Transcript, Web links and Credits below.
About a month ago I saw a horrible video that went viral of a group of men in Dallas brutally beating a transgender woman. I didn’t know her name or her story, at the time, but the video was awful. And eventually we learned that the person in that video being beaten by that mob was a 23-year-old transgender woman named Muhlaysia Booker. She spoke out. Yesterday we learned just a month after she was beaten, that she was shot and killed this weekend.
I’m dedicating today’s episode not just to Muhlaysia, but also for us to have a hard, necessary conversation about the epidemic of violence against Black trans women in this country. We must confront it. And it has to stop. We must all check ourselves. Ask if we’re contributing to this problem in any way and make up in our minds that we will do better.
I’ll end today with a success story about a major action step victory we just had today in Tennessee that thousands of you helped make happen. I’m proud of you all.
Let’s dig in.
This is Shaun King and you are listening to (The Breakdown)!
Hate is a mutating virus. It leaps from host to host, taking on new forms and new expressions. But it’s not new. It’s ancient. From the beginning of time, deep into antiquity, we see hate. And as easy as it would be for us to reduce hate as something that bigoted white people in America own all unto themselves — that oversimplification is just not true. Each of us has the ability to be hateful. None of us have minds that are impervious to hate.
And today is not about me giving us fresh definitions of racism or sexism — because those are systemic. White supremacy is systemic. I’m not here today to challenge or expand those definitions. But today I am here for us to confront a very particular type of hate. And toxic masculinity is at the root of it.
Last year at least 26 transgender people were violently murdered. Many inside experts believe that number could actually be as high as 50 or 60. Dozens of transgender folk are missing all over the country and many of them are presumed dead as well. And not all of them, but the strong majority of the missing and murdered transgender folk in this country are Black. At least 5 Black transgender women have been killed so far this year. Last year in Jackson, Florida alone, four Black transgender women were shot and three were killed.
In fact, you’d struggle to find a single demographic more likely to experience extreme violence than Black transgender women in this country.
And for the next few minutes, I want to have an open, honest conversation about what I think is at play. We have an extremely diverse base of listeners, from nearly 200 countries, from all 50 states, from every major city in the world, from every faith and religion, and from every type of ethnic and racial and cultural background. So some of what I say is absolutely going to challenge many of you.
And I want to apologize in advance if my words fail me in this episode. I say that because I am learning and growing and getting more informed about the real struggles of being transgender in the United States. I am not an expert on this, but I have been brutally beaten before. When I was just 15 years old a racist mob of white students beat me in much the same way that Muhlaysia was beaten in Dallas last month. I had fractures in my face and ribs and required three spinal surgeries to recover from it all. I missed nearly two years of school because of it. And it changed my life forever. It’s hard for me to believe, but that was nearly 25 years ago. And what that did was make me hyper-aware and hyper sensitive to people in pain, physical and emotional, to people being bullied, no matter why, and on that level, I identify with what Muhlaysia experienced.
But I have to confess that I have no idea what it must be like to be born a biological male. Or be born a biological female. Or be born and even feel from birth that you simply do not fit into any gender category. Or feel that you are being placed in the wrong gender category.
And anytime I talk about this — particularly on social media — the hate and discrimination comes out in the comments immediately. It’s all ugly, but it’s also ignorant. And I mean that in the real sense of the word. People just don’t know what they are talking about. And what I see are people saying that it’s a lie — that we are all either men or women, that we don’t get to choose to be a man if we are a woman, or that we don’t get to choose to be a woman if we are a man. I see people saying that it’s an abomination. That it’s a sin. As a former pastor I find that one particularly peculiar because the people calling it a sin seem to consistently be the worst sinners among us. I see people saying that with all of the problems we have in the Black community — like police brutality and mass incarceration — that it’s a waste for men to become women and women to become men — that it hurts the race, that it sets us back.
And what I’m not sure any of those people fully understand, is that every time you make one of those comments — and it may be how you really feel — but those comments, which are more about your confusion than anything else, those comments actually make transgender people less safe in society. And let me explain what I mean.
When you say that the very identity of a person is a sin, a lie, an abomination, a disgrace, a setback for the race, when you say that, whether you intend to or not, you devalue the humanity of that person. And not just of the single person you may be talking about, but about all transgender people.
