By now many in the LGBTQ
community have heard of the news about the cop beat down of
Duanna Johnson in a Memphis jailhouse that was captured on a surveillance video. Those
of us especially of African descent, who don’t know or haven’t
seen a photo of Johnson, might pick up on a cultural marker
- her name, assuming correctly she’s an African American sister.
While police brutality is
both unbridled and rampant in the African American community,
hitting an African American woman several times with handcuffs
wrapped around the officer’s knuckles, and an African American
nurse goes directly to the offending white officer to see if
he’s okay is another cultural marker - Johnson’s a transwoman.
“While I applaud you [NAACP]
for declaring a state of emergency over the treatment of African-Americans
by the police, I have yet to hear any NAACP local, state or
the national chapter speak up not only about this case, but
about the verbal and physical hate attacks on African-American
transpeople in general. As Duanna Johnson’s case graphically
points out, some of the problems we transpeople of African descent
face are at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect
and serve us,” wrote Monica Roberts in her blog “Yo NAACP, NBJC...Where
Y’all At?” on the Bilerco Project website. Roberts is also the
founder of the African American transpeople online group Transsistahs
But the appalling silence
Roberts experienced from major African American organizations
in this country that vow to protect and serve its community
was also experienced from black media.
The Duanna Johnson story
will neither be featured in Jet, Ebony nor Essence.
And although I am thankful
that the gay news media have captured the details surrounding
Johnson’s arrest the real story has not been told. And that
story is how the intersection of racism and trans phobia unleashes
its rage on the body of black transgenders, triggering the type
of violence Duanna Johnson experienced. It
is this type of violence that is endemic in the black community,
which is why black media should have reported.
Very little is understood
about transgender people because they are relegate to the fringes
of society. Crimes against transgender people often go unnoticed
or are seen as lesser crimes. And the fact that Johnson walked
away with her life she’s lucky, because transgender people are
often subjected to extreme violence that often results in murder.
For example, in 1998 Rita
Hester, a 34-year-old African American transsexual was murdered.
Ms. Hester was a male to female pre-op transsexual woman who
was mysteriously found dead inside her first floor apartment
in Allston, just outside of Boston,
with multiple stab wounds to her chest.
the other crime committed in the Hester case back then was the
media coverage. While black media did not covered the case the
Boston Herald did, depicting Ms. Hester as he, or a transvestite,
or William, or an enigma stating that even her neighbors didn’t
know who she was until the time of her death. This type of news
coverage was not only damaging, disrespectful and demeaning
to the entire transgender community but it also keeps transgender
people constantly subjected to ridicule, confusion, ignorance,
and ostensibly hate crimes.
Johnson explained that the
officer’s attack on her was because she refused to respond to
the derogatory names he called her.
And it wasn’t until Louis
Mitchell becoming a black man that he learned that “driving
while black” would be such an offense. Mitchell, who resides
in Springfield, MA,
told ColorLines that he gets pulled over “300
percent more now than in his 23 years of driving.”
Issues of race, gender expression,
and sexual orientation trigger a particular type of violence
against all people of color that black media cannot afford to
go unreported. Not reporting what is going on its LGBTQ community
not only subjects us to constant violence that goes unchecked,
but it also puts the larger African American community at risk.
But the lack of reporting
on these types of hate crimes in black media are for three reasons
- all dealing with homophobia and trans phobia.
The first reason is the
“politics of silence.” Black media will not report hate crimes
against its LGBTQ community even if it results in death due
to both homo and trans phobias. But,
most often so too, won’t its LGBTQ community, but for a different
reason - internalizing the black community’s homo and trans
phobias. With being openly queer and often estranged if not
alienated from our communities of color, reporting attacks against
us by other people of color in our communities as
well as by the police can make victims be viewed as race traitors.
So we end up colluding in the violence against us.
second reason has to do with the dearth of openly LGBTQ reporters
in black media writing on queer topics. This month for the first
time in the history of the Bay State Banner, an African American
newspaper in Greater Boston, it wrote an article on black queer
culture titled “Pride, Family values shine in Hub’s gay black
culture.” Why now? Because Katherine Patrick, the daughter of
our governor, Deval Patrick, who’s the second African American
to be elected governor in the U.S., came out. The media attention surrounding
her coming out finally underscored the fact that we have always
been a part of the black community.
The third reason is the
“politics of avoidance.” Black media won’t broach the topic
of hate crimes against its LGBTQ population for fear it
would be one more reason for white media to view violence
as being synonymous with people of color.
However, the end result
of this kind of homo and trans phobias in black media is that
it not only re-victimizes those of us targeted by these type
of hate crimes, but it also puts the entire community at risk
by leaving out news that ought to be left in.
Editorial Board member, the Rev. Irene Monroe is a religion
columnist, theologian, and public speaker. A native of Brooklyn,
Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological
Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an
African-American church before coming to Harvard Divinity School
for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow. Reverend Monroe is the author
of the soon-to-be-released Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible
Prayers for Not-So-Everyday Moments. Click on the above
link to order now at pre-release pricing. As an African American
feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society that
is frequently invisible. Her website is irenemonroe.com.
to contact the Rev. Monroe.