#BLACKLIVESMATTER

Since Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012 there seems to be a rise of violence against black bodies in America. In 2014 there was an overwhelming amount of cases of police brutality and police caused murders against black people. From Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson, the choking murder of Eric Garner in New York, to the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, it has become apparent that black bodies and black lives are under attack. Beyond that it seems as though that neither the media nor the justice system is on the side of black people in the states. Courts have not been holding these murderers accountable for their crimes; many of these police officers are simply getting away with a slap on the wrist. The media has been labeling the victims as thugs and thief’s as if to say they are deserving of these crimes against them, and portraying their murderers in positive lights, attempting to minimalize their crimes. It seems as if this trend has followed us into 2015. In January alone there were already more then 50 police caused murders across the United States. (Fairbanks)

Along with murder there also seems to be a rise in police brutality especially during arrest. Almost everyday a video will arise on the web of of a black person being arrested and officers using unneeded force. The most recent of these cases was against student, Martese Johnson at the University of Virginia.

Martese Johnson, who is an honors student and star athlete at his university, went out for a night of drinking last month with his friends. While attempting to get into a bar he was turned away and the police were called. The police accused him of using a fake ID and preceded to arrest him, they exerted unneeded force upon him. Martese constantly tried to explain his innocence but the cops would not listen. The arresting police officers even went as far as shackling his feet. (Vultaggio) To a black person this is beyond degrading, given our history of slavery. His life should be respected. Whether or not he is a honour student or a star athlete, or even whether or not his ID was fake or real, Martese should have never experienced that much aggression nor brutality from the police, who are supposed to serve and protect us.

As stated before Martese Johnson’s case is just one of many occurring across the United States. Many Black people not only in America but also across the world have banned together to fight for equal rights for black people and to change the way in which the black community communicates with each other and how others view it. For many the only positive thing to come out of these crimes was the creation of #blacklivesmater. This statement has turned into a chant, then a trend, and now a community organization that has demands and goals it wants to achieve. (Blacklivesmatter.com) The group, much like the NAACP serves as a voice for the victims and families of the victims. They are specifically associated with violence directed toward black people and are all encompassing, serving both black men and women, black transgender people, black gay and lesbians, etc. (Blacklivesmatter.com) This is an important fact that adds to their message that every single black life matters.

The BlackLivesMatter movement also has done a great job of destroying anti-blackness mainly within the black community. Many people have found a greater sense of pride in who they are after realizing that their life is one that matters. They also have worked towards ending this belief in black respectability politics. Respectability politics is this idea that black people have to dress, talk and act a certain way in order to be respected in society, which of course is completely false. This is a delusional way of thinking that is very harmful and negative. For young people you are silencing their creativity and voice. Also telling them that their life only matters as long as they live up to this specific guideline. It’s very much racist and prejudicial.

Martese, Mike, Eric, and Tamir, are only a few of the countless names of black people who have been murdered or physically assaulted by police. These offences have shown a pattern of abuse and blatant disrespect toward the black community. These events are things that could have broken this community but instead have made it stronger. The organization BlackLivesMatter have done a lot to perpetuate a proud black image, as well as demand justice for these people who continue to go unpunished. It’s hard to understand how these issues are still so apparent in 2015. They shouldn’t be, there shouldn’t be such a clear divide in a society that claims to have equality.

Word Count: 800

References

Fairbanks, Cassandra. “People Killed By Police in 1st Month of 2015.” The Free Thought Project. N.p., 03 Feb. 2015. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.
“Support the Movement for Black Lives!” Black Lives Matter. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2015. <http://blacklivesmatter.com/&gt;.
“Virginia Governor Calls for Inquiry into Student Arrest.” BBC News. N.p., 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.
Vultaggio, Maria. “UVA Student Martese Johnson Chained On Night Of Arrest, Twitter Photo Shows.” International Business Times. N.p., 25 Mar. 2015. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.

