“Invisible Oppression:” Cece McDonald and Violence Against Transgender People

Have you heard about Cece Mcdonald?

If you haven’t, you definitely need to read up on her and her case.  In short, “In June of 2011, CeCe, [a Black, Transgender Woman] was attacked while walking to the grocery store with her friends. After a group of White bar patrons shouted slurs at CeCe and her friends—calling them “faggots,” “chicks with dicks,” and “niggers”–a woman in the group smashed a glass into CeCe’s face, cutting through her cheek. A fight broke out and one of CeCe’s attackers [was killed]. The police arrived and singled out CeCe, who was seriously injured, for arrest. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office charged her with second-degree murder.”  Since her arrest, she has been denied proper medical care and has been housed with male inmates despite the fact that she does not identify as a man and that prisons and jails are notoriously abusive spaces for Trans people (source for account of Cece’s attack and subsequent treatment).

Eventually, Cece accepted a plea bargain for second degree manslaughter (which could carry a sentence of up to 3 1/2 years in pris0n), but she has been clear from the beginning: she acted in self defense.  The man who died that night would be alive if he and his friend had never attacked Cece and her friends, and it was clear that Cece was attacked because of her race and her gender identity.

It is hard to get a clear picture of the levels of violence that Transgender people face in the United States.  After all, the Federal government doesn’t collect hate crime data on Transgender hate crimes, and few states collect any data.  Studies have shown, though, that the rates of violence against Transgender people in the U.S. are SIGNIFICANTLY higher than other forms of violence.  Plus, there is evidence to indicate that the the murder rate of Transgender people is more than 10 times the murder rate in the general population in the U.S..

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Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible

I have a bit of a crazy week this week, as I am heading off to the White Privilege Conference in Albuquerque, NM.  I look forward to presenting a few workshops and to learning a tremendous amount from the other presenters!  To read a little about what I learned last year, check out my post, Reflections on the White Privilege Conference.

As I’ve been preparing myself to learn and grow at the conference, I’ve been watching some of the documentary Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible on Youtube.  Since I don’t have a lot of time to write this week, I figured I’d post the documentary (broken up into 5 parts on youtube) in hopes that my readers will reflect on its messages.  It’s my hope that you’ll watch it (or at least watch part of it) and engage.  Let me know your thoughts and reactions in the comments section!

Video Blog: The Woodlawn Plantation & the Legacy of Slavery

As part of Black History Month, I have put together this video blog on my time speaking at Woodlawn School, a private school that sits on the property that was once a slave-holding plantation.  This video blog is a part of my processing of the time I spent on campus, dealing with the legacy of slavery.

I also put together a follow-up video about Woodlawn School, the incredible institution that now exists on the property that was once the Wood Lawn plantation.

Hijacking the Language and Legacy of Dr. King

Yesterday, on the day honoring the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a lot of people were posting quotes from Dr. King to Facebook and Twitter.  By far, the most commonly posted quote was one from King’s I Have a Dream speech that he delivered on August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.  During that speech, Dr. King said,

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

His sentiment is a powerful one, a sentiment that calls for a different racial reality than he knew as a child or than his children knew.  This quote is part of a radical ideology of racial justice that moves past a negative peace of White Privilege and Supremacy to a justice that is only realized through concerted social action.

Out of context, though, White people LOVE this quote.

As someone who regularly takes part in or initiates conversations about race and racial justice, I have been noticing a disturbing trend more and more often lately: people using the words of Dr. King out of context to silence conversations on race.

The conversation usually goes something like this:

Person A:  A colorblind ideology is not useful!  We need to acknowledge race, its history, and the role it plays in present reality!

Person B:  By bringing up race, you’re the one being racist!  Race shouldn’t matter!  Remember, Dr. King once said that we should “not be judged by the color of [our] skin but by the content of [our] character.

Person A:  That’s completely out of context!  Dr. King saw race as a reality we must face . . .

Person B:  [Interrupts] By bringing race into the conversation, you’re only distracting us from the real conversation we should be having.  After all, White people can be discriminated against, but you don’t hear us complaining!

Person A: *Bangs Head Against a Wall*

The problem with this line of thinking is that it divorces the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a symbol from his lived reality as a radical, anti-war, socialist-leaning, anti-racist activist who recognized the intersections of oppression.  Instead, he becomes a moderate, race-neutral man on a pedestal whose words can actually be used to argue against programs and actions that might realize social justice.

One of the things that is most striking to me about this issue, though, is that it is not a partisan trend.  I find White people on both the left and right using this line of thinking.  For instance, a White, leftist #OccupyOakland activist was recently arguing with Jay Smooth on Twitter about the ways in which colorblindness as a value within the movement is being used to silence activists of Color and their concerns.  Jay Smooth was trying to make the point that it does not help the movement to have an attitude of, “Put aside our differences for the betterment of the whole.”  In fact, that only can create resentment in the movement and doesn’t realize justice.

