Forum: Those who came before me, the legacies within me

Being the only Afro-Latina trans woman in a Ph.D. program at UT — that I am aware of — does not make me feel special. Instead, I am reminded that public institutions such as this one are continually complicit in the systematic exclusion of black trans people. My presence at UT is a constant reminder of the absence of those whose legacies and collective efforts have helped me to stay alive and achieve a level of privilege, unlike many in the intersecting communities to which I belong. I am indebted to all those legacies: the legacy of resistance of black poor mothers in the African Diaspora that gave my mother — a single parent Brazilian black woman illiterate domestic worker warrior — the strength to raise her only child with a focus on the transformative potential of education; the legacy of trans women of color, whose fierceness has enabled us to create movements and strategies that assure each other’s survival, despite the fact that those very movements are co-opted by anti-blackness and homonormativity with attempts to erase us; the legacy of black feminist/trans/queer/diasporic theorizing that has taught me to create language for our experiences where there is only violence and silence; the legacy of the Black Department that still resists by not only creating space for rigorous academic endeavor but also for activist engagement; and the legacy of ancestors whose memory and energy also walk with me. I call the attention not only to the need of our presence at this University, but also to the need of the University to be a space for us. Self-identification and agency should be prioritized in place of bureaucracy and “making sure you’re trans” interviews. Transphobia and anti-blackness racism is not the issue of a specific department or center that is “failing” to do the work. That explanation is pervasive and simplistic and is used to shift accountability and blame away from the greater campus community. Simple things, such as having our preferred names VISIBLE on UT systems would save us the work of being “proactive” and stop placing the responsibility of educating an entire campus on us! And yet, there are a few communities at UT that keep me sane, loved and academically motivated. As I move about on campus, I walk with that love and those legacies within me. Being the only one is a problem, not an achievement.

Dora Santana is a Ph.D. student in African and African Diaspora Studies.