Her name is Duanna Johnson, and she is yet another victim of police brutality. Memphis police were caught on tape brutally assaulting her. What was it about her that triggered such a brutal reaction? Duanna operates with many factors of social stigmatization, she is a prostitute, black, and transexual, these aforementioned categories work to create Duanna as other, and less than in our society. Even the news report that detailed the assault continually referred to her as a transexual, and a prostitute as though her gender identity, and occupation were the only defining characteristics of her person. To the world at large women like Duanna are perceived as a threat because they blur our binary understanding of gender. Masculinity has much invested in maintaining strict gender roles.
The police officers in question allegedly referred to her as a he/she. For patriarchy to remain in its position of power, it is necessary to silence voices that dispute the singularity of gender identification. By disavowing traditional patriarchal masculinity, and asserting an identity of her own choosing Duannas body became the symbol upon which male aggression attempted to stake its claim on the ability to transcend the limits of social construction. If masculinity were no longer hegemonic, it would disturb the current power structure that we now live under. Her beating ultimately was a punishment for her betrayal.
Why is this a womanist issue? Duanna identifies as female and she is black, but beyond that the larger implications involve social justice. Regardless of race, class or gender no person deserves to beaten. We must begin to hold our social institutions accountable when they violate our human rights. We must hold our so-called black leadership accountable when they do not speak out against issues like this. Were this the case of a black man being beaten by white police officers, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would already have organized some kind of protest, or made a statement vilifying these officers for their behavior. But Duanna is a pariah to these men, as though somehow her gender identification has stripped her, of her black identity. The black male patriarchy though negotiating race is equally invested in retaining male privilege, and power. To claim Duanna as one of ours, would threaten our understanding of race and gender. Historically the black community has silenced people that are gay, trans or bi, as if by disavowing membership we can claim that these communities are not a part of our diversification. What our leaders fail to realize is that in diversification, there is power. When we accept those amongst us, who society has chosen to cast asunder we not only strength our selves as a people, we give legitimacy to the claim that all we seek is equality. You cannot stand for equality, and turn your back on injustice because the victim challenges your idea of normalcy. Duanna represents one of the most vulnerable members of our society, and if we cannot in good conscience recognize the need to protect her, who then is worthy to be sheltered from the storm of male patriarchal violence that has run amok in our society.