November 17, 2021 - Transgender Remembrance Day
I constantly think about positionality and privilege. I define positionality as “the ascribed value and differentials in power associated with particular social group identities in a given context and how identity constellations operate to influence how we experience the environment, both in terms of how we are treated and how we act upon others.” I have heard privilege described as simply “not needing to know” or as Sacramento State sociology professor Jacqueline Brooks succinctly defines it, “privilege is protection.” I would encourage folks to check out this interview with social psychologist Brian Lowery for a more detailed discussion of privilege. But it is Professor Brooks’ definition of privilege that stays with me. Privilege is protection.
I am a Black man. In Walla Walla and at Whitman my Blackness is particularly salient and the subtle and not-so-subtle anti-blackness and white supremacy operating in the environment is harmful to me. I also acknowledge that while I work with colleagues to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and antiracism at the College, I do so with the benefit of significant protections. I am a cisgender, heterosexual, man with a terminal degree and financial stability. I am not currently disabled. I was born in the United States and I am of average size and height. I am, despite how I may feel about my circumstances or campus climate conditions, awash in privilege.
My positionality and privilege, if uninterrogated, can lead to significant awareness gaps. For example, I may not be attentive to the lack of lighting in a parking lot. I might not think about whether or not a video I want to use in a presentation has captions. But I need to think about these things. We all do. Over the last several years, I have spent more and more time thinking about my cisgender privilege. I have benefited tremendously as someone who was, to borrow Janet Mock’s phrasing, “born a baby,” assigned male at birth, and whose gender identity aligns with that assignment.
As many of us begin to look ahead to next week’s holiday break, we must not ignore November 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance. Transgender Day of Remembrance acknowledges and honors the the memory of transgender people killed in acts of anti-transgender violence. Ollie Taylor. Zoey Rose Martin. Jessi Hart. Rikkey Outumuro. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 46 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been violently killed in 2021. The majority of those killed have been Black or Latinx transgender women.
Since 1999, Transgender Day of Remembrance has been a day to commemorate the lives lost and to call attention to the fact that the transgender community continues to have to fight for “the right to simply exist.” We are currently in the midst of Transgender Awareness Week. Take some time this week to think about how you can advocate for transgender justice and support the transgender people in your life. Familiarize yourself with the rights of transgender people in Washington. Think about your own positionality and privilege. And recognize that some people in our community move through the world constantly under threat of violence, violation, or destruction. Your privilege does not protect you from responsibility.