Transracialists Seek Recognition and Acceptance: An Interview with Howard Copeland, Harlem chapter TLPC President
April 21, 2013
Special Report by Thomas Jackson
“I’ve always known I was a young black woman and a lesbian trapped in the body of a middle aged white man” Howard Copeland explained while adjusting the large flower in her hair. Dressed in traditional African garb and practicing the ancient religion of the Yoruba people Howard is more African then many African Americans yet she still struggles to gain recognition in the African American community. She moved to Harem five years ago in order to be closer to her church the First African Yoruba Church on East 42nd street.
You may never have heard of transracialism, but it is a movement comprised of sincere and dedicated people who only seek to be recognized for who they believe they truly are and not by their outward physical appearance. “My personal situation is very difficult” Howard explained, “It’s hard enough being black in America but being a black woman and a lesbian is almost impossible in a country founded on racism, sexism and homophobia. This country has a legacy of slavery that’s never been made restitution for.”
Sitting down with Howard and sipping Ethiopian tea in her kitchen I couldn’t help but admire the large painting of the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie hanging on the wall. Asking about the painting she answered “Oh yes, I went through a Rastafarian phase before finding my true spiritual home in the Yoruba religion, I still believe Haile Selassie is a god, that’s the best part of African animism there are so many different gods you can add another one without too much difficulty. It doesn’t really matter what gods you worship or what you choose to believe as long as you realize we are all children of the same great spirit.”
Howard’s beautiful and generous smile and her attitude of inclusiveness and tolerance stood out in my mind in stark contrast to the hateful and exclusionary rhetoric of so many churches and religious communities largely founded by privileged white males as vehicles to propagate their own personal petty hatreds and bigotries while simultaneously fleecing the ignorant and gullible and resisting progress.
Howard is President of her local chapter of the Transracialist Lesbian Pride Community, they had a controversial parade float in last year’s Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Pride Parade through Harlem, she also volunteers at her local soup kitchen taking time off from her own busy schedule to feed the less fortunate. Despite her big heart and generosity Howard reports that many people continue to be unaccepting of her identity. “I chose to keep my original name, it’s like a slave name but it was just so much hassle to try and change it and it ain’t free either. I guess lots of people have difficulty with a white middle aged man named Howard who says he’s a young black woman but their world needs to get just a little bit bigger.”
Howard darkens her skin every day using black face make up in order to more fully approximate her true inner African American identity a process that is often gruelling and can take hours every morning and which is not without its detrimental side effects. Howard’s dermatologist has repeatedly urged her to stop. “One time a group of youths taunted me and said I was racist, I told them that’s just ignorant, I am proud of who I am! I don’t hold it against them they just need more learning in school to get educated, education is really the key.” Let us hope that Howard is right and tolerance and understanding will grow for her and many others like her who merely want to be accepted and understood by society.
“The people who hate me so much never had my chicken and waffles” Howard said laughing light heartedly before adding “it’s all good, we learn to get along and go through the struggle that the gods give us. I have my faith to help me keep going. I pray for the haters, I pity them really. Life is too short to be hating on folks just because they are different then you.”
Copyright © 2013 Diversity Chronicle All Rights Reserved.