Like most of Black America, I spent the past few days scrolling a newsfeed full of commentary about the Breakfast Club and their controversial comments about transgender women. I engaged in combative conversations and debates with other Black people regarding transgender women and whether or not they had an obligation to share their personal information with people they date. I, of course, was on the side of “it's none of your business.” Trans lives matter and trans people have a right to self-determination, self-definition, and self-worth.
And I know all these things but, if I'm honest, my fiery rhetoric really wasn't about just me standing up for the transgender community; there was a bit of ego in it. See, it feels really good to be on the side of progress and to very clearly state publicly that I am not transphobic. So I enthusiastically and publicly called out the transphobic folks who were very vocal, "ignorant,” and non-woke. Unlike me, the enlightened and progressive one, as they wrote their hate talk.
Man, it felt really, really good to write “bye!” to bigots. The way I felt while angrily typing "trans lives matter" made me feel like I was channeling Martin Luther King as he fought against the segregationists in the South. Yup, I gave myself that much credit for replying to Facebook comments on multiple “less-woke” Black folks’ posts.
And as I sat patting myself on the back for being so enlightened, I had that uncomfortable feeling in my gut. After some reflection, I realized that I actually didn't "do" anything. What I did was very surface-level defending people’s right to be. Defending their rights only on Facebook does not make me an ally to the transgender community. I'm not Nobel Peace Prize Dr. King; I am Nobel Peace Prize Barack Obama: all words, no action.
Because the truth is, like most people who label themselves “allies” to communities they are not a part of, I DIDN’T ACTUALLY DO ANYTHING DESERVING OF PRAISE OR OF SIGNIFICANCE IN THE LIVES OF THE TRANSGENDER COMMUNITY. I didn’t feel good because I was doing good; I felt good, because commenting publicly made me feel superior to others.
More enlightened and informed.
They were bigots; I am a Progressive.
And it felt good, because I publicly posted, where people can see just how much of an “ally I am to the Transgender community.” It was a great “public” display—to people I already know on Facebook—of how "progressive" and "accepting" I am. All that was missing was my golden halo of Black Progressive Savior of Transgender Folks. It’s just like the one White people wear in every movie where they teach inner-city POC.
But what is vital to remember, is that although it did make me feel good about the transgender community to write my support, those words did nothing to address the very real obstacles that people in the transgender community face. And those very real issues require me to do more then just comment on Facebook correcting someone use of pronouns or defending the right of the transgender community to keep private their privates.
Being an ally requires me to engage in action. Real action, like advocating for supportive laws and policies, supporting transgender arts and, most importantly, learning from the transgender community how I can help. Even though I know the right, politically correct words to say, and even though saying the right words to bigots make me feel like I was a good person, ultimately, I know words without deeds are useless.
If I really want to be an ally, I need to do something.
And doing something is more than simply having decent human courtesy.
Human decency is verbally affirming people's right to exist on their own terms.
Being an ally requires working to ensure people's right to exist.
Allyship requires action.
And so I'm calling myself out, as a way of, hopefully, engaging all of us to go past words and into actions. I want to be an ally for the transgender community, and that means I need to do something. I don't get ally points for defending people in the comment section. That's just being a decent person. I need to do better; allyship requires action. I need to do something.
List of ACTIONS for REAL Transgender Allies:
ShaRonda Knott Dawson currently resides in the west suburbs of Chicago with her two girls, ages 8 and 4, and her husband, Brian. She received her masters degree from The University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration, with an emphasis on management and public policy. ShaRhonda has over 15 years experience in nonprofit program management. She also has worked over 20 years as a political organizer, focusing on engaging youth, and people of color.