My stomach dropped when I first heard about the events unfolding in Charlottesville last week.
I thought I had been transported back in time when I saw images of tiki-torch bearing white supremacists chanting around a statue of Confederate villain Robert Edward Lee. It was jarring, but it wasn’t particularly surprising as a native Southerner. I went to undergrad with white students who proudly adorned their dorm walls with Confederate flags and donned the image on hats and t-shirts without a second thought. Let’s just say I’m used to the mindset that accompanies this type of ignorance.
Seeing the counter protesters boldly denouncing them gave a bit of relief. However, the little hope I had on Friday night quickly dissipated by Saturday afternoon. My emotions grew deeper when I read about Heather Heyer’s murder after Neo-Nazi James Alex Fields, Jr. rammed his car into the crowd. Since I’m always interested in other people’s takes, I hopped on social media and noticed the shock waves sent by this senseless violence.
I was struck by the swiftness by which people denounced white supremacy since many people have called for less discussions on identity and boiled down the unrest to economic instability after the 2016 election. I guess now that another tragedy has happened “well-meaning” White America can’t ignore America’s deep-seated racial issues.
Donald Trump’s accountability-skirting remarks on the tragedy deepened the demands from the public and I am proud that people are speaking out about his complicity by not staunchly denouncing the actions of the white supremacists. However, I am disappointed in how people are willing to rally around white supremacy in ways that they don’t when transmisogyny is being discussed. In truth, both of these forces are cousins.
A week before Charlottesville, TeeTee Dangerfield became the16th known trans woman murderedin 2017. Her death came on the heels of a days-long online debate after comedian Lil Duval appeared on the radio show “The Breakfast Club” andjokingly referred to killing trans women. Much of the discussion I saw, particularly from cisgender people, dismissed the connection between hate speech and the actual violence that it influences or justifies. Before the Black trans community could even move the needle on that conversation, there was another tragedy on our hands.
As a Black trans woman, both white supremacist hate speech and transmisogynistic hate speech — that is discriminatory or violent speech targeting trans women, trans feminine or femme-identified gender nonconforming folks — both alarm me similarly. When a white supremacist like Richard Spencer openly supportsBlack genocideand when a comedian insinuates that Black trans women should be killed, they feed into dehumanizing cultural biases that already exist. I don’t get to pick and choose which force is more evil when my life and the lives of my sisters are at risk.
Though discrimination, hate speech, and violence towards the trans people isn’t new, it’s actually increased alongside the visibility and awareness of the community. In 2017,numerous pieces of anti-trans legislationhave been introduced in states across the United States. The number of reported trans murders continues to grow larger with each passing year, and it doesn’t help that Trump openly refers totrans people as burdens. Hate speech targeted towards the trans community can’t be downplayed.
The actions of white supremacists in Charlottesville and the transmisogyny occurring across the United States can’t be extracted from the hostile environment that Trump and conservatives have fostered. Since 45’s election,Communities Against Hate, an initiative that documents and responds to hate violence in the United States, has documented a major spike in hate violence.
At rallies during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump is on record saying things like, “In the good old days, this doesn’t happen because they used to treat them very, very rough. And when they protested once, you know, they would not do it again so easily,” in reference to Black protestors. There’s no doubt his words echo for all of the groups he has come after — Latinx immigrants, Muslims, disabled people, women, and LGBTQ people.
For the few who dare to ignore the political mess we’re in, the hood was permanently lifted when Trump advocated for Neo-Nazis to protest the removal of a statue that invokes a deeply painful and traumatic time in U.S. History, particularly for Black Americans. His toxic investment in supporting hate of all kinds will no doubt lead to more violence.
We’re certainly living in dark times, but glimpses of light are found when we begin to hold the hateful accountable. We can’t continue to give a free pass to bigots who raise their voices and fists in the name of xenophobia. They are complicit in how it affects marginalized communities and how all hate speech works in tandem to create a hostile environment for all of us. I’ll never be able to disconnect the damage that white supremacy and transmisogyny does to our society and neither should you.