Being born and raised in Atlanta, my life has been full of some of the best food anyone can ever eat: like peach cobbler, fried fish, and collard greens. There’s also sweet tea, which Dolly Parton calls the ‘house wine of the south,’ and little old ladies that shake their heads and say, “Bless your heart.” There are also houses and establishments riddled with confederate flags that seem to scream: “Your black skin isn’t welcome here” and shirts that read ‘heritage not hate’ or ‘don’t tread on me’. Sometimes the racism is so thick, it feels like it can choke you. Though my childhood and adolescence was colored with the ignorance of racism, I sought refuge from this ignorance by learning. I was a voracious reader and I always enjoyed history. I remember listening excitedly to many of my teachers speak about varying topics, and assigning readings about The Great Depression, The Holocaust, and other historical events. There were lectures about Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and Rosa Parks in the month of February throughout my grade school career. I also recall the excitement I felt whenever Black readings were assigned such as Roll Of Thunder Hear My Cry or Copper Sun. These were stories of triumph, stories of my people overcoming the adversity which had befallen them. There is truly something awe inspiring about seeing yourself positively reflected within learning materials. These stories were few and far between, and Black History month was always reduced to a few lectures about slavery, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, and other peaceful protests. Despite the lack of Black stories, I had a thirst for more knowledge about Black people, and did so with my own reading. I learned about Malcom X and his guiding principle: “By any means necessary”, and about Claudette Colvin: a Black woman who had refused to give up her seat in Montgomery before Rosa Parks. The more I learned about these unmentioned figures, I wondered why they weren’t apart of the Black History month curriculum.
As I grew into myself and embraced my trans identity, I began to understand why this was so. Claudette and Malcolm weren’t right for the camera, they didn’t fit the ideal image of what would be palatable for American people to see on their screens. Malcolm’s no-nonsense way of speaking, and Claudette’s dark skin, coupled with her kinky hair, and the fact that she was a teenage mother, made them inappropriate images for the movement. Years later, in the wake of the deaths of people like George Floyd, Tony Mcdade, Breonna Taylor, and Bree Black, we are seeing history repeated. Because Tony Mcdade and Bree Black aren’t cisgender heterosexual identified Black people, we are seeing not only an erasure of their lives, but a recharacterization of them completely. This is largely due to their identities as transgender people. Because of this gender identity, they are painted as secretive, deceptive, or confused. This is not unlike the common mischaracterization of Malcolm X as a violent troublemaker. Often times, neither Malcolm, nor the previously mentioned transgender individuals resembled any of the character traits attributed to them. They just didn’t fit the ideal image. But just like Malcom and Claudette, they will play a large role in the revolution for equity and justice. Their stories are important and need to be heard and told accurately.
Derek Baugh is CEO of Ubuntu Incorporated, ubuntuinc.org, and a consultant for TSC