Listen—you [world] cannot throw black girls away. Black girls are not disposable.
In late November 2012, Sage Smith, a black transgender teen from Charlottesville went missing. I was a third year at a local university and had met Sage, on the back of the bus with her friend, a year before. They told me I was cute, asked if we could take pictures together, and we proceeded to have a full length vogue-style photo shoot. We, fortunately, did not care to entertain the white, cis, students’ judgmental glances at us on the bus and enjoyed the beauty of each other and connection. Sage was proudly trans*/gender queer (with different language) which I would find more about after we became Facebook & Instagram friends. She made it clear that she wasn’t taking shit from anyone that didn’t accept her lifestyle—she was going to live loudly because of, both, the love and hate she received. I had a few more opportunities to see Sage, at clubs or out and about, that year and she was commanding the streets of small town Virginia to the best of her ability. She created a legacy that continues to reverberate through black queers in Central Virginia.
But then, before Thanksgiving, 2012, Sage was gone, missing. Her family, friends, past lovers, community members and activists mobilized with rallies, search parties, and talent contests all in support of finding Sage. However, my university community, the media and major LGBT organizations swiftly silenced and stifled her story out and the same major LGBT organizations—many who look like they are moving towards more regional, trans* and racially inclusive campaigns—that often shout out how it is hard being a black trans* teen in the South, would only use Sage’s story as a profitable/marketable message. They exploited her name, the devastation of her tragedy, and the pain of her loved ones for capital and visibility without caring about her and the fact that she is still missing.
This was one of my continued lessons as someone raised a black girl.
DISPOSABILITY. The capability of being thrown away after being used or used up.
The same world that consumes, exploits and profits off of black girls’ bodies also tries its hardest to throw them away. The same world that relies on black girls bodies for non-profit messaging will try to dispose of them. The same world that needs black girls to exist tries to maintain black girls’ social status via their ability to be taken away and become (n)one-liners in public discourse.
In early March 2014, Relisha Rudd, an 8 year old from D.C., went missing. This time, I was a “young professional” working at a D.C. non-profit that focuses on economic justice. Relisha and her family stayed at a DC General Hospital, a shelter less than 3 miles from my office. We never had the chance to meet, but her braids in the pictures that circulate remind me of the braids that plaited the scalp of my 8 year old self, of my little cousins, of the young girls I see riding the bus with their caretakers every morning. Loud and proud braids. Whenever I see black, teen-aged girls reading, laughing, arguing, and doing vogue-style photo shoots on the back of the bus, the white folks usually stiffen up, hold on, tightly, to their “understated” purses and brown leather messenger bags. They direct their glances like eviction notices to these girls.
Relisha Rudd is still missing and groups of volunteers continue to lead major efforts to find her. The local major news source (a national news source) has quietly (but LOUDLY) and quickly cycled her out. She, Sage, I, and the hundreds of family members, volunteers and community leaders know that national news sources, police departments and [others] stop looking for black girls because “m*f* never loved us.”
With that backdrop, I came across a Facebook post from a friend in mid-April detailing that more than 250 (possibly more than 300) school girls between the ages of 15 and 17 years old were kidnapped from a village in Northeast Nigeria. The girls were students at the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School. Protesters on both sides of the Atlantic have turned to government, major NGOs, nonprofits, and each other, looking for solace, action and response. Black women, especially, have tried to keep this story in the news. Others have used this as an opportunity to support the narrative of western education for girls, to validate U.S. imperialism and invasion—but I am not writing this for those people.
I am writing this for those who have gone missing, who know someone who has gone missing, or who support efforts that sustain the critical work after you [black girl] are no longer (or ever was) a front page story. I am writing this for everyone who is doing the most to make sure that black girls are no longer seen as disposable. I am writing this for Sage, Relisha, and all of those girls in Northeast Nigeria. I am writing this for those womyn protesting in Abuja. I am writing this to make sure that someone, anybody, knows that black girls are not disposable. Black trans* girls are more than a new messaging point for big LGBT organizations, they are more than fishing hooks for dollars and publicity. Black girls from the city are more than a glossy brochure picture for a nonprofit. Black girls are more than flat faces on posters to teach grade school in the “developing world.”
I am writing this to make sure that you [world] know that you cannot throw black girls away—they are not disposable. Black girls’ family, friends, caretakers, supporters, and Black girls, ourselves, will continue to make sure of that.
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Shaka is a young black transboi passionate about playing scrabble with their grandma, R&B and helping movements towards liberation. They currently live in DC but long to return to their bible thumping, Rustbelt Midwest origins.