My mom taught me and my sisters the important things — there is literally no use in crying over spilt milk. Microwaves can be used to bake cakes. We do not have to rely on men for stability. Education comes first, but knowledge isn’t always from the institution. And, brown women are powerful, but we must work harder to be recognized as such. I remember watching her talk, holding nothing back. She had this grace with her words, raw and unfiltered. I understood her to be the most powerful woman in the world.
She taught me that self-love, assurance and power was possible. If I could understand the systems of oppression (white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism) that I live under, I would understand what I am working up against in the world. My mother knew that her words would be policed by those around her, but if she was unbothered, the world would learn to make room for her at the dinner table.
The “negative bitch” trope is real, though: women who are too loud, women who are too much, women who are aggressive.
As a brown, transgender woman, I have taught myself to love the way my brown skin flows around my trans body and how both hold up my womanhood. Learning my intersections also has taught me the things I cannot escape; the racialization and gendering of my existence is one of these unavoidable feats.
“Free Speech Week” and the hypermilitarization of the campus highlighted those intersections, triggering traumas from my past.
As a formerly homeless student with parents who have abused substances, my relationship with the police state is strained. Throughout the six years my family was homeless, we experienced intimidation when moving from motel to motel from police officers. My family was repeatedly humiliated by police officers and threatened with arrest when we were simply trying to survive.
As Sproul Plaza filled with hundreds of armed police officers during Free Speech Week, I remembered the officers who were sent by motel owners to forcibly remove my family from our rooms. As I made my way through the barricades, I relived visiting my family members in prison.
Student communities on campus share parallel perspectives. Black students also continue to be vocal that the increased militarization of police officers on campus directly threatens their safety and well-being. The very existence of Black and brown students on campus is portrayed as aggressive, and so are the words we use to advocate for ourselves.
But when conversations within the ASUC shifted toward Free Speech Week, the firm opinions voiced by myself and other Black and brown women senators continue to be viewed as excessively aggressive.
When we discussed the support we need for community members, our demands were met with hesitation; this is similar to when we demand the limiting of police presence on campus for our own safety or the increase in representation of Black and brown women in leadership.
I have learned that Black and brown aggressive women are not conducive to the world white men (and white women) envisioned. We are glitches in the machine that upholds masculine (and white feminist) domination.
The words of women of color are held up to expectations far beyond what is fair.
My mom would tell us, “The boys want a powerful girl, but also a girl who’ll bow down when told. The world doesn’t even know how to deal with women who know their worth.”
They want you to be “that bitch,” but not “a bitch.”
For Black and brown women, the use of “aggressive” as a descriptor is coded language, coming from a place of attempted intimidation. This is rooted in anti-Blackness that Black women in particular experience at the intersections of their Blackness and womanhood.
The act of gaslighting women, or trying to convince us we are simply overreacting to a situation, allows for others to secure their power. This is racialized violence. Highlighting transgender women’s aggression is also an attempt to align trans women with violent masculinity.
Speaking from experience as a brown trans woman, my work for justice is often parallel to challenging systems and institutions that have historically targeted people like me. This usually means initiating uncomfortable conversations that highlight the oppressive dynamics of my peers.
This is because the liberation of women (and people) of color requires the dismantling of systems that have upheld power for centuries — not something those of privilege take lightly.
So my point? Stop calling women “bitches” for speaking their mind. We must act with assertion when the violence against our bodies itself is aggressive. We must uplift the voices of Black and brown women and stop the policing of their decisions. It is not enough to remain quiet as we watch others belittle women. Passive allyship is not enough. We must support and love our people, with an emphasis for Black and brown women. We must listen to the voices of Black and brown women and understand them.
Appreciate the aggression; it is centuries of pain and love flowing out of our mouths. Learn from her. She is strength. You are welcome.
Juniperangelica is an ASUC Senator and an organizer with the Transgender Law Center. This is the first in a series of weekly contributed columns on race.