When news broke recently that rapper Megan Thee Stallion was shot in the foot by her alleged boyfriend, Tory Lanez, after leaving a party at Kylie Jenner’s mansion — complete with a viral video of Stallion limping from a vehicle — public reaction was disheartening, to say the least.
Rapper 50 Cent, who now is better known for internet trolling, posted a meme depicting Lanez shooting Stallion, which was shared widely across social media. Other celebrities, including Draya Michele and Cam’ron, piled on the taunts.
In response, Stallion called out the jokesters with one heartbreaking tweet: “Black women are so unprotected & we hold so many things in to protect the feelings of others w/o considering our own. … I’m real life hurt and traumatized.”
Her statement resonated with Black women across social media, prompting a flurry of empathetic reactions from social media stars Roxane Gay to Reagan Gomez, and hearkened back to a Malcolm X quote from 1962 that still rings true today: “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
It was a reminder of similarly cruel reactions to Black women who have faced abuse in the recent past. Just last month, footage of a Black woman being thrown into a dumpster and video of another Black woman being knocked unconscious with a skateboard — both followed by virtual laughter from spectators — went viral, amplifying the problematic pattern and the need to protect Black women.
“Their laughter grew loud as she lay in the trash, crying and paralyzed with embarrassment. … It’s a feeling a lot of Black women have learned to carve out space for at an early age,” noted a Washington Area Women’s Foundation response by Mercy Chikowore. “We’re born into the sad reality that no one is going to protect or care for us. Similar to trash, society discards us. … It happens every time a Black girl is adultified, overpoliced, denied an opportunity and when we attempt to report a crime or assault. … The disposal of Black women and girls has been clearly documented since the beginning of time.”
“As the [current] civil unrest continues to unfold,” she added, referencing the recent death of 19-year-old Florida activist Oluwatoyin Salau, “society is finally addressing the systemic racist elephant in the room, yet the urgency around Black women and girls moves sadly at a snail’s pace.”
The since-deleted Instagram post by 50 Cent prompted widespread outrage and a seemingly related follow-up response from Stallion, who tweeted, “It might be funny to y’all on the internet and just another messy topic for you to talk about but this is my real life.”
Stallion, unfortunately, joins a long list of Black women, from Rihanna to Tina Turner, whose pain has been transformed into memes after surviving domestic violence attacks. As one Twitter user pointed out, in response to Stallion’s tweet, “before anyone attempts to argue … approximately 3 women are killed by a spouse, lover, or partner everyday. In recent years, 53% of these women are Black. Black women are 4x more likely than their white peers to be murdered by a lover and 7x more likely to be killed when pregnant than white women.”
“Black women are less likely to be believed, less likely to call the police, and there’s this idea that we shouldn’t air dirty laundry,” C. Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, tells Yahoo Life. Those beliefs are at the intersections of race, class and gender, she says, adding that sexism, misogyny and violence against women are “a part of American culture.” The toxic combination, she says, is “literally killing Black women.”
Yahoo Life spoke with Mason to understand why violence against Black women remains so prevalent, yet so ignored. Here’s how she broke it down:
There’s a belief that the woman must have done something to provoke the violence
All over social media, many have blamed Stallion for the shooting, some even demanding that she take “accountability” for her own attack. “People are saying Meg had to do something to cause him to act that way, as opposed to saying nobody should act that way,” Mason points out. “Instead of asking Black women what they did [to provoke an attack], why don’t we turn the focus and ask the men who are perpetrators about what they did, and why they did it, and hold them to account? That hasn’t happened.”
If you dated or hung around a better class of men then horrible things wouldn’t happen to you. Black women are targets in this world but a lot of black women love to talk about toxic black guys but never talk about how they love toxic black guys.
— T L F (@TravisLFreeman1) July 18, 2020
Maybe if black women would practice this thing called accountability. Much of the trauma that they put themselves through is self inflicted, and no amount of protection can prevent a woman who lacks self accountability, before and not after the mistakes they make like babies.
— Jbeazy (@Jbeazy8) July 18, 2020
Tall Black women are viewed as being ‘manly’ or ‘beastly’
Ever since the 5-foot-10 Stallion rose to fame, she has been subjected to other taunts, such as having her gender questioned and being compared to an animal, as tall Black women are often seen as being masculine or animalistic — which Mason calls “just another excuse to justify violence against Black women.” This week, retired rapper Cam’ron shared a meme implying Stallion is transgender, and thus, horrifically, deserved the attack, noting, “Tory Lanez saw that D— and started shootn … IDC what no one say.” The post’s caption added, “Ayoooo … Da [internet] wins again.”
It’s a well-worn narrative: In 2005, singer Ciara was rumored to have been “born a man,” with tennis star Serena Williams being accused of the same and, most recently, being the subject of an unflattering caricature in Australia’s Herald Sun. The National Association of Black Journalists called the comic “repugnant on many levels,” explaining that the cartoon “not only exudes racist, sexist caricatures of both women, but Williams’ depiction is unnecessarily sambo-like,” a reference to the racist Jim Crow depictions popularized over a century ago. Even after receiving backlash, the Australian Press Council, a group responsible for promoting best media practices, defended the use of the image, saying that “the cartoon was illustrated in response to the events that occurred at the US Open final.”
