CeCe McDonald’s fight is every black woman’s fight

CeCe McDonald

To be honest, I planned to write a post in support of CeCe McDonald months ago. But, I never got around to it. Now, I can’t ignore her plight any longer.

In case you aren’t aware, the CeCe McDonald case goes back nearly two years.

She was sentenced to 41 months in a case in which she was attacked by a group of white folks who shouted racial and transphobic slurs to McDonald and her friends as they walked by a bar in Minnesota. McDonald approached the group and demanded they cease with their hateful remarks, but a white woman in the group (the instigator Molly Shannon Flaherty) approached McDonald and smashed a glass bottle into her face. The fight continued until Dean Schmitz was stabbed and later died of his wounds.

The young woman’s case has no doubt struck a nerve, particularly among those long committed to ensuring trans women of color are no longer marginalized or erased in the GLBTQ rights movement. While a few blogs and niche news outlets have written about the case, it unfortunately remains mostly unknown in mainstream circles.

What few mainstream outlets that have picked up the story report on it in such a poor manner that I’d wished they didn’t even bother (LA Times making it a point to note she was born a man in the first two paragraphs of the story as an example).

CeCe McDonald and her friends were victims of a hate crime and acted out of self-defense. And they are paying for it because they had the audacity to defend their right to be free of harassment brought on by white, cis, straight instigators.  And McDonald is having to pay for her stance in a justice system that not only refused to house her in a women’s prison, but one that also has made no secrets about its lust to lock up black and brown bodies.

Anyone committed to social justice should be nothing short of outraged and appalled by the CeCe McDonald case. And as a black woman committed to social justice, my conscience won’t let me ignore McDonald as it serves as yet another example of how black women’s actions and bodies continue to be policed by whiteness.

CeCe McDonald’s case magnifies what it means to be a black woman in this country: fair game to degrade, shame and humiliate without regard to our personhood or having to suffer the consequences. Black women are not allowed the autonomy to freely go about our daily lives without the threat of harassment and outright violence. And, as we all know, those threats can come from white men, black men and white women (mostly when they are in groups of white and black men).

The legal system’s mistreatment of CeCe McDonald highlights the triple jeopardy black trans women face in the daily threats of racialized homophobic and transphobic violence.

CeCe McDonald’s case spells out that it doesn’t get better for some within the GLBTQ community. CeCe McDonald is one of many trans men and women who continue to be left behind by some in the movement who are solely focused on marriage equality. While the march towards marriage equality is one that can’t be labeled as insignificant, it can’t be the end-all, be-all towards full-fledge equality. There are many trans women and men who still face employment, housing and financial discrimination just for not conforming to cisgender norms. We can’t turn a blind eye from the need to strengthen and, in most cases, expand hate crime protections for those who are trans or intersex to all 50 states and American territories.

Social justice activists, particularly black folks, need to rally around CeCe McDonald in the same vain we’ve all rallied around the family and supporters of Trayvon Martin. His murder at the hands of George Zimmerman is no different from the injustice thrown at McDonald in that both racism and transphobia operate in tandem to keep marginalized bodies from complete self-actualization in our racist imperialist capitalist patriarchal society.

In the “There is No Hierarchy of Oppression” speech, Audre Lorde said, “Any attack against black people is a lesbian and gay issue, because I and thousands of other black women are part of the lesbian community. Any attack against gays and lesbians is a black issue, because thousands of lesbians and gay men are black.” While she didn’t directly address trans men and women, the spirit of the statement remains the same.

Any attack against a marginalized group should be viewed as an attack on all groups under the oppression of white, capitalist, cis straight male norms. Any call to dismantle, rollback or further restrict the rights guaranteed to marginalized bodies should be seen as an attack on the livelihood of all people in the fight towards complete social justice. Just as black women have cried foul in Trayvon Martin’s shooting death and George Zimmerman’s defense and behavior, we need to share that same outrage in McDonald’s plight. We can’t afford rally around one type of victim while ignoring another because he or she isn’t the prototypical victim.

We can’t continue to prop up one victim’s cause while demeaning and ignoring another as it perpetuates white cis heterosexual patriarchal norms (norms that maintains its power) that sets standards of who is worthy of recognition.