Let’s flip it around for a moment. Maybe you could never imagine yourself being transgender — and that’s fine — I get that. But let’s imagine for a moment that suddenly, all of society turned, and the dominant popular view became that it was an abomination to be heterosexual, that it was a sin to be straight, that it is wrong to be straight, that it was ugly and horrible to be straight. Or let’s flip it to your eye color, or your hair color, or your height.
Imagine that all of a sudden it was regularly called a sin, a stain, a waste, a horrible, ugly abomination to be your height. Would you still feel safe if you knew millions of people looked at you and thought you were a sin, a crime, a shame, disgusting.
I wouldn’t. And if you are being honest, you wouldn’t either.
And what happens when the humanity of an entire group of people — because they are Jewish, or because they are Black, or because they are Muslims, or immigrants — when the humanity of an entire group of people is devalued. It gives people who aren’t in that devalued group the sense that they can be abusive without consequence. That they can be verbally abusive without consequences. Or that they can be physically abusive without consequences.
It’s why hate crimes are currently at the highest rate ever measured in American history. People have been given the distinct impression from the President of the United States on down that certain people are better than others. That certain lives matter more than others. Now the United States has always played that game, but it’s bad right now.
When the President pardons war criminals who murdered Muslim children in cold blood, guess what signal that sends? When the President calls Neo-Nazis who just murdered a woman and brutally beat a man very fine people, guess what signal that sends?
And when any of us, including me, including you, devalue the humanity of trans people, we send a horrible signal that it’s OK to be abusive. And you and I may say, “Well, I didn’t mean to send that signal.” And I understand that — so I am trying to teach you the difference between impact and intention. You might not have intended your words to be harmful, but we aren’t just responsible for our intentions, we are also responsible for the impact of our words and actions — and sometimes the impact can be far worse than our intentions. We’re responsible for both.
And so for a moment, please allow me to break something down for you.
(Break it down)
I don’t think any of us would argue that racism is real in America. Maybe one day I’ll do a whole episode just breaking that down. But in this country, Black lives are regularly not treated with the same level of value as other lives. I hope that’s obvious to you.
In a painful way that we don’t talk about enough — that message can also be internalized.
Just go with me for a second.
Just as Black lives are not equally valued by many, trans lives are not equally valued by many.
And I think what we’re seeing right now is a painful pathology, and a nexus of toxic masculinity, where the lives of Black trans women are valued so little, demeaned so much, that we have a situation where Black trans women are being treated like throwaway people. They are being beaten, assaulted, used — sometimes for pleasure and that’s a whole nutha conversation, but it’s a part of it, honestly — then discarded. And what we’re seeing here is that discarded often means shot and killed, stabbed to death, strangled, mutilated, and frequently thrown away like trash.
And what I want you to know is that no difficult problems in this country disappear on their own. So today, I have a few internal action steps for you.
(Action Steps Music)
Today, first and foremost, I want you to enagage in some sincere reflection on how your views about transgender people may actually make them less safe in society. Would you stop someone from telling a cruel joke about trans folk? Would you tell one yourself and feel ok about it? And if so, why? Just for a moment, would you please consider how you could grow in this area of your life.
And secondly, I simply want you to do a Google search of these words, “Black transgender murders violence trend”. And I want you to educate yourself. Read those articles. Learn more names. Learn more stories.
And I’ll close today with one final story — an update on a huge action step.
Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada just announced his resignation!
And thousands and thousands of you helped make that happen. On two different episodes of The Breakdown we told you the story of his abusive and unethical practices and called on you to take ACTION STEPS with us to call for his resignation. You called the Governor of Tennessee, you called state legislators, you called the DA, and asked that they intervene. And today, after thousands of our calls and emails, he announced his resignation.
Together we’re strong. I’m proud of each of you.
Let’s continue taking these action steps together, ok?
Thank you all for making it all the way through this episode of The Breakdown!
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Take care everybody.
Produced by Willis Polk II
Additional Production by Christian “Idrys” Shannon
Additional Instrumentation by Christian “Idrys” Shannon & Lance “Lance Fury” Powlis
Additional Engineering by Amond “AJ” Jackson for Salem Psalms Library
Additional Vocals by Garnett “Natti” Bush & Jason Coffey
Scratches by Kenny “DJ FlipFlop” Vanderberg
Contains samples from:
“Black Diamonds” by Natti