A Discussion of Police Brutality and Racism Sparked by the Unjust Arrest of Martese Johnson

A Discussion of Police Brutality and Racism Sparked by the Unjust Arrest of Martese Johnson

Dr. Tolmie expressed that finding new, relevant articles to support her lectures was often too easy. The point of this statement is to reveal how predictable and uniform news is. While researching police brutality to better inform myself I stumbled upon a Huffington post page that was solely dedicated to articles surrounding police brutality. It was apparent that the articles on the page were frequent and often outlined the same typical story in which white men of authority abused a black individual. An article by Robert Staples written in The Black Scholar, a journal of black studies and research, analysed racial politics in terms of white power and black crime. Staples concluded, “Whites and blacks have had different historical experiences with the criminal justice system. Mainly, whites see the law as a force to serve and protect their rights. Blacks have been more likely to experience it as an agent that denies their rights” (Staples, 2011) This statement is true in a historical context, as black people have been extremely marginalized. However, even with some aspects of equality improving, the criminal justice system still remains significantly unjust.

A debate has been started on an incident that occurred between Martese Johnson and agents of the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). The situation has turned into a “he said, she said” debate in which fellow university smartesetudents are claiming that extreme force was unnecessary and the ABC agents are claiming that the student was agitated and belligerent after being refused entry into a local pub. Despite the allegations on both sides of the story, Martese Johnson suffered cuts to his face that resulted in ten stiches. An investigation is being held that will look at the closer details of the incident. Meanwhile, students at the University of Virginia continue to support Martese and rally against the brutish force used by the Alcoholic Beverage Control.

As discussed, the incident with Martese is not an anomaly. Many man of power, such as the ABC, display hegemonic masculinity in which aggression to instil authority becomes the norm. I watched a video clip of the incident that was quite disturbing because Martese kept exclaiming “how did this happen?” As an outside source this conveys to me that it did not take long for the agents to have Martese on the ground and bleeding from his head. Many factors may have been involved in this incident. However, we must make an analysis based on the facts present. Martese is a young, black student who is in good academic standing at his University. The bar that he was attempting to enter is popular amongst UVA students. Depicted in the video, there were other students that seemed impaired walking the streets. So why was Martese Johnson specifically targeted?

This issue has been prominent in the news with incidents occurring in Ferguson, Missouri and in New York City. People in North America have been outraged by these events and have begun to speak out against the institutional racism towards black individuals by police. To attempt to answer the question as to why twenty-year-old student Martese was targeting we can look at society as a whole. In many ways society has adapted the idea of black respectability politics. The concept of these respectability politics began with a group of black women from the Baptist church (Dolberry, 2013). The women had good intentions; however, set forth a trend of thinking that instilled the idea that black culture is broken and needs to be fixed. This ideology is detrimental to black culture and does not help to promote equality. By deeming black culture as “broken” it emulates that white culture is superior. Although this is not directly related police brutality, it lays a foundation for people to dismiss the lives of black people.

Furthermore, violence as a lens accompanies the dismissal of black bodies. The term violence through a lens indicates that black people do not need to be carrying a weapon to be seen as violent. It has become so that the colour of their skin is an indication of how they will act. This horrific reality influences how the police and authority figures treat black individuals. In the book “Violence, Visual Culture, and the Black Male Body”, Cassandra Jackson expresses that “these children were fundamentally shaped by a hyper-awareness of how the world saw them” (Jackson, 2011). Jackson is explaining how the parents of black males had to teach them what they could and could not do or say to increase their chances of survival. The reality of the statement is both immense and disheartening. Members of society should not have to succumb to such tactics to avoid being a victim of police brutality. The issue of police brutality and racism is far from being resolved. However, the more awareness is increased the faster society will begin to change.

In terms of the incident with Martese Johnson I believe that the Alcoholic Beverage Control agents acted more violent than necessary due to violence as a lens. Martese was not treated as a compliant citizen and was roughly thrown to the ground with little regard for his human and civil rights. I believe that this incident is a smaller scale example of the detestable problems with police brutality and racism.


“Black Lives Matter” Gender, Race, and Popular Culture Lecture. 02 March. 2015. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.

Dolberry, Maurice. “”I Hate Myself!”: What Are Respectability Politics, and Why Do Black People Subscribe to Them?”  A Line in the Sand. N.p., 05 Sept. 2013. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.

Jackson, Cassandra. “Violence and Visual Culture.” Introduction. Violence, Visual Culture, and the Black Male Body. New York: Routledge, 2011. N. pag. Print. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.

Staples, Robert. White power, black crime, and racial politics. Black Scholar, 41(4), 31–41. 2011. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.

