“Justice is what love looks like in public.”
Cornel West’s profound statement from his Harvard University sermon could not have been said more perfectly. Equality can only be infiltrated by understanding the varying degrees of oppression and privileges that all individuals have. The point is not for a person to blame another or a certain group of individuals for the way social construction has shaped them, but to help them see the way things are for those who are oppressed. It is important for us as individuals in a diverse social system to see the maltreatment all people may experience to cause them to act a certain way. No one is without privilege, and everyone experiences discrimination in some form.
Linked above is a speech done by Laverne Cox, where she takes her own approach to the topic of street harassment and incorporates Cornel West’s ideals. She is an American actress best known for her role as Sophia Burset in Orange Is The New Black. She is an LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual queer or questioning) community advocate. Laverne Cox has experienced discrimination in many forms; she is black and she is also transsexual. Transsexual and transgender people challenge the biological gender they were assigned at birth, believing that they have been assigned incorrectly (Aulette and Wittner 45). In this video, she speaks of her street-harassment experience with two males who had catcalled her while she was crossing the street. She, among many transsexual women, is victim to the street harassment that many transwomen experience. Although cisgender women – cisgenders being individuals who identify with their assigned gender — also frequently experience street harassment, statistics show that trans people are more likely to be harassed and to a more violent degree (“What Is Street Harassment?”). Laverne says, and I quote “Our lives are often in danger, simply for being who we are when we are transwomen.” She also mentions how she is harassed for being black, on top of the hate she has experienced for being transsexual.
Laverne Cox, being a coloured transwoman in America, represents a large group of trans people whose voices often go unheard, even within the LGBTQ community. I agree tremendously with the unique approach she takes in explaining the intersectionality between racism and transphobia. Intersectionality is the crosscutting and connection between different identities such as race, class, sexuality, and gender (Aulette and Wittner 9-10). With reference to her own experience, Laverne acknowledges how many of her harassment encounters have been men of colour, and why that might have been so. Laverne explains how the post-traumatic stress from the history of slavery and Jim Crowe laws that many black people endured in America could be a contributing factor to the way black men have acted towards her, noting that they see her as the embodiment of the oppression and emasculation that most black men work to overcome today. Oppression is the exercise of inequality through domination of one supposedly more superior or privileged group over another (Aulette and Wittner 9-10) and is experienced by all people, as Laverne has proven. What I appreciated most from Laverne’s story is how she has learned to see past peoples’ antagonistic ways and acknowledged that everyone experiences privileges and oppressions at their own varying degrees.
Laverne also addresses the topic of bullying in schools, and how children who do not conform to society’s gender binary are thought of as different and often marginalized for this. Gender binary is the traditional ideology of there being only two definite and distinct genders, male (male-masculinity) and female (female-femininity) with no in-between (“Gender Socialization”). Views on social concepts, especially gender and sexuality, are social constructions, which are taught to all of us from an early age. “There is no gender or sexuality – just bodies – before they are socially constructed” by power systems to maintain social norms (Aulette and Wittner 3). It is obvious that these gender binaries intersect with other forms of hate crime such as homophobia, which is the devaluation of anything feminine, such as being a stereotyped gay male or a stereotyped “butch” lesbian (Aulette and Wittner 117).
Intersectionality is proof that prejudice on the streets, in school systems and any other social environment does not only affect one group of people. Everyone that can identify with any social group can be both a victim to discrimination and directly or indirectly the oppressor to another group, a systemic conflict that is very hard to fix because people continue to be violent towards one another for differences they cannot control.
Now, going back to Laverne’s interpretation of justice and love. How can we achieve justice until we learn to love one another beyond our differences? This in no way justifies discrimination that one may face, but it is important to consider this mentality. Blaming and reciprocated hate may be just as damaging as prejudice itself. The aim should be for people to educate one another and for individuals to continually acknowledge where they stand with their privileges, advantages and disadvantages. It is true that the past can never be erased, and I don’t think it should be. The racism and sexism that our relatives and friends of the yesterday have experienced should always be acknowledged and learned from. However, it is up to us as individuals to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and actively work together to make sure that the past does not repeat itself.
Aulette, Judy R., and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009-12. Print.
“Gender Socialization.” 20 Jan 2014. Web. Mar 8 2015.
“What is Street harassment?” Stop Street Harassment. Web. 6 Mar 2015.