The recent controversy surrounding Dave Chappelle’s act, which features shocking jokes about trans people, has many considering the line between comedy and social responsibility. The conversations range from personal to political. My main concern is that this issue may be used to divide people. I can tell you what this is not about: it is not about Black against LGBTQ+, and it is not about cisgender against transgender. It’s about TERFs.
First, I want to get personal. I was heartbroken to hear how “Dear White People” showrunner Jaclyn Moore was impacted by Chapelle’s act. Moore, like too many women, is a survivor of gender-based violence. The fact is that trans women often face a particularly cruel and dehumanizing brand of it: Not everyone has developed the consciousness or emotional intelligence to understand how that affects trans women, or the empathy it takes to care about it.
As a trans woman of color living in a men’s prison, I deal with a lifetime of trauma while living under the constant threat of institutionalized social- and gender-based violence. Coming from a position of vulnerability, as an abandoned and abused sister, it pains me to see Jaclyn and others hurting, too. I offer my love and support, and hope others will do so, as well.
I want to use my background as a BIPOC, feminist (trans and GNC inclusive), queer, disability justice-oriented, abolitionist activist to isolate and attack TERFs as I expose their connection to white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, eugenics, hated-based biology, and dividing practices.
Dave Chappelle joked that he is team TERF, which stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. Now, Dave Chappelle is the guy who may be best known for the blind Black Klansman skit, so the idea of a Black male TERF bit shouldn’t be a shocker! Dave, I know you don’t want to be on the same team Hitler would choose.
As a trans woman of color living in a men’s prison, I deal with a lifetime of trauma while living under the constant threat of institutionalized social- and gender-based violence.
The philosopher Michael Foucault, who investigates power and society, has a very clear understanding of how power regimes objectify and divide groups of people. Foucault defines dividing practices as a process of manipulation using science or pseudo-science coupled with exclusion. The process may involve bodies in a spatial sense, but it is always in a social sense.
The concept involves objectifying a subject in order for it to be divided from a whole for the purposes of classification, control, and containment. This dividing practice is applied to oppressed groups or groups established and labeled with an identity. TERFs use the practices of hate-based biology as science or pseudo-science to exclude transwomen. I call TERFs the Terrible Eugenics Racist Fascists, and here is why:
Dividing practices were used by body-snatching human traffickers who brought Africans to this land for slavery. The Africans were given the identity of Black, and the one-drop rule would be established to ensure that white wealth, property, and power would thrive.
Dividing practices were subtractive for Native Americans: securing settler futurity depends on decreasing and disappearing Indigenous folks. A minimum blood quantum, usually one quarter, was established as a requirement of federal rights and protections for Native Americans. Over time, these people will become less “Indian,” resulting in their eventual erasure, furthering white settler access to land while increasing white wealth, property, and power.
Meanwhile, Black folks continue to be divided, exploited and excluded by holdovers from the Jim Crow era, including the practices of redlining, mass incarceration, and more.
Eugenics is a pseudo-science based on biology and is inherently and blatantly racist and ableist. American eugenics, which had its glory days during early twentieth century Jim Crow, was admired by Adolf Hitler. Hitler used eugenics and hate-based biology to support his theory of Aryan superiority.
Today, hate-based biology exclusion efforts are focused on preventing trans kids from competing in athletics. Hate-based biology arguments are used to exclude trans people from bathrooms. Transphobes and TERFs often summon the trans rapist myth, which is similar to the old Black rapist myth that Ida B. Wells-Barnett spent her life exposing. Both arguments appear to be concerned with protecting valued white girls and women from dangerous “others” who are classified, controlled and contained. The fact is that anyone could be a rapist, but most are cisgender men, many of whom are white.
Back to early twentieth century Jim Crow, where American white supremacist feminists were fighting for political power and the right to vote. They would finally get the nod from the white supremacist, ableist, American heteropatriarchal power regime in the year 1920. White women abandoned and excluded Black women as a necessary part of the deal. For white men, it meant that women would serve as an extension of their husbands, resulting in white power times two. White feminist assimilationists became the master’s tool in shameful dividing practices used to further exclude and subjugate Blacks.
Transphobes and TERFS often summon the trans rapist myth, which is similar to the old Black rapist myth that Ida B. Wells-Barnett spent her life exposing.
For me, this racist feminist historical analysis informs my claim that for feminism to be legitimate, it must be intentionally Black and inclusive. The Terrible Eugenics Racist Fascists base their philosophy on hate-based biology and dividing practices, resulting in the exclusion of a dominated group (trans women). TERFs are not concerned with Black power and are not legitimate.
Speaking of Black power, I wish to turn my focus to the disillusioned founder of the Black Panthers, Huey P. Newton. It is believed that, when asked if Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were revolutionary, Huey said, “Yeah, I guess they are revolutionary.”
The two trans activists, who were proud to be acknowledged by Huey P. Newton, became well known for forming Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). Following the Stonewall riots in New York City, in which they participated, they engaged in a militant brand of street organizing and were instrumental in organizing the first Pride march a year after Stonewall, which was a protest, not a parade.
The white gay mainstream assimilationist agenda would center respectability politics and water down the struggle for liberation. Revolutionary trans of color activists would be excluded and pushed to the background. Today, glittery gay parades have become coopted, corporatized, pro-police events, much to the chagrin of trans of color feminists and abolitionists like myself.
When the Black, female, lesbian poet Audre Lorde wrote, “We do not live single-issue lives,” she made her Black, female, queer brilliance available to us and future generations. She promotes a simple yet profound and nuanced message of inclusion.
For me, because white supremacy is the original sight of hate-based biology and dividing practices resulting in the exploitation and exclusion of others, the struggle for liberation begins with antiracist politics. And because white supremacy classified Black as last and lowest, the sight of an inclusive antiracist struggle must begin by putting Black first. That means a BIPOC, feminist (trans and GNC inclusive), queer, disability justice movement that ascribes an anticorporate/anticapitalistic lens that is, in the end, abolitionist.
Dave Chapelle, I still love you. It’s not too late to come out as GNC and change your pronouns to they/them. It’s time to abandon TERFs and watch that fire burn. ♦