In response, the White activist had the following to say:

In essence, he was trying to use the words of Dr. King to argue why we should not be divided by race, but this fictionalized Dr. King is not the Dr. King of, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

On the right, I hear a similar logic.  The logic from the right is often that conversations about race are, in themselves, racist because they “choose to judge people by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.”

I saw this hijacking of Dr. King’s legacy clearly from the right in Newt Gingrich’s language on the holiday honoring one of the greatest activists for social justice.

In his speech “honoring” Dr. King, he discusses the Rev. Dr.’s passion, his faith, and his persistence.  He asks people to “look forward” and “ask ourselves to what degree can we give to [young people] the same spirit of hope, the same idealism, the same belief in America, the same understanding that salvation comes from faith in God, and that together we can, in fact, create a dramatically better future for all Americans of every background.”

However, in the same day, a day that honors the man who helped lead the Poor People’s Movement, Newt had the following to say:

Not only is the former Speaker of the House of Representatives paternalistic and classist in his language, but he refuses to see how his racially-coded language could be insulting to Black Americans (and for that he received a standing ovation).

It is insane that someone could speak out of one side of their mouth lauding the legacy of an advocate for justice and the poor and out of the other side to put down the poor as lacking work ethic and as desiring food stamps over jobs while equating the nation’s first Black president as “the food stamp president.”

Whether from the left or the right, this sort of language does little more than defend what Dr. King called a “negative peace” where those who are oppressed must “passively accept [their] unjust plight.”

Dr. King had harsh words in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail for White Moderates like @geekeasy2 and Newt Gingrich, words that must give all White people pause:

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”



Check out my post from last year’s Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration: Forsaking the Dream – Reflections on the Vision of Dr. King.

Race, Listening, and The Good Men Project

Rather than hosting this week’s piece here on Change From Within, I am actually going to be sending my readers over to The Good Men Project.

I was recently published over at GMP with a piece entitled, “Listening is the Root of Justice.

Here’s a quick excerpt from the piece:

In his piece resigning from The Good Men Project, Hugo Schwyzer put it this way, “Power conceals itself from those who possess it. And the corollary is that privilege is revealed more clearly to those who don’t have it.”  As a person of privilege, I know that I cannot see all of the ways that my identity silences other voices, and I cannot see the ways that my privilege works to empower me while disempowering others.

Thus, when criticized for my language, the space I am taking up, or for the ways in which my actions reveal my privilege, my first response needs to be to listen.  No matter how defensive that statement makes me, I need to listen.  No matter how much I would like to retort with a story about how I’m not as privileged as the other is assuming, I need to listen.

Listening is the root of justice.

I encourage you to head over to GMP to read the piece, and if you’re up for a real challenge, wade into the comments.

Gift Giving and Gender Socialization

One thing I will never understand is how completely wed so many of us are to traditional gender norms, particularly in the way we raise children.  Even progressive folks who would never say “a woman’s place is in the kitchen” freak out when a little boy is in a pink outfit or when a little girl is given a GI Joe instead of a Barbie.

This is never more frustrating to me than during the holidays.  My nieces and nephew (on another note, is there a gender-neutral term for my sibling’s children?) are awesome but slightly spoiled.  Each and every family member showers them in gifts to the point that they can’t decide what to play with . . . there are too many options.  Some of these gifts are awesomely-gender-neutral like the shopping carts that the kids (boys and girls alike) loved to fill with toys and push around the house.  Others were as gendered as you can get (also note their outfits):

Aiden on His "Cat" Car

Abbie on Her "Princess" Car

At one point, Aiden climbed onto the “Princess” car, and one person in the family exclaimed, “Aiden!  You can’t ride that car!  That one’s for girls!”  Then his older sisters (5 and 3) started echoing the sentiment.

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Guest Blog – Confronting My Own Racism

I’m always looking for interesting new formats and approaches to the blog, partially as a way to challenge myself as an author and partially to keep my readers interested.  This week I thought it would be fun to publish a piece by a friend and ally, and throughout the piece, I would pose the questions and thoughts that came up for me as I read it the first time.  Below you will find Josh Friedberg’s piece and my reflections in text boxes.  I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the piece in the comments section below!

Josh Friedberg is an emerging essayist, music historian, and singer-songwriter.  A recent graduate of Earlham College, he looks forward to attending graduate school and publishing an essay on racism in narratives of rock music history.  You can check out Josh’s blog by visiting Stuff Joshua D. Friedberg Does.


It’s funny how much things can change in a few years. I don’t know if a person can go from being racist to not being racist anymore, but I hope I have. God knows what I used to believe about black people, about affirmative action, about what some call “ebonics”–my beliefs were racist as hell. And I have, I hope, sufficiently questioned those beliefs to uproot them permanently. I just hope I never go back to believing what I used to believe, in bitterness over anything. I really hope I’ve changed for good, for real, forever.

I can’t help but wonder if it is ever possible for White people to find a place where we are “not being racist anymore.” Is it possible to completely uproot our racist tendencies that have been so deeply ingrained? Part of me hopes that we can, but part of me wonders if that is simply an aspect of the weight we bear from our history and current reality.

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