The following letter is one of a series that was read at the #Love4QTPOC Valentine's Day action, organized by queer & trans* activists of color to address the endless flow of violence against our family. This letter was written in honor of Penny Proud, an 21-year old Black trans woman killed in February. We honor hear and all of our stolen family.
We each have been tasked with writing love letters to our stolen queer and trans family of color.
So many lost to violence that we begin to lose track - our hearts break with each loss and we ask ourselves, "another one?" Because we hear about their murders long before we hear about the beauty of their stories; long before they have been able to live - TRULY live - in the fullness of who they are.
Penny Proud, proud Penny. 21 years old. Stolen from us on February 10, 2015, at 1:30AM, from multiple gunshot wounds.
Proud Penny, beautiful Penny, brave Penny...
Penny, Proud and brave enough to live in a world you knew would treat you with the same indifference and disregard as one-cent copper currency - tossed into a jar, forgotten.
Penny, Proud enough to draw breath each and every day in atmosphere poisonous enough to suffocate you.
Penny, Proud and brave enough to be, just be, in a world so capable of breeding hatred.
But oh, Penny, we are full of so much love for you tonight - the same love you've shown to us in every breath you drew on earth and every breath you take beyond our reach.
Proud Penny, brown skin, full lips, full heart - I see you, girl!
And I speak to you - we speak to you - with so much love and admiration.
We are because you were.
We breathe because you breathed - dared to be fierce and beautiful and unapologetically Black and trans and PROUD.
Lourdes says, "Every breath a Black trans woman takes is an act of revolution." Every breath a Black trans woman takes is an act of revolution.
Yes, and also an act of love - where would our revolution be without our capacity to love and accept ourselves? You remind us to do that, Penny.
You remind us to love and cherish ourselves, our bodies, our spirits, each other.
You remind us to shine bright like the fucking diamonds we truly are!
You remind us that love still grows in the most infertile of soil.
You were taken from us too soon.
Tonight, tomorrow, forever - we cherish and love you, sister.
We remember you in the round, heart-shaped faces of every young Black and Brown trans* woman coming into herself against all odds.
We remember you among the iridescent, bright stars of Marsha, and Lamia, and Ty, and Islan, and Goddesses that light our way through the long shadows cast by hate.
We are because you were, Penny.
Proud, and in Love with ourselves.
Blessings, peace, love, Ashe.
The scene: Walnut Creek, CA on Valentine’s Day. Happy white families gather to enjoy their midday meals – an ordinary occurrence in this predominantly white, upper-middle class utopia they have created. Little did they know, their custom brunch was about to be “aggressively” interrupted by a group of Black activists, there to decry the violence faced by their communities at the hands of the police, security officers, and self-appointed vigilantes. Their presence is not at all welcome. Why can’t they just peacefully protest? Why disrupt people’s meals? Why bully and harass innocent patrons and their families? That’s not going to get them what they want. What do they want?
The scene: Walnut Creek, CA on Valentine’s Day. At least 40 Black activists prepare to peacefully occupy local businesses and restaurants. The #BlackBrunch tactic is the same – we enter the business, read off the names of Black people who have been murdered by the police, security officers, or self-appointed vigilantes. Because these are real people to us – sisters, brothers, families, friends, ancestors – that have been murdered with complete impunity. Because we know that our sisters, brothers, parents, homies, lovers – even us – could be next.
We brace ourselves, taking deep breaths in.
We enter space after space – those that we are allowed to. A sea of white faces make their every effort to avoid looking up from salads and gluten-free meals, their faces swelling with discomfort or anger or something else I cannot see because they will not look at me – at any of us.
One white woman plugs her ears as if to block out the names of slaughtered community members as we chant in their honor. Later an older white man snarls at us, throwing the materials we’ve given him onto the ground.
I overhear one white man speaking to his family over our chants: “And they wonder why the police want to shoot them.” I have to fight tears after that one.
There is a scattering of sympathetic eyes from Black and Brown faces – and some white ones as well. They are not sure how to help, but they feel something other than the intense hatred, indifference, or disgust pervading the air of these businesses on this fine, sunny Valentine’s Day.
We leave and some of us are energized, others are tired. I am tired. I go to reflect on what I’ve just seen and felt.
