I distinctly remember the moment in time during which I began to think about racial oppression on a systemic level. I enrolled in a Sociology of Race course my sophomore year and through the selected readings and class discussions, I was forever changed in my perception of American race relations. I mean, I knew about racism—after all, the greatest way to learn about racism is to belong to a marginalized race of people. I always knew about interpersonal racism but I hadn’t thought about racism as a complex institution upheld through policy.
Following this grand awakening, I became an impassioned opponent of white supremacy and was willing to put my psychological and physical well-being on the line to advocate for change. Spending much of my adolescence being a token in white spaces, I lost many friends who I could no longer relate to. How can you value me as a friend when you aren’t willing or able to acknowledge that racism is still a monumental problem in this country? Hence, I began seeking out spaces where I’d be in the company of likeminded black folks who care about the same issues as me, with the same level of fervor as me.
At first it was refreshing being in the presence of people who shared a common interest in combating racial oppression. But over the course of the next few years, I began noticing something that troubled me more and more each time I noticed it: black lives only matter when the movement is centered around cisgender, straight men.
The black activist community did go to bat for Sandra Bland, I’ll give us that. But there’s a reason why injustices committed against black women, gays, and trans folks generally aren’t afforded the same time and labor as those against black men: many of us have not taken the time to acknowledge or unpack internalized misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. Many of us are so wrapped in the fight against racism that we don’t examine how oppression is intersectional.
Call me crazy, but there’s a serious problem when the same black men who shout from the rooftops about racialized police brutality are complicit—if not outright participatory—in violence against the most marginalized of our community. How can you advocate for justice for black people when you perpetuate harm against a significant sector of fellow black people? History has awarded most accolades in black activism and leadership to men (and a few women) who fall neatly into the confines cis-heteronormativity. Yet, women and queer folks show up and show out on the frontlines when it’s time to get our hands dirty.
Although I still find myself naturally defending black men against white supremacy, I often wonder if my labor is worthwhile. Why am I bending over backwards and breaking my neck to take care of you when you aren’t concerned with equity across the board for all of us? I’m prepared to be ostracized by the black “conscious” community—hit dogs are bound to holler. But it is my duty to use my privilege as a perceivably palatable black woman to say what needs to be said: all black lives matter. And until they matter to you too, your pro-black activism is fraudulent.