Link to video (*Contains video of violence and curse words): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5m9qnH2B3mM 

An Analysis of Transmisogyny and Racism through the Lens of Laverne Cox

An Analysis of Transmisogyny and Racism through the Lens of Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox is an award winning actress and television producer. For many in the LGBTQ community she is a role model and advocate. Her presence in popular television shows is beginning to pave the way for other transgender men and women within the workplace. However, just like the street harassment described in Laverne’s anecdote transgender people often face a world of hate and discrimination. Laverne discusses these issues in her speech while applying an intersectional analysis of the transphobia, racism, and misogyny that is a detriment to society. 

Laverne Cox was a feature presenter at the 2014 Creating Change Conference. As such an important role model for many people she received a warm welcome from the audience in which she responds “justice is what love looks like in public, and this feels so just right now, yes. But– but I have to tell you, I have to tell you that I am not used to receiving this kind of love, everybody. I’m not used to it”. The quote that she has adopted as a driving theme in her speeches “justice is what loveLaverne-Cox-CC14 looks like in public” is powerful. This quote is instills the concept that when someone is loved and accepted they are receiving the justice they deserve as a human being. This may be true for all forms of hatred or oppression. To love is to accept someone for who they truly are. Therefore, when someone receives justice or love the walls built up by racism or by binaries are torn down. Lavern Cox and many advocates all over the world are fighting towards a world of justice.

A reoccurring theme throughout Laverne’s speech is the concept of transmisogyny. The core word, misogyny, implies the hatred of women and the assumption that femininity is inferior to masculinity. Thus, the victims of transmisogyny are transwomen. The bases of the hatred toward the transwomen reaches beyond the issues of sexism and transphobia. Transmisogyny combines the alienation of people not conforming to gender binaries. Binaries being either male or female, heterosexual or homosexual. In reality gender, sex, and sexuality lives on a spectrum. For many people in society this concept leaves them uncomfortable due to their lack of knowledge.  To cope, people in the transgendered community are routinely oppressed and marginalized. With the lack of acceptance from society, transgender men and women are not receiving justice or love. This is acknowledged in Laverne Cox’s story in which she is dehumanized by the men referring to her in derogatory terms. They ask her what she is? In a world of acceptance and justice this concept would be abstract and people would be free to adhere to wherever they felt comfortable on the gender spectrum. However, the men seemingly felt a need to distinguish this fact to satisfy their own personal discomfort. This act displays transmisogyny through the mens incessant need to not feel emasculated by a transwomen. At this point in Laverne’s speech she begins to express the history of sexuality of black men. In some sense I agree with her explanation of a inner desire to prove masculinity. However, the issue is much more complicated than just a historical notion. The framework of the discrimination occurs from ill-acceptance and ignorance. Advocates for the LGBTQ  community are rallying to educate and bring justice for transgendered men and women.

A study completed in Toronto outlined that white privilege has constructed a particular image of a “real” women as being white, passive, and feminine. In accordance with Laverne’s experiences, the study indicated that transwomen of colour experience an intersectional stigma, such as racism and sexism, on a daily basis (Logie 174-191). White transwomen also faced street harassment; however, not as frequently. This outlines the white privilege because women of colour are being oppressed through an intersection of both racial and queer communities. The white transwomen are living in a society where the “idea” of beauty in media is predominately white. Thus, their ability to find a space in society is greater than that of a coloured transwomen. The article states that “by representing queerness as white, LBTQ women of colour were rendered invisible in both queer and racialized communities” (Logie 174-191). The invisibility that cloaks coloured transwomen in society allows for violence to occur. Unjust actions towards these women are a result of the dehumanization by society and the authorities. These actions must become just through love and acceptance.

Laverne Cox draws attention to issues that have corrupted society for decades. It is an unfortunate reality that the troubles surrounding rights and justice for transgendered women and the LGBTQ community as a whole will not be fixed overnight. It will take many more tragedies and thousands more people rallying together to make a change.

Works Cited

Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” Everyday Feminism. N.p., 07 Dec. 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2015.

Laverne Cox at Creating Change 2014. Perf. Laverne Cox. National LGBTQ Task Force, 5 Feb. 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

Logie, Carmen H., and Marie-Jolie Rwigema. ““The Normative Idea of Queer is a White Person”: Understanding Perceptions of White Privilege Among Lesbian, Bisexual, and Queer Women of Color in Toronto, Canada.” Journal of lesbian studies 18.2 (2014): 174-191.

