Black Excellence

Black Excellence  /ˈblak ˈek-s(ə-)lən(t)s/  phrase. – 1. viewing Black people or Black culture as an excellent or valuable quality. 2. the celebration of a Black individual or group when they do something outstanding or extremely good.

Interview with Nyla

Tell me about yourself. What’s your background?

Okay. Well, my name is Nyla Foster. I’m 31 years old. I was born and raised in Kansas City. I identify as a Black woman of trans experience. Professionally, I’m a youth case manager, a community organizer, and an artist. I also have a softer side of me,called Angel Iman, where I do trans performance and compete in pageantry. And I am the current Miss Black Trans International. The Black trans international pageantry system is a pageantry system that is bridging the gap between advocacy and pageantry and we advocate for Black trans equality. What I’m in now.. now I’m in college for America going back to get my degrees — I’ve done a lot of professional work related job experience, so now I’m just going to go credential to match my experience so I can get paid higher and get the positions that I deserve. And I just recently relocated and looking forward to a fresh start.

How would you define beauty?

I would say beauty in general would be confidence. Like just being able to show up fully and authentically as yourself is beautiful. I don’t think putting on this facade, putting on a pretty face that everyone thinks is beautiful, is the definition of beauty.

“I really like how everybody is embracing their culture and removing their mask of Eurocentric beauty.”

How would you define Black beauty? Black culture?

My mother, My grandmother. Dark skin, light skin — the different variations of how we are in color. Black beauty…I’ll also define it as our strength. Because, you know, we’ve always been strong. We’ve been taught that we are “less than”, not as beautiful as other races…So I think that the strength that comes with being a Black person is beautiful.

Right now, I really like how everybody is embracing their culture and removing their mask of Eurocentric beauty. And I see this through hairstyle, folks want to be more natural now, wear less makeup, even get connected to the land and become vegan. There’s a lot of Black folks becoming vegan and being conscious of food and things like that. I think it’s great for us to grow from that soul food tradition, we are being more mindful of things.

What societal pressures do you feel because of your race?

I would say the pressure to be above and beyond. I feel like, as Black folks, we alway have to go above and beyond to credit for something. Whereas I’m a non-Black person can be mediocre and get rewarded, we have to go above and beyond and we don’t get the reward or the recognition. So my societal pressure of being Black is always having to overachieve. Also, being a dark skin person. Just the pressures that come with that. Being treated a certain way by Black folks and non-Black folks, just being a Black person…a darker skin Black body.

“As a trans teenager, I was expelled from school for coming to school in my truth.”

Have you ever experienced of racism or discrimination? If so, any stories you would be willing to share?

I’ve experienced many instances of racism. Probably before at fast food restaurants and restaurants. And even when I had a car accident, a white man got into a car accident, and he called me a stupid n****r. Discrimination…just as a trans woman… As a trans teenager I was expelled from school for coming to school in my truth. I literally was expelled for being trans and I had to go to the after school program where I had to provide my own transportation…which led to me not finishing high school the traditional way. So what I actually did was get my GED and went to college.

One of the reasons why I was so excited to talk to you is you have been such a huge advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Where do you find the fire to speak out against descrimination?

I was, in a way, called to action. Nobody was around to kind of advocate for girls who look like myself. I was working with the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project — I was a volunteer, an intern, worked part time, full time…and eventually became a program manager. Working with the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project, I stepped up to the leadership and stepped into advocacy because it just happened. I actually went to school for fashion design and I ended up doing community work and social work and all these different things.And I think it’s just my natural calling. I’ve always been a caring person. I’ve always gone around and cared for folks, especially Black and trans folks. Even before I was affiliated with nonprofit agencies, I grew as a “go to” person, as a resource.

What do you feel you have accomplished in your life? What are you proud of?

I’m actually proud that I made it to age 31. I’ve seen a lot of my friends not make it and I am proud that I am still here and I plan to stay here. The average life expectancy of a Black trans woman at age 35. So each birthday I have, and heading towards 35, I’m really proud of being here and being knowledgeable and in how to save face and sharing those tools with other Black trans women so they could be here as well.

Nyla paying homage to Marsha P. Johnson on the June 2017 cover of Camp Kansas City. Photo by P. Shane Linden

You mentioned being crowned Miss Black Miss Black Trans International… What was that like becoming top queen?

Well, I competed three years and the two previous years I was the first runner up and it took some hard work — I have perfected my flaws…well not perfected…I actually looked at my feedback and set my emotions aside and was really critical in how I approached the pageant …and in that I was successful to capture the title and it feels amazing. I still have some more work to do in my reign, but I do give up the title May 7th. So, any girl out there who wants to do this work, feel free to reach out to me on Facebook — Angel Iman or Nyla Foster.

What are your personal dreams?

