Brother to Brother

A letter to us, by me.

Dear Sweet Brothers,

I have been feeling very frustrated lately being a part of this group. Really not even wanting to claim yall it all. This is abnormal because I LOVE LOVE LOVE Black men. I want to be clear about that. I have had some issues with some of the Black men that have been in my life. I have also made some of my absolute best memories with some of the most amazing humans this Earth has ever known who also happened to be Black men. My grandfather who we called “Paw-Paw” was always sharp. He would wear these alligator skin cowboy boots that had gold plated tips. I remember his barber style shirts and linen pants. He wore gold nugget matching watch, earrings and ring. My first fashion inspiration. He loved his family, bought me my first bike and my first pair of tapered Guess! Jeans with the bows coming up the back of my ankles. There are so many stories of loving uncles and caring cousins, best friends, lovers, and comrades who have made my life tremendously better by being in it.

I came out as a trans man to most of my friends and family in January of 2015. I had lived a pretty non-binary (not really feminine or masculine) life for the majority of my life, but I didn’t identify as trans until then. I came out as a lesbian at a very young age. I felt firsthand what it felt to be treated like a Black woman in the south. I knew of women being killed by the police. I had heard of stories of police brutality against women. I read so many books written by queer revolutionaries speaking about homophobia and understood my oppression to be intersectional. Meaning that I knew what it felt like to be black, to be gay and to be treated as a woman. But in 2012, when Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman, his murder is what catalyzed my involvement in social justice. When I saw Trayvon’s face, I saw my own little cousins faces. 700 hundred people came to a rally in memorial to Trayvon in 2012. In Chattanooga, TN! I was convinced that we would change the world and that for once ALL Black people would fight for our collective liberation together. That this movement was evolving and that it was safe for all of us.

This past week, we found out about three Black women who died at the hands of state sanctioned violence. Korryn Gaines, Skye Mockabee, and Joyce Quaweay. I’m a national organizer, which means I am on a lot of listservs. I expected to be inundated with emails with questions on what to do or being invited to something that someone else was organizing. Just a few weeks ago three Black men had died in the same way. Jerry Williams, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I comforted so many of my sisters during that time. They were so heart broken. A lot of my closest friends where trying to finish working on the Movement for Black Lives Platform, while organizing national days of action. Really trying to use a plurality of tactics to ensure the liberation of all Black people. In the midst of trying to hold all of that, so many of them reached out to me and many other Black men. They understood how the deaths of these men would make us feel and they took care of me. There were actions across the nation with thousands of participants in marches and rallies. The media was all over everything that was going on. Even presidential candidates and the actual president mentioned what was going on. But when these Black women died, my line was quiet.

But what I DID hear, was Black men complaining that they didn’t see themselves enough in the document. Which I found hilarious because Black women and femmes are the most erased in movement and in history. So even if it was true that they didn’t center Black Non Trans Straight men in the document (which it isn’t), it would be totally understandable and justified. Because newsflash, the universe actually doesn’t center around you and your experience. I know that that is a hard pill to swallow.

I only recently started to understand how behaviors that come so naturally to me are actually deeply based in patriarchal themes. But just because you don’t mean to do something, doesn’t make it hurt less. We say “intent doesn’t change impact”. So this is not a judgement. I am not assuming that you don’t love Black women. I know you do. Even when you don’t know you do. You would not exist without Black women. And not just those who birthed you. You have knowledge bone deep in you that tells you how much you need Black women. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make mistakes. And even if it isn’t intentional, it can be sexist.

In a moment that Black women and femmes videos and reading stories about their sisters being killed, AND noticing that the very folks that had sacrificed their lives, relationships and sanity fight for, weren’t the streets rioting in their names. At that moment some of you decided that the best way to fill the poisonous silence was to criticize whatever you thought were ideas that weren’t credited to Black men. That showed up with critiques from styles of leading a march all the way to the way Korryn Gaines decided to fight for her freedom. Some of you complained about a platform that was created with so much care and tenderness and anger and sadness and hope with ALL Black people in mind. It is so hurtful to watch people who you would take a bullet for, complain because they see themselves in something because they have to share. There is no scarcity of resources. There is enough Black love for everyone.

But there are some Black men who do get it. Some of them movement elders, some brand new and some in between and we are getting it right. Really leaning in and following Black women’s leadership. They are finding ways to redefine masculinity so that we can practice something less toxic and find ways to dismantle patriarchy. I know and love many of these men. They are my brothers and uncles and comrades and nephews. Making a political choice to not being a sexist is a constant commitment to shifting forces of power. If you are not using your energy to shift the power in the favor of Black women and femmes then you are not actively being anit-sexist. A dear friend of mine always says “you are always practicing something”. I think you understand the implications of this, but I’ll go ahead and say it. If you are not practicing being anit-sexist, you are probably practicing being sexist. Intentional or not.

I know that it feels like sometimes you don’t actually have any power in this white supremacist society. The reality is that even when you are a member of a marginalized group, you can also simultaneously be oppressing someone else. Refusing to believe that that is true or acting like you don’t know how you are impacting people is hurtful and dangerous. So many of my oppressions intersect with one another, that if we drew them out it would resemble a Northeastern US City map. Even with all of the privileges that I don’t have access to, I can still be oppressive to other people. This has been difficult for me to accept. But it is only in accepting it that I have been able to find ways to change my behavior.

I started writing this thinking that I was going to go off on yall. But actually, I love you too much. Our relationship with each other is symbiotic. That means that we literally need each other to survive. I need you to live your best life, in order for me to live my best life. It is my belief that his is also true for you. That is also true for Black women and femmes. And Black immigrants and undocumented folks, disabled Black folks, poor and homeless Black folks, previously incarcerated, Still incarcerated, queer, trans. Every. Single. One. Of. US.

I want to challenge us to do what we know is right. We know that we love Black women and femmes. We know how to love Black women and femmes. Write poems in tribute to them. Write stories about their bravery. Paint murals. Make banners. Organize marches. Give money to women and femme led organizations and businesses. Call your sisters, friends, mothers, comrades. Check on them, let them know you love them and appreciate their service. Follow their leadership. Learn their stories. Do whatever you would do if someone hurt your family. Especially if you know Black women and femmes that would burn it all down in the name of justice for you.

Love your brother,

Cazembe

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