I was sitting on the fifth floor of Tufte, drowning in my thoughts with a wet face. It was impossible for me to accept the homicide of Mike Brown as a fixed reality. It was even more difficult for me to believe the grand jury’s decision to not indict Police Officer Darren Wilson.
I took to the streets the next day, marching from Roxbury Crossing to ramp I-93 then on to the State House. While on I-93, I stood below the Suffolk County jail. Black shadows overlooked the exodus of people marching for the lives of voiceless ghosts, the nonliving.
My male friend cried as he looked up at the dark figures behind bars, the many victims of America’s New Jim Crow, the American prison industrial complex. In those dark figures he saw a reflection of himself; understanding the line separating enslavement and freedom is thin and fickle.
The crowd was met by a wall of police. Everyone pushed. Someone on a megaphone ordered us to break through the wall as we all jammed together. The front of the crowd peeled away as officers took protestors away. I later learned forty-five arrests were made that night, half of whom were women. The crowd pushed on, symbolically fighting an aggression greater than this wall.
My concentration broke as my girl friend raised her voice, “Someone just grabbed my ass!”
I was stunned. Why would anyone sexually violate another person during a protest? I was torn between pushing forward and stopping. My friend kept on saying, “What the fuck, someone just grabbed my ass!”
A girl slanted her eyes in our direction and fired back with a “Cool it.” Another black woman indirectly responded to my friend, yelling into the air, “It’s really not that serious, we’re all pushing up on each other!”
Here I was, in the middle of a crowd on I-93, rolling my eyes at the blaring red and blue lights, enraged by the walls that were beginning to multiply. I was Black and a woman, and neither identity had ever felt so real and concrete.
I believed (and still believe) my friend when she said she had been groped. I don’t think anyone “accidentally” groped her nor do I believe she fabricated this lie for some spotlight. Of course it was crowded and people were pushing against each other. However, it is usually in these crowded spaces (trains, concerts, etc.) where these aggressions occur, and it is an act of protest for anyone to call out or stand against that sort of invasion.
I was posed with the question: Was I to keep on marching or leave a place where a brown woman’s body was not safe?
Regrettably, we decided to protest for another ten minutes until the turbulence between the officers and demonstrators became violent. I know other Black women have experienced being groped during protests. Even within marginalized spaces, oppression still exists. Huey Newton is noted as a hero in the Black Panther Party. I have seen countless millennials sporting Free Huey Newton T-shirts. Newton was a vital actor in the Black Panther Party, but his misogynoir should be equally considered. Many women in the Black Panthers reported sexual assault from men also in the party, but those narratives are ignored.
I was isolating my identities, weighing and comparing their importances. I should never have to place my Blackness over my Womanhood. They are interconnected. I can infrequently find spaces where I can be at peace with all of myself. I’m usually compromising one or two of my identities to ease an unsettling assimilation process.
I recently saw a quote on Tumblr saying, “If you’re pro-black, but anti-gay you don’t want equality, you want privilege.” Not fighting for all Black lives translates to not fighting for any Black life. When Black folks practice misogynoir, queer antagonism, and classism, it can be just as hurtful–or even more painful–than racism.
I understand solidarity is hard as hell and Black folks are as diverse and complicated as the many spectrums of color in sunlight. But, it is important for cis Black women to fight for the lives of trans Black women, similarly to how straight Black men need to respect Black women. All of our struggles cannot be compartmentalized; they are all related and non-exclusive.
Alexandria Ellison is a 3rd year Political Communications B.A. candidate from Massachusetts.