How are you? I know that question may be hard to answer nowadays for some. Our world is facing two pandemics; one we're trying to find a cure to (COVID19) and one that's been ongoing for decades (racism). If one of your replies to my question is tired, I feel you sis, I am too.
Its been overwhelming to say the least. I am overwhelmed with emotions (anger, fear, frustration, empathy, etc.). I was naive to believe that police brutality would take a break during this current Corona Virus pandemic. As we can see, it's still happening everyday and now history is repeating itself. We're all familiar with the riots in Ferguson that happened in 2014 and thus the raise of the Black Lives Matter Movement. It's happening again, in 2020 with riots and protests all over the world. All of my peers can sadly say they've seen at least one video of a Black person being murdered by police. Unfortunately many of us are used to seeing Black pain, in many perspectives throughout our lives, rather personally or through media. I hate to say that over the past two decades of my life, I've become desensitize to seeing Black pain in the media. Unfortunately, it has ALWAYS been depicted as apart of the Black experience no matter how rich and successful you are. But there's something extremely different from watching a movie/show about Black pain, than seeing it in real time on your phone or in person. The last video I witnessed of a Black man being unjustly murdered by the police was Philandro Castille (rest in power) in 2016. I can't get that image out of my mind. In fact now, I avoid seeing videos. I try my hardest to not watch them when they AGAIN start trending on my social media timelines. I really thought I would get a break from seeing these videos during quarantine but than Ahmaud Arbery popped up. And than Breonna Taylor. And than George Floyd. And then....I am overwhelmed.
One of the things I also started to notice on my timeline was my peers talking about the lack of SO MANY NAMES not trending that we also needed to know their stories and fight for justice on their behalf. They were the names of Black Queer people. I admit, whenever there has been a story of another Black person being murdered by the police, they are often Black heterosexual men. Sometimes we'll hear about Black heterosexual women but not often. Their names also don't get as much attention as they should. But I didn't know any Black Queer people by memory that were killed unjustly by this corrupt justice system until recently. That is shameful. One of the most neglected and unmentioned Black populations that we don't talk enough about or fight for justice for is Black Transgender people.
I've been fortunate to meet a few Black Transgender people and their friendships mean a lot to me. More importantly, their lives mean a lot to me. They are also my kings and queens. It makes me really sad that many folks don't view them the same. It saddens me that one of their worst enemies is Black people. There's so much homophobia and transphobia still living and breathing in our Black community and the world at large and its been time for us to do better! Its been time for us to include ALL Black people in the fight for Black liberation.
In honor of PRIDEmonth, I wanted to connect with a Queer Artist I have admired from a far. Her name is Merci D.
Mercedes aka Merci D, is a proud Black Queer Bostonian that recently graduated with the Class of 2020! Yes! She got her Bachelors Degree while surviving a pandemic! That's not only admirable but a great historic story for future generations. Shoutout to the entire Class of 2020! They may have missed out on traditional graduation celebrations but this generation of grads didn't let that hold them back from celebrating and living in their greatness. Merci D is one of those achievers!
The young artist has been writing and producing music for the past few years and recently released a new mixtape this past February! Doing all of that while commuting to school in Amherst to finish her senior year is not an easy task but any means but the resilience in her DNA wouldn't have it any other way. She's a beautiful example of living your life and your purpose despite the adversities.
I had the chance to meet Merci at a ball event a few years ago at Boston G.L.A.S.S. It was 2018 and for the month of June that year, I was learning how to Vogue, getting educated about LGBTQ history and learning more about ballroom culture. That month, I was going to Voguing sessions at Boston G.L.A.S.S. and learned about their upcoming Ball event. I was ecstatic! After watching the documentary 'Paris is Burning' several times, I dreamed of going to a ball to witness LIVE voguing. I came that night with the intention to learn, be inspired and hopefully have the courage one day to compete myself. I remember I was amidst waiting for the announcer to present the next category when all of a sudden a strong force came through the door. This person walked with so much confidence and so much natural swag into the room, I thought she was a past Grand champion! It was Merci D. She slayed her category with her performance and more over unapologetic attitude on stage. I became an instant fan.
