“Depression is humiliating. It turns intelligent, kind people into zombies who can’t wash a dish or change their socks. It affects the ability to think clearly, to feel anything, to ascribe value to your children, your lifelong passions, your relative good fortune. It scoops out your normal healthy ability to cope with bad days and bad news, and replaces it with an unrecognizable sludge that finds no pleasure, no delight, no point in anything outside of bed. You alienate your friends because you can’t comport yourself socially, you risk your job because you can’t concentrate, you live in moderate squalor because you have no energy to stand up, let alone take out the garbage. You become pathetic and you know it. And you have no capacity to stop the downward plunge. You have no perspective, no emotional reserves, no faith that it will get better. So you feel guilty and ashamed of your inability to deal with life like a regular human, which exacerbates the depression and the isolation. If you’ve never been depressed, thank your lucky stars and back off the folks who take a pill so they can make eye contact with the grocery store cashier. No one on earth would choose the nightmare of depression over an averagely turbulent normal life.
It’s not an incapacity to cope with day to day living in the modern world. It’s an incapacity to function. At all. If you and your loved ones have been spared, every blessing to you. If depression has taken root in you or your loved ones, every blessing to you, too. No one chooses it. No one deserves it. It runs in families, it ruins families. You cannot imagine what it takes to feign normalcy, to show up to work, to make a dentist appointment, to pay bills, to walk your dog, to return library books on time, to keep enough toilet paper on hand, when you are exerting most of your capacity on trying not to kill yourself. Depression is real. Just because you’ve never had it doesn’t make it imaginary. Compassion is also real. And a depressed person may cling desperately to it until they are out of the woods and they may remember your compassion for the rest of their lives as a force greater than their depression. Have a heart. Judge not lest ye be judged.”—
EVERYONE NEEDS TO READ THIS.
Depression is not a synonym for being sad or having a bad day/bad week.
It’s not a PHASE. It’s not a CHOICE. It’s not LAZINESS.
23-year-old Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, was the victim of a racist and transphobic assault. Now she’s going to prison.
Imagine that you’re taking a late-night walkto the grocery store. As you’re passing a dive bar, a group of White men and women standing outside call you and your friends n@#gers, f@#*ots, chicks with d@#s and suggest that by wearing what you have on, you’re out to rape one of the White men yelling the slurs.
Now, when you inform the bullies that you won’t tolerate their abuse, picture a White woman smashing a glass in your face, which cuts through your cheek and lacerates your salivary gland.
If one of the bullies pulls you toward him in the resulting melee and then receives a fatal stab in the chest with the scissors you’ve taken out of your bag to defend yourself, should you be the only person arrested?
Should you face two counts of second-degree murder and 80 years in prison? Spend a month in solitary confinement? Have your cheek swell to the size of a golf ball due to delayed medical care?
At this point if you’re saying, “This sounds too absurd to be anything but a ‘Law and Order SVU episode,’” consider Minneapolis fashion student Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald. On June 5, 2011, the 23-year-old Black transgender woman defended herself against Dean Schmitz, a 47-year-old White assailant who reportedly bore a Swastika tattoo on his chest. Facing 80 years in prison, she pleaded guilty to manslaughter yesterday. In a post-plea statement, Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman said, “What makes it tragic is one man is dead and another person will spend 41 months in jail.”
Actually what makes “it” tragic—a travesty, in fact—is that CeCe McDonald is being punished for surviving. (Advocates including People.com’s Janet Mock have pointed this out repeatedly over the past year.)
What also makes “it” so tragic is that by last June, McDonald already had an abundance of transphobic violence under her belt. On the site that activists from the Minneapolis-based Trans Youth Support Network created for her, she recalls beatings, racial discrimination and blame:
“I grew up in a community that was predominately African-American people. And with the fact of me just being a minority in this society was bad, being African American and trans is an ultimate challenge. I can remember having loaded guns being put to my head and being beat until bloody. Or walking downs the street and being yelled “ a faggot.” I thought because of their ignorance I decided to change my surroundings. So I moved to a suburban community, which were predominately white people. Then, I remember people grabbing their purses and children, like I was a thief and was going to steal their money and kids, and to still be yelled “queer” or “faggot”, which made me feel upset and that my efforts of leaving one community to another, went without victory.”
