypes, distrust and violence against this community, often related to things like hypersexualization, free labour (physical or emotional), and underestimations of intelligence.
- Transmisogynoir: coined by Trudy on Gradient Noir, this is the specific oppression experienced by Black trans feminine people.
- Ableism: prejudice, discrimination, hatred or violence directed against disabled people and disability. It also looks like prioritizing able people's physical, mental and behavioural traits over disabled peoples'.
- “The intersectionality wars.” Jane Coastan, Vox. 2019.
- “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex.” Kimberle Crenshaw, University of Chicago Legal Forum. 1989.
- “Medical Fetishization - Anti-Blackness and Colorism.” The Darkest Hue, Instagram. 2022.
- “Black feminism and intersectionality.” Sharon Smith, International Socialist Review. 2014.
- “Misogynoir: The Unique Discrimination that Black Women Face.” Janice Gassam Asare, Forbes. 2020.
- “Exploring Misogynoir.” Canadian Women’s Foundation. 2022.
- “An Epidemic of Violence 2021.” Human Rights Campaign Foundation. 2021.
- “Black Trans Women and Black Trans Femmes: Leading & Living Fiercely.” Transgender Law Center.
- “Homophobia’s dark presence in the black community.” Michelle Monari, North Texas Daily. 2020.
- “The Importance of Rest for Black Bodies: Navigating the Pain of Racism, Literally.” Destiny Pitters, Unite Against Hate! 2022.