Merci had a love for music since she was a child. She grew up in the church so music was apart of her everyday life. "Everything is very musical and very theatrical," she recalled as she described her memories to seeing the different singers and performers each Sunday. As she grew up, gospel wasn't the only genre inspiring her, Hip Hop was blooming and the youth were creating fun and catchy songs! One of the artists that got Merci's attention was a New York native named Bianca Bonnie (formerly known as Young B) who released a song called "Chicken Noodle Soup." I can attest to how this song changed my teenage years. It played everywhere, I memorized the dance and as corny as it sounds, anytime I had Chicken Noodle Soup, I also needed a soda (preferably Orange soda) on the side! You can watch the video here. For Merci, the song was not only a catchy tune but a song that inspired her to write her own lyrics to. She started playing around with the lyrics by substituting the ingredients in the song. "Oreo cookies with milk on the side" and more as she dabbled with rhyming. Then when she discovered Nicki Minaj on Limewire, "that's when I really fell in love with rap." In Merci's words, "there was something about Nicki's music and her conviction in her lyricism that touched me in a way that gospel touched me as a kid." From then on, she began to write lyrics more seriously.
Aside from Nicki Minaj, Merci was also influenced by Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls, Slick Rick and her Dad which Merci described as a Hip Hop/Music Historian and "knows random quirky facts and stuff like that." While in school at Hampshire College, she began to utilize resources to amplify her skills and techniques. She released her first EP 'Boys Play with Dolls Too' in 2017, a short mix of dynamic Hip Hop covers she wrote her own rhymes to. She continued to find her voice in music by experimenting with beats and flows and two years later, she was ready to release her next project, 'Red Line.'
Merci described working on the 'Red Line' album as both exciting and lonely. Before then she was used to working in a collaborative environment, especially with her group "Blem' but this album challenged her to get out of her comfort zone and the studio soon became her office. A lot of the writing process was done on receipts or candy papers. "I was working at this candy shop and I was taking little pieces of paper and writing my rhymes." Juggling school and work life can be difficult but as an artist, she made sure to squeeze in creativity whenever she could and write ideas and rhymes down no matter what. In fact, the album conveys this edgy and gritty feel through the lyrics and catchy beats. "A lot of my delivery is raw because the process was raw."Songs like '617' shows Merci's love for her hometown while others like 'Wynup' talked about her experience witnessing street violence and surviving in the hood. Red Line can be streamed on Spotify or Apple Music.
A year later, Merci dropped her third EP entitled 'Water, Weed & Estrogen (WWE).' What differentiates the album 'Red Line' from 'WWE' is that on the first album, she felt like she had a lot to prove. In 2019 when 'Red Line' was released, it was also the first time Merci was back home in Boston where she was declaring herself as an Artist, Performer and as a proud Transgender Woman. She felt like she had a lot to prove to her peers, her family and her growing following. With the album 'WWE' it was kinda like,"I'm here now." She described how seeing her name in newspapers and fans at LIVE shows made her confident in her skin and skill set. "I do have people that rock with me and I know that now that's facts and no one can disrupt that."
WWE "Its an ode to everyone that is transitioning and graduating in life."
One of my favorite tracks on the album is 'RIP: Long Kiss Goodnight.' On the track Merci delivers 4 mins of bars and deep and punchy messages. Messages of resilience, visibility, empowerment and Black death. Merci also talked about how the song was about her experience as a Black Transgender woman. "It was about honoring my experience. I feel that often in the media and the gaze that is placed upon Black Transgender women, is often one that comes after being brutalized publicly, being humiliated, being laughed at, being tormented, being murdered, being slaughtered. All of these various atrocities that are placed upon us. RIP: Long Kiss Goodnight [song] was me kinda reclaiming the narrative. It was me shifting the narrative and it was me honoring my experience. It was me uplifting my experience and folks who have similar experiences to mine."
"It is a new day and a new age. We are no longer explaining our humanity. We're not justifying our humanity. We are letting you know that we are humans that just so happen to be Black, Femme, Queer & Trans and you're going to deal with it. Period!"