Film Critique of “Before the Last Curtain Falls” (2014)

Film Critique of “Before the Last Curtain Falls” (2014)

Director: Thomas Wallner

Writers:Thomas Wallner and Eva Küpper

Cast: Gerrit Becker, Richard Dierick, Vanessa Van Durme, Andrea De Laet, Danilo Povolo, and Rudy Suwyns

Genre: Documentary


Gardenia began as a local theatre production in Belgium. With a unique and captivating premise of which the cast is comprised of ex-cabaret homosexual men and transwomen the show has been performed over two hundred times in twenty-five different countries. The documentary Before the Last Curtain Falls depicts the very last time GardeniaBefore the last curtain falls 4 is performed. It also reaches into the pasts of the performers to gain insight on their hardships in light of their queer identity.


The documentary Before the Last Curtain Falls presents its story to the audience in an effortless timeline. The opening scene is packed full of extravagant eye shadow, fake eyelashes, and of course dazzling dresses; all the components of a cabaret show. In stark contrast, the first glimpse of the play Gardenia depicts the cast as men in suits and ties. The accountability that is displayed enforces the audience’s expectation of gender roles and the characteristics that accompany it. As the film progresses, the director Thomas Wallner transitions between scenes of Gardenia and looking into the lives of the cast. This creative style allows the audience to view the progression of the play alongside the downfalls and triumphs of the actors. The theatrical performance of Gardenia as well as the memoirs of the men and transwomen moves towards breaking the heterosexual matrix that is the performance of sex and gender.

The stories of the men and transwomen in the documentary are individually unique. However, all share similar themes of feeling like an outsider and overcoming their fears in search of love and acceptance. In society it is a common assumption that once one reaches an older age that they are confident and satisfied with their lives. Before the Curtain Falls rips down this perception. It is evident that although some of the men and transwomen have made peace with themselves, many still face obstacles blocking them from true happiness and self love. One man, during an interview, looked at the camera and asks the question “What is gay?” This question provokes thought about the binaries that constrict many people’s lives. The expression that sex, sexuality, and gender are not always separated into two opposite categories is apparent throughout the documentary. I believe that the director does an excellent job portraying the spectrum of queer identity.

The documentary uncovers varying aspects of expression. The men and transwomen in the documentary have found an outlet in Gardenia that allows them to express their agency. Many members of the cast describe theatre as a safe place. When the cast was young, they learned how to express their agency by being open with their sexuality or by accepting themselves as transwomen. Society was significantly less accepting than it is today, making their actions exceptionally brave. In an interview with one of the star transwomen they describe the process of transitioning from male to female. As described, they had to board a plane with a suitcase full of money and receive a surgery from a gynaecologist in a foreign country. This process caused risks to both her health and her safety. In my opinion, the director included this interview to imply the dangerous methods that had to be taken just so she could feel like herself. The woman then proceeds to explain that to pay for the surgery she earned money with sex work. This situation is a perfect example of the boundaries of choice. We may ask: is choice available when the sex work determines whether they may live their life as who they truly are? The issue that arises is that, yes, a choice was made to obtain the surgery. However, the concept of choice is diminished since the life of the individual may have been in danger without the surgery. As one woman expresses in the documentary when faced at a crossroads “You either kill yourself or accept who you want to be”. The documentary does an outstanding job of provoking thought in the audience.

Before the Last Curtain Falls was composed of many intriguing scenes. I believe the issue of heteronormativity that is apparent within the documentary and within society is expressed well in a scene when a man describes his mothers last words as “be who you are, but do not cut into your skin.” The man listened to his mother and did not proceed with surgery to transition from male to female. This scene was powerful to me because of the contradiction in the statement. Society provides the notion of acceptance yet, places a threshold on the acceptance once it succeeds the boundaries of comfort. This follows the theme of heteronormativity because the mother believes that the act of her son transitioning will change who he is. In reality transitioning into what one feels they are meant to be is more natural than suppression.

Overall, the Reelout Queer Film and Video Festival was a great experience. I attempted to attend In the Turn and The Dog. Unfortunately, both films were sold out at the door. Before the Last Curtain Falls was one of a small selection of films that I could choose from. I was impressed with the outcome of the documentary as it provoked thoughts on many issues while simultaneously providing light-hearted laughs. I believe Reelout is a great resource for the Kingston to learn and experience the LGBTQ community. One aspect I found intriguing was that the Canadian Cancer Society had an ad to promote health and safety amongst transsexuals. I believe this is extremely practical, as transmen and transwomen should have equal opportunities for health care without judgment.

Works Cited

Aulette, Judy Root., Judith G. Wittner, and Kristin Blakely. “Gendered Worlds. 3rd ed.” New York: Oxford UP, 2014. Print.

“International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.” IDFA RSS. Press Materials, 2014. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.