Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Is it a hate crime if they did not know she was transgendered?

I am a 36 year old disabled woman who has been variously labeled "fat", "crazy", and "a hippie weirdo." I now try to embrace labels that others use in an attempt to "shame" me into being someone more "acceptable". I am passionate about issues of race/racism, criminal (in)justice, fat acceptance, and mental health advocacy. I blog at My Name Is JuJuBe and I am on the team at The Intersection of Madness and Reality

A few days ago, a video went viral on the internet. It was recorded at a McDonald’s restaurant in Baltimore, and showed two young Black women assaulting a white woman while employees stood around watching. There was no context provided as to what, if anything, provoked the assault, but it was a brutal beating that resulted in the white woman on the floor having a seizure. It was very violent, but rather typical of the sort of video that has been so popular since the advent of the youtube craze.
As expected, immediately, white people jumped in to decry this as a hate crime, because of the different races involved. Predictably, there were racial epithets thrown around, and the attackers were derided as “typical” examples of their race. Even though there was no mention of the race of the victim during the attack, and, in my opinion, the attack seemed to have some impetus behind it that had nothing to do with race at all, immediately, the cries about how “white people are victims of hate crimes more than anyone else” began.

Shortly after the video surfaced, it was discovered that the victim was transgendered. So, the focus went from this being a Black on white hate crime to it being a transphobic hate crime. Now, considering that fact that the girls in the video never mentioned gender as an issue, and did not seem to use any transphobic speech during the attack, I still have doubts about whether this was, in fact, a hate crime. During the video, the only comments I heard that indicated that anyone was aware that the victim was transgender came from an observer that seemed out of earshot of the perpetrators.
So, I am really confused here. The victim was interviewed, and on camera, she never indicated that the attackers knew that she was transgendered. As I suspected, the attack was based on the perception that she was flirting with the boyfriend of one of the teen perpetrators. So, while I think that this was a horrible attack, and I think that it was awful that so many people stood around and watched instead of helping the victim out, I still have to wonder how this becomes a hate crime.
The initial reports indicated that the woman was assaulted because she was using the women’s bathroom and the attackers were angry because they thought she did not belong in there as a transgender individual. But, the victim herself seems to indicate otherwise. It seems like the attack was actually provoked by jealousy, and seems unrelated to her identity as a transgendered woman.
Now, I have to wonder if everyone is so quick to judge this as a transphobic hate crime because they two perpetrators are young Black women, and Black people are seen as uniquely biased when it comes to gender identity issues. I also wonder how many white people would be quick to dismiss charges of transphobia if they watched the same exact video except with white attackers and a Black transgendered victim.
Maybe I am missing something in the video. I will be the first to admit, I really know next to nothing about the issues surrounding transgender men and women. I sincerely would like to start a dialogue regarding this video. Do you feel that this was a transphobic hate crime? If the perpetrators were not, in fact, aware that their victim was transgendered, is it still a hate crime? Or is this a case of people wanting to pin the label “hate crime” on an attack that was motivated by jealousy simply because the victim was white and the perpetrators were Black?