I want to relocate out of Kansas City. I’ve never left and I feel like every trans person should get a chance to experience life in a new city. I think that’s really, really important, to be able to go somewhere with folks who don’t know the origin of your gender or folks that you went at the school with who mis-gender you, that doesn’t happen to me a lot, but I would love to just go somewhere to start over new as the woman I am. And I have yet to do that, but I’m really hoping that I can do that pretty soon.

But my hope…I want to take my writing and shift it into art. I’ve always done a lot of thought pieces, grant writing….but I want to actually start telling stories — Black stories — getting into screenwriting and getting things on TV that I want to see. I’m a big critic of stories and how they’re written and I can’t just complain about it, I have to do something about it. I feel like I have all these ideas and talent and it’s something that I really want to do.

What is one major problem minorities face that you would like to bring awareness to?

Well I just feel like, Black folks are oppressed and there’s different ways, specifically Black trans women, we are severely unemployed and displaced. We’re often looked to…to take care of folks, to provide information, often times we aren’t really compensated for that or our skill sets and our knowledge aren’t really valued in comparison to someone who has a college degree or someone who is white. And this doesn’t just apply to Black trans women, but Black women and Black men who are often used for our resiliency and our strength but aren’t really given the credit. And we aren’t given the tools to really change our narrative. We have to do that ourselves. White people aren’t the people to take care of us, we have to take care of ourselves. Because, I mean history has shown you how people care about Black people.

“I feel like every trans person should get a chance to experience life in a new city. I think that’s really, really important, to be able to go somewhere with folks who don’t know the origin of your gender.”

What are you dreams for society?

I would say no ableism, no racism, no xenophobia. Not so much as a utopia, cause it sounds like a utopia, but I just want folks to grow and become socially aware and culturally competent. To know that there are many different people, many different experiences and instead of folks hating from not necessarily understanding, they should lean into the discomfort and try to understand what the folks have going on and all of who they are.

How do we make progress on your dreams for society?

I will say, speak up. I see a lot of folks don’t speak up. They let things happen. They turns the other eye, they turn the other cheek if it isn’t them, they remove themselves out of it. But then if it becomes about them, then they want to advocate and then they want to speak up. But speak up. Like, if you see someone being treated like shit or see someone’s being a racist…even if you’re not Black, speak up. Don’t try to comfort the person who is offended if you’re not going to speak up and fight for them when it matters.

What advice would you give to other Black people?

Basically to let go of internalized oppression and stop trying to use that to oppress people under you. For instance, white people oppress Black people. So, Black folks oppress Black LGBT folks…because they’re being oppressed and they want to use the same tools that are used against them. Don’t use those, know that there is a construct there is a system to keep us down and those tools will never meant for us to thrive, so why are you trying to use them? And I just feel like people resort to those tools and they write off if human nature, when actually not human nature. It’s a tactic. It was created by humans, but it’s not a natural behavior. It’s a methodology. You know, folks should really be aware and take time to educate themselves about the nuances of Blackness, and how it shows up for all kinds of different disenfranchised folks — disabled veteran, citizens, trans people, immigrants…You know, there’s Black immigrants, there’s Black disabled folks, there’s Black veterans.

What advice would you give to non-Black individuals to help them understand the Black experiences?

Well, shut up and listen. And it’s not always our duty to educate you because history is there. So you can take time out for yourself to be educated on the issue. We will educate you, however don’t ignore the time and don’t act like you’re oblivious to what’s going on and what’s been going on for a very long time. And stop mentioning your Black friends, like that’s not cool.

“The average life expectancy of a Black trans woman at age 35. So each birthday I have, and heading towards 35, I’m really proud of being here.”

As a young trans individual, what inspired or motivated you to believe everything was going to work out?

A lot of it comes from seeing trans people before me and seeing trans people advanced on to being senior citizens. That’s a big thing that folks don’t really think about. With the life expectancy of trans people, it’s not even in their range to think of a trans person being a senior citizen. And I saw that for the first time at the Black Trans Advocacy Conference and I thought that was beautiful. I thought that was amazing. And to see that, like, that could be me — I can live a long, prosperous life, and pass on information to the youth.

And that is what keeps me going forward…just knowing that I can live a full life. I don’t have to be murdered, I don’t have to be going through all these bad things all the time. My life doesn’t always have to be about trauma and discrimination, it could be about beautiful things and passing things on. And I’d just say, keep your head up. I know it sounds cliche, but you’ve got to…because if you do not, you will wallow in failure and you won’t make it.

What advice would you give to Black queer and trans individuals?

Yes. I would say, again, stop trying to oppress each other. There’s different subgroups where folks are determining each other’s worth. Well, we are all Black people, regardless if you’re lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer, asexual, non-binary. Like, oftentimes these sub-groups are picking at each other and trying to fight for their identity and I think it gets toxic. It gets violent and we have other tools we can use. Education — educate each other about what it means to be nonbianry or a lesbian, instead of things like, You’re not a lesbian because of this or that…or you’re not real, I’m real.

Additional Information

Interview Date: February 29, 2020

Day 25 — Story posted on February 24, 2020

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