For the past few weeks we've witnessed Black Lives Matter protests around the world, speaking against police brutality and white supremacy. Often, some of the Black lives we are fighting for do not include non-binary or Trans people. Merci explained that the reason for this is because of the fear of death and the fear of the unknown. "In the black community at large, there is a fear of death and dying." When she began transitioning, the feedback she received from her parents was that they didn't want her to get hurt by other people. "I don't want someone to do something to you because that means I'm going to have something done to them." They wanted to protect her. That wasn't necessarily expressed when she first talked to her parents about her transition but she is very grateful for therapy for allowing all of them to have a better understanding and support of who she is. "That fear, sometimes it looks like me because I'm going against the grain and I'm living my life out loud. People do understand and do know that living like me and living on the queer spectrum and living as a transgender person can result in death. That is a reality and I think a lot of people have fear around that. The act upon that fear is inhumane." This month the Supreme court made it federally illegal for anyone to be discharged from their employer because of their sexuality or gender. This is good news but it doesn't mean that Transgender individuals are equally safe within our society. According to studies, 4 out of 5 assault cases upon Transgender women, including those that end in death, are people of color. Aside from facing violence, 51% of Black Transgender women have experienced homelessness and 1 in 10 individuals report eviction because of their identity. This is a tough fact to accept but living with that reminder is much more challenging. "Black people are not going to be free until we can ALL come together and fight what needs to be fought."
Transgender individuals have been around for decades, sharing their wisdom and greatness with us. However, the world has never been that kind to them. In fact, when their stories are represented in the media, it is often told through a white, heterosexual perspective of what they think the Trans experience is. Moreover, there is always either a comedic perspective attached to their representation aka the bud of the joke and/or making people react to Transgender individuals with fear. 80% of Americans don't know a Trans person so often times, they learn about them through the media. I asked the recent college grad what she hopes to see more of in the industry when it comes to Transgender representation. "I wanna see more Black folks and Trans folks at the writing table." She explained that the reason why we don't see as much diverse experiences from Black people in media is because we've had a lack of folks at the table writing our political experiences. "I want there to be a plethora of the girls. I want there to be a plethora of people from the community and from various identities and various intersections who are doing the writing, who are speaking and who are at the forefront."
The Artist also spoke upon social justice and how we all can be an ally and activist in the fight for Black liberation. "Not everyone is built for the front lines. There are people who are built for backstage. There are people are built for behind the scenes and that is just as important as the girls who are popular or as the folks who have platforms. I think it's important that we remember that everyone has a role to play and that no one should ever feel like they're not important enough to work for the full and total liberation of Queer and Black Trans people."
Nowadays Merci has been using this time to reset, recharge and reflect. She's taking the moment to see what peace looks like for her and what the future will entail. We wish her the very best with all her endeavors and look forward to her future creative projects.
Tune into our LIVE episode this TONIGHT, June 26th @ 8pm on the Boston Neighborhood Network - Boston Channels (Comcast 23, RCN 83 & Verizon 1960). Learn more about Merci's musical journey, her advice to gaining confidence and how you can help support the LGBTQ community. You can also watch it on our YouTube Channel here!
- Transgender Emergency Fund: Critical assistance for low income and homeless Transgender people living in Massachusetts | www.transgenderemergencyfund.org
- For the Gworls Party: Raises money to assist Black Trans folks rent and affirmative surgery | Follow them on Instagram @forthegworls for a list of resources in their bio
- Black Trans Femmes in the Arts: A collective of Black Trans Femmes dedicated to creating space for Trans folks in the arts and beyond| Follow them on Instagram @btfacollective for a list of resources in their bio
- R.O.A.D. (Reuniting of African Descendants) Project: Donate and visit their website www.theroadproject.org A grassroots initiative invested in equity, collective growth and healing for LGBTQIA+/SGL people of African descendants|
- Trans Life Line: Peer Support & Crisis Hotline for Trans people | Call them at 877-565-8860 | Follow them on Instagram @translifeline
- The Okra Project: a collective that seeks to address the global crisis of violence by providing resources and meals to Black Trans people worldwide | Donate and follow them on Instagram @theokraproject and visit their website www.theokraproject.com
Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton
No Ashes in the Fire by Darnell Moore
Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock
All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
Juliet Takes a Breathe by Gabby Rivera
I also had the chance to attend a Black Lives Matter Protest/March by Violence in Boston this month. Learn more about the important work Violence in Boston is doing on their website here. Watch some of the footage in this episode or read more about it here.
Wishing you always peace and love. Our next episode premieres Thursday, July 23rd @ 8:30pm on the Boston Neighborhood Network ( Comcast 23, RCN 83 & Verizon 1960).