Some nasty articles have surfaced in the past few weeks since the action. Apparently, we harassed people’s children, bullied the innocent patrons who were just trying to enjoy their brunch – among other accusations which are both unoriginal and unsurprising given the scenes I’ve just described.
And you know what? I can understand. People were shocked, and certainly upset and inconvenienced by our presence. Being made to be faced with the murders of Black people when you’ve been dead set on living in the comfort of your tunnel vision is shocking. Hearing the names of people who have been murdered should upset you and your children. Seeing a group of strong, united, powerful Black activists should shock you when you have grown up not having to deal with us. Yes – I could see how all of these things would upset you.
But what have you chosen to be upset about?
The fact that these people cannot look outside of their desire to buy a pair of shears to tend to their white picket fence gardens to ask about – or even consider – the purpose behind our presence – is deeply disturbing to me, no matter how many times I witness it. They are sick with the fog capitalism and racism and their own internalized domination – concerned only with consuming more and more and ignoring anything else. We are not people – merely obstacles.
You are upset because your children are startled. We fear that we will not see our children live full lives because of the threat of violence, systemic poverty, and incarceration. We are upset because our people continue to be gunned down in the streets – their bodies left on the pavement for four, five, six hours.
We want the same things as you – to exist. We want to exist without the constant threat of harassment, violence, profiling, and racism hanging over our heads. We want our minds and hearts to be at ease when we send our children and family members outside of our protective arms. We want to be able to grieve and weep and transform our pain into change. And we want justice for our slaughtered ancestors.
How nice it must be for you to be able to complain about your Valentine’s Day brunch to be interrupted, while not giving a fuck about the genocide that continues to claim the lives of marginalized people in the ongoing cycles bolstered by your indifference.
Lynching used to be the white people’s spectacle “back in the day” – white people had a field day watching Black bodies roped up, cut open, and lit on fire. And now it is silence the noose around our necks – the stares and scowls that scream, “how dare you!?” How dare we protest the slaughter our people face and have always faced.
But let me ask you, white man who is more upset about his brunch being interrupted than our people being murdered by the police – how can we reach you? When will you see us as people?
I can write an article like this, which people will troll on and leave nasty comments anonymously while claiming to our faces to “support the cause” - just so long as it doesn’t disrupt their daily routine. We can go to the police department and demand video surveillance as concerned citizens, which we will of course be denied. We can silently hand out #BlackLivesMatter flyers which you will crumple up in your pocket or toss into the trash bin – just as disposable as Black bodies continue to be in this country.
But oh, if we cut off your supply to that hardware, or dare interrupt your regularly scheduled brunch, you will, without fail, label us as radicals, bullies; as militant, angry, insane savages.
But there is nothing more savage than the complete lack of empathy and humanity we have borne witness to.
How can we reach you?
Her fingertip swirled around the brim of her mother’s coffee cup, informing her that it was, in fact, hot enough and did not need to be reheated.
My sister woke up early every morning before us all – tending to the garden, fixing mama’s breakfast and coffee in some fleeting reach for affection, stealing cherries from the neighbor’s bushes before they came to. Odd one, my little sister.
I never liked her.
One morning I have to pee something serious and hear her tiptoeing around the kitchen – I’ve always had good hearing – and peer my eyes around the corner. She doesn’t notice me, which is usual.
She stands humming some made up melody, her pale feed beneath a stool so she can reach the sugar jar. Her curly good hair is pulled back in two messy French braids, frizzy with her refusal to wrap them up the night before. She hums and hums, swaying – for a second it looks as though she’ll slip, and I almost hope she does, but she hops down from the stool with a light thud and returns her attention to the coffee mug.
One, two, three scoops of sugar she dumps into the mug, stirring each with another sigh of her fabricated tune.
She reaches for the unpasteurized cream – mama only drinks the raw shit – and carefully pours with her left hand while stirring with her right. Humming, stirring, humming, stirring...
She pauses – and here’s the part I love – holds her stirring hand up next to the coffee for comparison beneath the stove light. She stares at the steaming coffee, then her skin, back at the steaming coffee, then back at her skin, and then nods, satisfied with herself.
Just enough cream to make it taste good, I reckon.
musings of a Black, queer and genderqueer activist, educator, musician.