The horrific murder of Brianna Ghey, a transgender girl in England, has rattled the international community. Ghey was just 16 years old when she was fatally stabbed in a park.
In 2022, the Human Rights Commission estimated 38 transgender people in the United States were murdered, a staggeringly large number of whom were Black trans women.
The controversy on social media today isn’t so much about Ghey’s murder, but about how some people have decided to call attention to her death.
Earlier this week, people began to notice that Ghey, who is white, was trending under the#SayHerName hashtag.
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For people who don’t know, Black women created the hashtag to call attention to the killings of Black women by police and the fact that these deaths often go unaddressed.
Throughout the summer of 2020, #SayHerName was a rallying cry for Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Michelle Cusseaux, and countless others.
The fact that a white woman was trending under the hashtag created to uplift Black women didn’t sit right with many Black people on Twitter.
“The #SayHerName tag is a social movement in response to police brutality that BLACK WOMEN face. No ifs ands, or buts. That’s it,” wrote Ace Sutherland, who identifies on Twitter as a trans-non-binary activist. “No one is saying that we cannot be upset about Brianna Ghey. We are heartbroken. But this is not a #SayHerName moment.”
Not everyone agreed that using #SayHerName was wrong in this case.
“There is a certain trend in identity politics that seems more concerned with protecting intellectual property rights than, say, marginalized communities articulating shared interests and organising together in the pursuit of justice. And honestly, it belongs in the bin,” wrote Ash Sarkar, a Contributing Editor at Novaramedia.
Leslie Mac, a Black organizer and digital strategist, hit back directly at Sarkar and others, defending the use of the appeal.
“Oh my goodness. The #SayHerName call to action was EXPLICITLY about the LACK of attention to the deaths of BLACK WOMEN at the hands of the state,” wrote Mac on Twitter. “That is not “identity politics” - #BriannaGhey is (rightfully) receiving a lot of attention BECAUSE SHE IS A WW.”
Although this particular fight is likely to die down, the debate over who is allowed to use #SayHerName is unlikely to go away anytime soon.
It can be legitimately difficult to know where to draw the line between honoring how different groups share similar forms of oppression and co-opting a movement.
At this moment when we’re all fighting for our right to exist and thrive, it would be nice if we could find a way to come together that honors our shared and unique struggles.