Black History Month was my favorite time of year from elementary to high school. Growing up in the 80's and 90's in Detroit, Michigan, a city rich with Black heritage from Motown to middle class families who thrived from -- and then lost -- almost everything with the mass exodus of the auto industry, Black History Month was the most exciting time for me and not just because my birthday is also this month. Throughout the years and my life, my mom has always taught me to have pride in my African and Indigenous heritage. Black History Month was the time we could openly celebrate all of who we are as a culture. It was a time that we as a people came together to reflect on all we had overcome navigating a system designed to erase us off the face of the earth. It was a time that we could unapologetically acknowledge the bloody truth of this nation.
We were indoctrinated to believe America (stolen land) was discovered (invaded) by colonist (murderers, rapists, thieves) exploring the free world. We are still denied our history to this day. But we knew it then and we know it now. Our parents reminded us of our rich ancestry. Our grand and great grand parents told us their personal stories of revival and survival. I knew the blood of revolutionary freedom fighters flowed deep in my veins.
As a child and even now, I am inspired by the lives of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, Josephine Baker and my (S)hero Shirley Chisholm. The images of these powerful women, Goddess, Queen Sister's gave/give me great hope that one day I could be as great as well.
It wasn't until I was a young adult that I realized that my life would be very different from what I had imagined. I had no idea that I would face brutal violence and structural oppression simply for existing. I had no idea I could be legally denied access to medical care, housing and employment. I never imagined that I would have to right for basic human rights. These experiences are similar to the ones my mom told me she experienced growing up in the 50's.Similar to the ones the history books re-written for the glorification and commodification of white supremacy. I thought the fight for Black folk to obtain civil rights in this country happened over 45 years ago. What I realized is that fight was not for the liberation of the Black Trans Woman.
Trans and gender non-conforming people of color are disproportionately impacted by physical and structural violence. According to The National LGBTQ Task Force, Black trans people have a household income of less than 10k a year and almost 50% have attempted suicide. What is equally disturbing is the silence from mainstream media, the Black social justice and LGBT organizations. The same systems that are designed to protect us is actively engaging in erasure. When looking at the mainstream Black and LGBT organizations leadership teams and Board of Directors, they lack diversity and representation. How can their work be informed if they don't even hire us? Denying a Black Trans woman a job is an act of violence. Denying Black trans folk access to healthcare is an act of violence. Denying Black trans people platforms to speak and represent themselves is erasure. Actively engaging in erasure is an act of violence.
Every 28 hours a Black person is murdered. I also know that every 32 hours a transgender person is murdered. The average age of the 12 transgender women of color brutally murdered last year in this country (in less than 6 months) is less than 35 years old. What I do know is that Islan Nettles was pummeled to her death outside a NYC police station and none of the 12 cameras in the surrounding area that should've recorded her attack were operating properly -- and even though the police pulled her murderer off her body, he still walks the streets today.
This inhumane treatment of our lives has taken its toll. In January, there were reports of four brutal murders of Black trans and gender non-conforming people of color. There has been no national outrage over our lives. The lack of response regarding the physical and structural violence we face sends a resounding message that our lives are disposable, that our lives don't matter.
It was because of the brutal violence and discrimination we face everyday that Trans Women of Color Collective (TWOCC) was formed in September 2013. TWOCC is an organizing movement that elevates the lived narratives, experiences and leadership of trans people of color. We have worked intently with Black Lives Matter Movement to ensure that the lives of those most disproportionately impacted by structural oppression are at the forefront of our social justice movement.
My vision is for our collective liberation. We are not free until we all GET FREE.
We'll know black lives matter when Black folk "SHUT SHIT DOWN" for the Black Trans Woman.
This post is part of the "Black Future Month" series produced by The Huffington Post and Black Lives Matter for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will look at one of 28 different cultural and political issues affecting Black lives, from education to criminal-justice reform. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #BlackFutureMonth -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.