For Black women, experiencing some form of violence during our lives—whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional—is almost a given. The trope of the strong Black woman is a curse, one that reduces us to emotional mules whose responsibility it is to carry the pain of those around us, often at the expense of our own well-being. “Black women will save us” has become a political rallying cry for many so-called progressives, while at the same time Black women’s own pain is ignored, minimized, and categorically denied. I’m not just speaking metaphorically. Studies have shown that an astonishing number of medical students believe Black people experience less physical pain than white people.
When news broke that Megan Thee Stallion had been shot, my heart dropped, not only because of the pain Megan had been enduring but because of the injuries still to come. And because the past month has been a sore reminder that regardless of fame or wealth, part of the dehumanization of Black women is the dismissal of suffering.
In the early morning hours of July 12, TMZ reported that Megan had cut her feet on what was believed to be broken glass while exiting an SUV in Los Angeles. When police arrived on the scene, rapper Tory Lanez was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. Details of the incident were initially scarce. But two days later, Megan went on Instagram and confirmed that she had been shot in both of her feet “as a result of a crime that was… done with the intention to physically harm me.” On August 20, a little over a month after the news first broke, Megan reappeared on Instagram Live and confirmed that Tory Lanez was the person who shot her.
By then, fans, gossip blogs, and commenters had already spent the past month speculating about the nature of Lanez and Megan’s relationship and what did or didn’t happen that evening. Everyone from anonymous Twitter users to celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and 50 Cent joked about Megan’s injuries, using her confident expressions of her sexuality as justification to trivialize the seriousness of her being shot. An extreme act of violence against Megan was siphoned into comedy as if it was just the latest dumb celebrity gossip. In the weeks after the shooting, reports about previous allegations of domestic violence against Lanez also resurfaced. But even while Lanez remained suspiciously radio silent on social media, fans and faceless accounts were unremitting in their demand for Megan to share the intimate details of a clearly traumatic event with the internet.
It’s significant that Megan chose to name Lanez as her shooter during a time when conversations about the violence Black women experience at the hands of Black men are happening more publicly than ever in the past—and with more attention given to the voices of survivors, even as little is being done to actually protect Black women from experiencing abuse in the future. Of course, it’s not just Black women who struggle to have their experiences of abuse and assault believed. But the misogynoir underlying the experiences of Black women survivors means that it’s actually “progress” to have other people simply acknowledge that the violence they’ve experienced is real.
Comments on social media after the shooting were so vicious and relentless that, in the midst of releasing an internet-breaking No. 1 single with Cardi B, Megan felt compelled to clear up the rumors in a series of posts on Twitter and Instagram. But even after she named Lanez as her shooter, the online harassment didn’t stop; it just shifted. People began to accuse Megan of snitching, despite the fact that she initially declined to tell law enforcement what happened at the scene. But as she explained in her IG Live, she withheld details from police because she was scared of the potential repercussions for herself and the other Black people in the car if law enforcement realized they had a gun. “I didn’t want to die,” Megan said on Instagram. “I didn’t want the police to shoot me because it’s a nigga with a gun in the car.”
It’s not surprising that Megan chose to use social media as the medium to share her story. But while her rise to popularity has been fueled by a casual rapport between her and her fans (better known as Hotties), developed over countless IG Live sessions and Twitter chats, she’s still chosen to keep parts of her personal life private. It makes sense that an artist who lost both her mother and grandmother in the same month in 2019, right as her single “Big Ole Freak” was catapulting her towards fame, would be somewhat guarded when it comes to her personal life. But by speaking directly with her audience on Instagram, it seemed like Megan was attempting to assert her own story on her own terms, untarnished by the agendas of others.
Barely a month after Megan was shot, as the rumors and jokes had escalated, she felt the need to post a photo of her injured foot on Instagram to prove that the shooting happened. It’s clear from her response in the subsequent Instagram Live that she felt backed into a corner and feared that her silence would only encourage more internet harassment. Although Megan’s choice to speak was undoubtedly brave, it’s upsetting that she was compelled to do so not entirely because she wanted to share her story, but out of a desire to protect herself against lies and online attacks. In the initial flood of support, it was Black women who came to her defense in droves—including Janelle Monáe and Rihanna—proving again how Black women are left to protect and support each other in moments when no one else will. Whether it’s accurate to say that Megan felt “safe” sharing her experience publicly is another story—in a culture where violence against Black women is literally meme’d, is it even possible for us to feel safe discussing assault?
Megan may not have felt comfortable speaking publicly at all if not for the increased public discussions around abuse and violence against Black women. Two documentaries, in particular, have generated attention on different scales: Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly docuseries exposed the R&B singer’s decades of alleged sexual abuse and rape of young Black girls, and in this year’s HBO Max documentary On the Record, multiple women shared their experiences of alleged sexual assault by Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons. Both projects received varying levels of praise but were also met with serious denial in their attempts to do the difficult work of raising awareness around the predation of Black women. In tandem, the Me Too movement has retroactively empowered famous Black women to talk about more openly about the violence they’ve experienced. In 2018, Kelis spoke about being allegedly abused during her marriage to Nas. Multiple Black women have come forward with sexual assault allegations against Trey Songz in the past few years. And just this summer, vocalist Jaguar Wright accused Common of assault.
Prominent Black male rappers like Bun B, T.I., and Chance the Rapper have openly supported Megan after she named Lanez as the person who shot her. But while Megan seems to be receiving more public support than famous Black women have in the past
—it would be dishonest to characterize the general response to her shooting as anything but another form of violence.
The violence of misogynoir is both physical and psychological. It’s not only about the hurt Black women experience, but also the imagined harm that people wish upon us, and the violence that pervades the language used to talk about Black women in the first place. Online, skeptics have decided that Megan must have done something to provoke Lanez to shoot her, or that it was her fault for ignoring imagined red flags about Lanez. Many aren’t hesitating to display their grotesque satisfaction with the knowledge that a Black woman who built her career with raps centering her own desires over the desires of men says she was physically harmed by a man.
The dehumanization of Black women in pop culture is made visible through the ways that anti-Blackness and misogyny coalesce to deem Black women in the public eye as inherently unsympathetic. Over a decade after Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna, the details of what happened between them are still contested and debated, with some insisting that Rihanna was equally culpable in her own battery. Even after taking a plea deal in a publicized case of violence against a famous Black woman, there has been no long term impact on Brown’s career—in fact, in the years following the assault, he won a Grammy Award and was cast in Think Like A Man. The chances are high that Tory Lanez could attempt a similar path as Brown—perhaps if he lays low for long enough, the bad press will pass, and he can slowly reenter the music scene and reestablish his career. History shows that’s likely what could happen.
The “protect Black women” rallying call should not come with qualifiers. Supporting Black women goes beyond supporting only “respectable” Black women, or famous Black women, or cis Black women, nor should a Black woman have to fit a particular mold of moral goodness to deserve to be protected from experiencing patriarchal violence—or to have their experiences validated and affirmed when they do share. The expectation that Black women relive their private trauma in the public eye is a type of re-traumatization, a form of psychic violence that often makes it even more difficult to heal and move on. Of course, Megan Thee Stallion shouldn’t have to put her literal wounds on display for society to show her basic empathy. But black women constantly grapple with violence layered on top of violence, a maze of injustices that demands you give so much, only to receive scraps of kindness in return.