Ph.D. Student Richard C. Clark On Being “Unapologetically Blackity Black, Trans, Femme”

Richard C. Clark (Photo courtesy of Clark)

As a Black, genderfluid, trans femme, Graduate Center Ph.D. student Richard C. Clark (Psychology) experiences marginalization and daily threats of violence simply for their identity. Rather than cowering, though, Clark is challenging white privilege through research and by participating in the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests in New York City. 

As part of a Pride Month series, Tanya Domi, The Graduate Center’s director of media relations, interviewed Clark while her weekly podcast, The Thought Project, is temporarily on hold. 

Domi: What brought you to The Graduate Center, and to the Critical Social/Personality Psychology program in particular? 

Clark: I sought this program out because traditional psychology just wasn’t doing it for me. I saw the ways that psychology and research from the ivory tower were being used to enact violence. The Critical Social/Personality Psychology Program felt like a departure from that or at least like it was committed to resisting these legacies of violence. 

Domi: Talk about your intersectional research on race and whiteness.

Clark: I originally joined the program with the intention of continuing to work on developing support networks for formerly incarcerated LGBTQ folks of color. But eventually I came to the decision that, rather than expose this already vulnerable community to the potential harm and misunderstanding that comes with being a part of research, I would rather use research to address something that I had always been cognizant and critical of: whiteness. It was from this point that I was able to combine my personal, organizing, academic, and research experience in order to develop a decolonial series of projects geared toward decentering whiteness in its many manifestations. The first project in the series asks what it looks like discursively for white folks to engage with whiteness and white privilege. This idea came from my first-year historical analysis on white supremacy. 

Domi: I hear that you have been participating in the demonstrations here in New York City. What is your reaction to this global uprising? What do you think of this moment personally and in the context of your research?

Clark: I am fully in support of Black folk coming together and doing whatever it takes to resist these oppressive anti-Black systems. This has always been about more than just police brutality. The fabric of our country has white supremacy in every stitch, and Black folk have always been tearing at these. As such, violence has always been a part of this struggle, though we can see it’s only Black folk who are vilified for it. One complicating factor here is, to so many people, “Black Lives Matter” only means straight cis Black folk, often just cis Black men. While queer and especially trans victims of violence such as Nina Pop and Tony McDade are erased. This is why I make sure folks recognize the multiple levels of violence faced by Black, queer, and trans folk and say #AllBlackLivesMatter when I see this erasure happening. My research is about holding these complexities.  

I love to see so many folks outside of the Black community in solidarity with the movement and giving up resources and safety to be in support of Black folk. The complicating factor here is folks overstepping, not understanding, co-opting, and of course completely pushing back against this movement. The work I have been doing around decentering whiteness of course is being put to good use during this time. Because of this work I am able to speak to complex experiences that folks are navigating and point out the various ways that folks continue to center whiteness and thus perpetuate white supremacy. I have done this through writing and consulting. 

Domi: You have mentioned how dangerous it is for you to exist and live in a racist and transphobic world. What runs through your mind before you step out your door to venture onto the streets of NYC as a Black, trans femme person? 

Clark: Moving through the world as a Black, genderfluid, trans femme is violent. (I hope you’re sensing a theme here.) I mean, honestly, even having to say all those words to introduce myself feels messed up. Those of us who hold identities that are “different” or “othered” are often made to announce them so that maybe folks who are more “normal” might respect us. But, of course, we come to learn that normalcy is just a stand-in for proximity to power. 

Before I leave my house, I take a few moments to plot out my course and build up my defenses. Days that I don’t face some sort of harassment are rare, so preparing myself to defend against the potential physical and psychological damage is vital. I do this by affirming myself, and my healing journey. I pick out music that matches my mood for the day, drink some water, lock the door behind me, and start pumpin’ my way down the block.

As someone who holds multiple complex queer identities, I resist the call to tear myself apart. I choose to exist fully as myself in each space I inhabit, and it is because I choose my wholeness over the call of the systems that I am met with violence. LGBTQ+ folk have always faced the violence that comes with resisting normalcy whereas Blackness is often what normalcy is created to oppose.  

Domi: What have you learned teaching students at The City College of New York? 

Clark: I love teaching. I have also learned how transformative and important it is for students to have a teacher not only that looks like me and holds the identities I do, but for someone like me to stand firm and transparently as myself. Some of my students have remarked that I am the first professor or teacher who has ever made them feel seen and validated. 

Domi: What is your aspiration after graduation?

Clark: It’s wild to me that I’m even alive today. Growing up has been so challenging, I honestly did not expect to live to my 18th birthday. Now that I’m here and choosing to keep on living, my biggest goal is to be someone that I needed when I was younger. I’m not sure exactly what the future will look like for someone like me, but I’m committed to bringing my full self to wherever I go. Whether I stay in the academy or not, I will continue to be an unapologetically Blackity Black, trans, femme who does work challenging unjust systems of power, supports my communities, and heals wounds both personal and intergenerational. 

Submitted on: JUN 24, 2020

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