Intersecting Oppressions at an Intersection in New York City

After having recently watched the beautiful black trans actress Laverne Cox (famous for her debut on the hit Netflix series, Orange Is The New Black) describe her own experiences with street harassment, my understanding of the term intersectionality has greatly expanded. She is the first person who I have seen effectively and personally connect with her audience to address the intersecting identities and oppressions that she, among many other black trans women, has faced. Cox first explains a certain instance in which she had to silence herself at a crosswalk. Two men on the street approached her and began arguing about her racial and gender identity. Her black trans body became an object of their game. They could not agree on a label that suited their comfort level, so instead of quitting there, one of the men (appearing to be Latino) approached her and said, “You’re not an ‘n-word’ are you?” while the other man (appearing to be black) assured his friend that she is, while refusing his suggestion of her being a ‘b-word’.

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On the surface, most educated people would understand that such a conversation is riddled with oppression. To begin with, these men believed they were entitled to have an opinion on Laverne’s gender identity and expression. Their chosen derogatory words made them out to appear gender normative and heterosexual. Because of this, their interaction with Laverne came from a place of cisgender privilege, wherein they believed they had a place to pass judgment about her sexual and gender identities. Moreover, they scrutinized her black body with the use of extremely inappropriate language. Cox goes on to explain that most of the oppression she faces on the street, comes from black male bodies. At first, many would be offended by her apparent lack of solidarity for her fellow black people. Yet, she explains, ” I believe that a lot of black folks feel that there is this historic emasculation that has been happening in white supremacy of black male bodies. I think a lot of black folks dealing with a lot of post-traumatic stress see trans, my trans women’s body, and feel that I’m the embodiment of this historic emasculation come to life,” (Cox, 2014).

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Through this explanation, I began to grasp the roots of not only the oppression that Laverne faces every day, but oppressive systems in general. She goes on to explain her belief that people who oppress, are suffering from their own forms of pain therefore, try to release it by passing it on to others. She addresses Cornell West’s quote that reads, “Justice is what love looks like in public”. This shows her strength, as she has chosen to address the privileged and oppressed forces acting against her in an extremely inclusive way. Her message remains powerful for everyone; rather than trying to approach this topic from a stop oppression standpoint, she approaches it from a place that urges people everywhere to start justice. She does not exclude others from her conversation, just because of her unique positionality. She should be highly commended for her way with words and the power behind her messages as they leave her lips to be released into a society that is overwhelmed with white supremacy, heteronormativity, patriarchy and the limitations of the gender binary model.

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From a critical point of view, her speaking from a personal place makes it difficult for her to directly address her privilege as an able-bodied member of the upper class. So she has not covered all of the bases. Her media and film/television exposure in itself is a huge privilege for a body like hers in this day and age. She has been pedestalled by the racialized members of the LGBTQ+ community. So, some may argue that she did not take advantage of her exposure for bigger picture issues and perspectives. However, with an opportunity like this, I believe she made the necessary decisions in order for her message to reach as many people as possible. She kept it inclusive enough to remain personal, rather than speaking on behalf of groups she with which she cannot identify. As the existence of trans people becomes more widely recognized in North America, I believe that speeches like this will address the intersecting nature of oppressions from a more complex and challenging angle. As a figurehead of bodies like her own, she ensures to mention the stories of Islan Nettles and Amanda Milan. And for this, I recognize her efforts to remain objective. Her words do not suggest she is looking for pity. She is speaking from her heart, in order to promote love and inclusion.

– The Funky Phoenix

Works Cited:

Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” Everyday Feminism. N.p., 07 Dec. 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2015. <http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/laverne-cox-intersection-what-to-do/&gt;.