Transmisogny and Transphobia Within the Black Community

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Since I was a young child I’ve known whom the “other” is when it comes to gender identity. If I wasn’t hearing negative comments from family members, then I was hearing it on TV and in movies. People around me had no regard or care and often used words like “fag”, “homo”, “she/he”, and “tranny” to describe those who looked or acted differently whether or not they identified as gay or transsexual. These words that I heard and the negativity that I saw definitely had a stronger impact on my views and opinions than I ever realized. This became apparent to me when I was 13 years old and found myself committing what some would call a hate crime. Keep in mind that I lived in a predominantly Black Caribbean neighborhood, and in telling this story and writing this paper I am speaking from the position of a black female. There was a gay couple that lived in my neighborhood; sadly this couple was often the victim of a lot of ridicule by children in our neighborhood. Many parents were very aware of what many of their children were doing and beside a small slap on the wrist they would pretty much get away with their antics. Now, I would say that I wasn’t as bad as many of the children in my neighborhood but at times I was, although I knew right from wrong I still continued to do bad things. One afternoon l I was out with two of my friends. We happened to find an old spray can around the neighborhood and decided it was a smart idea to vandalize our neighborhood. As we walked around we found ourselves in front of the gay couples house, right away we started with the jokes. My friend said that the couple was always hiding and acted like they were afraid to let people know they were gay. Of course smart, bigoted 13-year-old Nyah took it upon herself to let the whole world know that this was a gay couple in our neighborhood. I took the spray can and painted the word “GAY” in big letters on the sidewalk in front of their house with arrow pointing directly to their door so that no one would be mistaken. I knew what would happen when I painted that, people would go their house, some of the older guys would possibly attack them, their neighbors who had no problem with them would start to judge them and as I painted those letters I instantly felt regret. It hurt me the most when I saw the couple come out one day and get on their knees to scrub away the words that I had branded on their sidewalk. The point of me telling this story is not to address my specific issue but rather to look at the whole picture. Any other child that was in my neighborhood at that time could have committed that crime. The point of that story is to comment on the transphobia, homophobia, and transmisogyny that are very apparent within not only the black community but within all communities. People often say that words are just words but words hold power. The words that I heard as I child shaped how I viewed the world, and believing in that point of view is what caused me to put those words into action. We have seen in recent history how hateful words create hateful actions. The LGBTQIA+ community already has an alarmingly high rate of homicidal deaths but recently the murder of Trans women has been on the rise especially the murders of Trans Women of colour. “Trans women make up 72% of anti-LGBTQIA+ homicide victims, and 89% of these victims were people of colour.”[i]

Laverne Cox’s speech addresses this specific issue and takes it a step further and puts an intersectional analysis on it. She discusses and tries to explain the overwhelming amount of transmisogyny and transphobia within society and specifically within the black community. Cox explains how a history of oppression, demasculinization and humiliation within slavery and the Jim Crow South have affected the black people of today’s society. On this she made a comment that really helps to put context and a background to the problem of transmisogyny within the black community,

“Most of us know that during slavery and during Jim Crow, black bodies, usually black male bodies were often lynched. In these lynchings, the men’s genitals were cut off. Sometimes they were pickled and sometimes they were sold. There was this sort of historic fear and fascination with black male sexuality.”[ii]

This quote in many ways introduces hegemonic masculinity within the black community. This idea that because of their violent history, black men feel that they have to prove their masculinity. When seeing someone who does not share that same belief, it is deemed as disgraceful and inappropriate and often leads to hate speech and violence. This issue of proving or defending masculinity goes beyond the black community. Our society is based upon a strict gender binary that is detrimental to all who do not fit within it. This being said we have to realize then that transmisogyny and transphobia are learned practices and are social constructs.

Cox offers a solution to this issue by sharing a quote from Cornell West that says, “Justice is what love looks like in public” and she goes on to say that, “If we can love trans gender people, that will be a revolutionary act.” I think along with love we have to focus on educating people as well to destroy their preconceived ideas of the “other”. I know that my opinions were changed through love and education. When we love and support those that are marginalized as well as educating those around us we are fighting against all of the “isms” and “phobias” that society has created and enforced upon them.

[i] Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” Everyday Feminism. N.p., 07 Dec. 2014. Web. 05 Mar. 2015.

[ii] ibid.