Here’s McDonald on a particularly painful bashing where she felt guilty for not “properly” defending herself:
“I remember being harassed everywhere from school to even the people in my own neighborhood. One incident where I came from my local store and being harassed there, but I spoke up for myself and I guess the men didn’t like that. When I walked out the store I was followed and then jumped by 5 guys, all who were in high school while I was only in the 7th grade. And it seemed that when I tried defending myself, [they] retaliated more. I can remember hearing them yell, “Kill that faggot” as they [stomped] and [punched] me. I begged them to stop, but they continued. After they took my money, they ran off leaving me there. No one was there to help me, and I was scared to even move, even though I was only a couple feet from my house. When I walked in the house, my mom asked why it took so long, and then she turned around and noticed that I was bloody and distraught. It hurt me for my mom to have to see me like that. Her reaction was grabbing her shoes and the closest thing she could use for a weapon, and asked who they were and where they lived. I told her to forget about it, and she was furious that I could just let that happen to me and not retaliate. My biggest fear was my mom or siblings getting hurt in the process of defending me, or even being associated with me. I went to the bathroom and cleaned myself up. And as I washed my face blood continued to run, which is when I noticed that during the jumping my lip went through my tooth which caused me to have a scar over my top lip, and it’s still there.”
Stories like McDonald’s aren’t at all unusual. Research shows that Black transgender people weather a disproportionate amount of discrimination, brutality, police harassment, sexual assault and incarceration. Instances abound of transgender women of color being murdered because of their assailants’ individual bias or systemic bias that makes them so much more vulnerable to homelessness and participation in an underground economy. The crimes often go unpunished, unrecognized, misreported and unnoticed outside of their immediate communities.
In the aftermath of McDonald’s case, some activists are calling for systemic change. I agree with them, of course. But I also want to use this space to say, point blank, Crishaun “CeCe” McDonald should not be in prison for defending herself against a racist transphobe who decided to pick a fight with her and her friends. If she weren’t a Black transgender woman, she wouldn’t be expected to stand for that kind of abuse.
Actually, she would be considered a survivor.
Akiba Solomon is an NABJ-Award winning writer, freelance journalist, editor and essayist from West Philadelphia. She writes about the intersection between gender and race for Colorlines and is the co-editor of Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips, and Other Parts .
It was just announced that CeCe McDonald, who was being charged with two counts of second-degree murder in an incident of self-defense, has just taken a plea-deal—second degree manslaughter with a recommended 41 month sentence. CeCe McDonald’s sentencing hearing will be in a month.
But Ms. McDonald isn’t the first young Black trans woman to be thrown in jail and aggressively prosecuted for surviving a violent attack on her life. Unfortunately, without real systematic change, she isn’t likely to be the last either.
It should be no secret that young trans women of color (TWOC) are being murdered at alarming rates. This is a social problem largely ignored by most people, including the media, the service/nonprofit sector and government. But this is something people in the affected communities can’t afford to ignore.
But attacks on the lives of TWOC don’t go without resistance, and when TWOC resist sometimes their attackers end up dead. This was the case with Ms. McDonald, but it was also the case last year with Akira Jackson, a Black trans woman currently serving a four-year sentence for “manslaughter” for stabbing her boyfriend in self-defense when he beat her with a baseball bat.
Jackson, a Detroit native, moved to the California Bay Area where she became an advocate for young TWOC. She was a Program Specialist from TLISH (Transgender Ladies Initiating Sisterhood), a transgender youth program where she spent her time counseling young women about housing, government assistance, and employment.
If Ms. McDonald and Ms. Jackson weren’t Black trans women it is likely that their cases might not have ended up differently. By being criminalized for their survival, these two women share something in common with many other women of color, including the New Jersey 4, a group of Black lesbian women who were attacked in the New York City’s West Village and later aggressively prosecuted for defending themselves. The attacker fully recovered, but the women were forced to serve time.
It’s a sad irony that we promote self-defense classes as a way of combating violence against women, yet many of the women of color, trans and cis alike, are currently imprisoned precisely because they fought back against violence in their homes and in the streets.
Too often trans and queer women of color survive violence in their homes and on the streets only to have the police, courts and prison-industrial complex come after them for having the audacity to survive in a world where, as Audre Lorde said in her poem “A Litany For Survival,” they “were never meant to survive.”