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3 thoughts on “Intersecting Oppressions at an Intersection in New York City

  1. After watching Lavrene Cox’s video I was appalled to what some of her interactions with other civilians are on a day to day basis. I do not know what I would do if someone came up to me and debated if I was the n word or the b word on the street in front of public I would be humiliated. Yet, Laverene is a strong independent women who experiences theses events daily. To her it’s normal. But we need to think, is it really fair for her to be harassed just walking to the grocery store, while someone like me can walk anywhere or go to the bathroom without being harassed or questioned. It is not fair that some have privilege to freedom, while others are limited to it. Living in a Western society, we are suppose to be living in a world of freedom, where we can make our own decisions.
    I could imagine being a black transgender women in a western society may be tough , although instead of hiding away from harassment and judgment from people, Laverne has the courage to speak her mind , and speak up for transgender women. Of course it may be hard for people to comply with her as she is speaking from an upper class, as you said her speaking from a personal place makes it difficult for her to directly address her privledge as an able-bodies of the upper class. I totally agree with this statement as well as your next few statements. The breakthrough of having transgender women on shows such as orange is the new black is huge in the TV industry. You would have never seen a black transgender women on television twenty years ago. Yet instead of taking the fame to her head, Laverne is allowing her fame raise awareness to the discrimination put of the LGTBQ community. I agree that she kept it inclusive enough to rmain personal, rather than speaking on behalf of groups that she cannot identify with. This is important step for Laverne. As if she were to speak for those who she does not identify with she may create problems in the LTGBQ and her message or awareness of discrimination against these minorities would not be as powerful.
    You also prove a good point that with more awareness or speeches like this will address the intersecting nature of oppressions from a more complex and challenging angle. I hope that more awareness of discrimination against LGTBQ communities reaches the majority of the public. With this, we may see a change in the way we act towards this minority group, and in turn see equality among everyone no matter ones sexual orientation.

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  2. As I was reading, I noticed that your post has helped improve my understanding of this topic. I liked how you said that Laverne Cox effectively managed to address her audience regarding the harassment that she has faced in an intersectional way. While her experiences may be given a different merit based on her position within popular media, it’s a very important issue to address, and I feel as if her fame and her urge to address these issues is very important. I believe that she is someone who is a deserving role model, and is working to use the power that she possesses to create positive changes within the world.
    You mentioned how the two harassers in the incident that Laverne mentions could not settle on a word that fit their comfort level. I find this to be so infuriating. Those of us who are extremely privileged should not find something to increase our comfort level at the expense of others, but should instead seek to act in a way that will not leave those at a disadvantage feeling uncomfortable. Otherwise the privileged are exploiting the power they are given at the sake of others.
    I also enjoyed how you pointed out that they feel as if they have the right to express their opinions and pass judgement on her body, as I had not considered it in that way before.
    The way in which Laverne tries to justify the discrimination she faces is also a very important step – she is not excuses what she experiences or trying to blame anyone, but is trying to understand where these things come from and the underlying issues that contribute to larger issues in modern society. I found that her explanation touched upon our colonial roots and the effect that it had, as well as the power systems that allowed such monstrosities to happen in the past and to continue happening presently. I find this to be very important, as it really puts the issues into context and does not simply blame one person or group of people, but includes other people and the chain of events as well as the ripple effect that occurred as a result.
    I agree with your statement that she presented it all in an inclusive way, and that is such an important thing in order to really get conversation going and to incorporate many people on common, if slightly different, issues.

    Overall I really enjoyed it! I can’t wait to read your next blog!

    ~MeggaPengu

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  3. I really agree that those men’s behavior came from a place of cisgender privilege because as LGBTQ people is still a minority among the society, people who are in the majority group, especially those who are not educated, will take it for granted that they have the rights to harass and discriminate LGBTQ people because they are being “abnormal”. And they don’t have to worry about any punishment and criticize because it’s obvious most of the people in society is cisgender.

    I really love your opinion that “rather than trying to approach this topic from a stop oppression standpoint, she approaches it from a place that urges people everywhere to start justice”. There are too many examples indicating that people who struggled for equality endured lots of pain as a result. The oppression is never easy to stop merely by the struggle from LGBTQ people, however, if the majority people’s awareness of justice is raised, it would be much easier to gain rights for LGBTQ people. Therefore, its really smart for Laverne to do so.

    I also agree that Laverne “didn’t take advantage of her exposure for bigger picture issues and perspectives” because she as a privileged people herself – being a celebrity, she cannot cover all the bases as a normal people. However, the motivation of her speech really helps to tackle the issue since it is because of her popularity, that the topic of equality for LGBTQ people is able to attract more people’s attention.

    Your article really helped me to look deeper in this issue! Great job!

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