Word Count: 980

GIRLHOOD

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Girlhood is a 2014 drama film that is written and directed by filmmaker, Céline Sciamma. The film follows the life of a black female teen named, Marieme, as she faces the struggles of adolescence, acceptance and identity while living in the banlieues (suburbs) of Paris. This is the third feature film from Sciamma, and it loosely follows the same pattern of her first two films, Water Lilies (2007) and Tomboy (2009). The film trails Marieme as she deals with living in a broken home with an over protective brother who is critical of her every move, and a mother who is often absent because of her job. As Marieme deals with the stress of her household her grades suffer which results in her being unable to attend High School. Marieme meets up with gang of girls, who end up being an interesting influence on her life. Marieme begins to change as person; she drops out of school, changes her hair, her clothing and also her name, which is changed to “Vic” which is short for Victory. Along with her metamorphosis Vic finds a new sense of belonging and confidence. She now has a tight-knit group of friends, a new boyfriend, Djibril, who is a close friend to her brother. She also begins to establish a very violent and rebellious attitude. Vic’s life begins to spiral out of control and after a series of events finds herself alone and working for a local drug dealer. Vic realizes she is not happy with her life but also recognizes that she is stuck in her position. The movie ends in a very ambiguous manner, we do not find out what ultimately happens to her and it is up to the audience to decipher and to determine her fate.

On many levels this picture was very enjoyable, but at the same time, something was lacking from the movie to make it feel complete. I liked the fact that the film took an intersectional approach when looking Vic’s life, it showed that her struggle was beyond simply being a girl. The film revealed that sadly her struggles came from several different places. She was a young black female growing up in a low-income neighborhood and was also a victim a physical and sexual violence; her problems were not singular. I really enjoyed how Sciamma depicted the female bond. When Marieme meets her gang of girls they first seemed to be a negative influence on her, but as the film progresses we see that they are an important aspect in her life. The girls, although reckless, show Marieme the importance of self-love and worth. I also enjoyed the fact that the film tried to show the effects of Marieme’s culture. After having sex with her boyfriend her bother finds out and beats her for it because she has given away her virtue. Later in the film Djibril says that if they marry, she will no longer be seen as a slut and can return home. Although its not fully explained, you can infer that this issue that is something that stems from their culture opposed to society. It seems that it shunned upon for women to explore their sexuality, and when that does occur they are punished for it.

A key scene that stood out to me was closer to the end of the film when Vic has begins to dress like a man after she begins selling drugs. Djibril, her boyfriend, comes over to see her at her new apartment. Djibril begins to talk about how he dislikes her living in such conditions and they begin to argue a bit, but they resolve and begin to make out. As they are making out Djibril take off Vic’s shirt to reveal that she has bound her breast. Djibril becomes infuriated and begins to berate Vic on the fact that she no longer resembles a woman. He addresses the fact that she no longer wears her hair out, or wears feminine clothing, and that now she is binding her breast. In a very accusatory and judgmental tone he ask if this is what she wants, after which he storms out in a fit of rage. I felt like this scene was very important to the overall plot of the film because it encompassed a lot of its key features. For one it really exposed the emphasized femininities in Vic’s world, opposed to the rest of the film where it is only implied. It is very clear that Djibril has a preconceived notion of what women must look and dress like to be considered a woman. This is a recurring theme that I noticed throughout the film. The males in Vic’s life have this that she must conform to this idea of an ideal women, who is quiet, follows orders, and is the picture of femininity. To me this seemed to be hegemonic masculinity, the men believe that for some reason they better then the women within the film and that they must conform to their ideals. These issues never seem to get resolved, which makes sense since this movie is about real life. Although Vic say she doesn’t want to be a male, its hard to move past the blatant transphobia, and it makes you wonder whether or not those her true feelings

I really enjoyed Girlhood; I thought that the beginning of film was very well thought out. It was nice a movie that focused on the importance of friends and the female bond. When it came to the ending of the film, it did not really sit with me as well. I found that part on Vic dressing like a man was unexplained, and it seemed as though the filmmaker just wanted to just add in a queer aspect to the film. It seemed like the filmmaker wanted to generate pink dollars, so they added a queer aspect that would interest the LGBTQ community. I felt that it needed more clarity to help audiences understand why it was occurring. I thought having an ambiguous ending was very effective, because it was a real representation of life, we have no idea how our lives will end up. The overall film was really good and enjoyable; I thought it was amazing that almost all of the actors were pulled off of the street. The beautiful cinematography and natural acting only made the film better. I would easily recommend it to anyone.

I thought that the Reelout Film Festival was very cool. I think it’s important to expose people to different cultures, especially in a town like Kingston. Along with Girlhood, I also went to see Blackbird; it was nice to see that both of these movies had a large turnout. The movie selection for the week was diverse and interesting. Next year I will most likely attend the festival again.