Mason explains that the active force behind these instances is “misogynoir,” a combination of misogyny and anti-Blackness. “That’s what they always say about [Black women]. That’s what police say when they wrestle us down to the ground — that we’re superhuman or subhuman,” she says.
Why would a tennis legend need someone to let her win🤔 why is her opponent white? Why is she drawn in an animalistic way ? Was any white male tennis players characterized in this when upset? Have you ever been characterized as an animal before ? If none of these apply 🤐
— Jan3ybean (@jan3ybean) September 11, 2018
Well done on reducing one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes and turning a second great sportswoman into a faceless prop. https://t.co/YOxVMuTXEC
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) September 10, 2018
The ‘ride or die’ trope is powerful
Despite speculation brought on by her tweet, Stallion has not confirmed or denied that Lanez was even the shooter — but she wouldn’t be the first to “protect” her assailant. Back in 2017, Lanez’s ex also spoke out, saying that he had stalked and threatened her after she ended their relationship. She wrote, “I’ve been quiet about this whole situation because i felt the need to protect him. … And at this point, I feel like my life is at risk. Never in my life have I felt so scared,” and provided screenshots of texts from Lanez in which he demands to see her.
Mason explains that cultural norms can sometimes silence Black women into simply maintaining an abusive relationship. Wasting no time in proving her point, reality star Draya Michele said, “I predict that they had some sort of Bobby and Whitney love that drove them down this type of road. I’m here for it. I like that. I want you to like me so much you shoot me in the foot, too.”
After catching backlash for the Wine and Weed podcast interview, she tweeted an apology.
I truly don’t glorify domestic violence… I was trying to say just love me deeply. But while trying to be funny, I offended many, including meg. And I’m sorry.
— Draya Michele (@drayamichele) July 22, 2020
Says Mason, “For a lot of Black women who are victims of violence, there’s this idea that, if I speak up, I’m a traitor to the community, so I should just be strong and take it. This sort of Bonnie and Clyde, ride or die [mentality is] ridiculous. This idea that we need to be self-sacrificing in terms of our own safety and well-being just absolutely shouldn’t be the case.”
Namely, she refers to the 2014 domestic violence incident involving NFL linebacker Ray Rice, who had knocked then-fiancée Janay Palmer unconscious in an elevator, prompting her to later apologize. “I deeply regret the role I played that night,” she said at a press conference, asking people to stop judging the man she loved. That prompted many women’s advocates and survivors of domestic violence to speak out about the complicated nuances of women in violent relationships, prompting the creation of a hashtag on Twitter called “Why I Stayed.”
I just tweeted about this yesterday. Black women always have to think about how a black man will be affected by something even when black women are the victims of their violence 😡 pic.twitter.com/Aw1IbWvwUH
— Shashana 🇺🇸 (@Shashana80sKid) July 17, 2020
Black women are always the first to stand up for and support the community. We’re always the first to support black men through their struggles who turn around and make mockery of our pain and suffering. It’s really time we stop emotionally exhausting ourselves for others
— cloud (@spacelovelies) July 17, 2020
Also, in January, rumors resurfaced that actor Wesley Snipes is the “famous” man responsible for abusing actress Halle Berry during their relationship in the ’90s. Still, despite the continued speculation, Berry has never confirmed or denied that Snipes was the culprit. Researchers have found that an altered mental state (due to emotional manipulation), internalized guilt, “wanting to be a savior” and, most obviously, fear, are some of the many reasons women tend not to leave or expose their abusers.
Isn’t that the guy who beat up Halle Berry?
— Jen (@PeraltaG01) January 6, 2020
A belief that famous men are infallible
Hollywood has had a long history of entanglements with domestic violence, with endless examples that violence against women tends not to be taken seriously — especially if the victim is Black and, most especially, if the assailant is widely known.
A biopic detailing ’90s singer Michel’le Toussaint’s experience with abuse at the hands of hip-hop producers Dr. Dre and Suge Knight was released a few years back by Lifetime during Domestic Violence Awareness month. But a Hollywood version about the producers wrote the women, and their abuse, out of the story. “All that stuff still got left out of the NWA story,” Mason says, sending the message that if celebrity stories of abuse can be overlooked, “then what does that mean for a regular girl who doesn’t have fame or notoriety?”
Then there’s the story of R. Kelly. Despite having many witnesses to his inappropriate interactions with underage girls, it took decades and more than one documentary for his predatory history to be etched into his legacy — with many saying the lack of urgency correlated to his victims being Black girls.
“I’m not saying that people can’t have complicated legacies or histories,” Mason notes, “but Black women are the ones that are silenced when we don’t tell the full story. It’s not about trying to bring them down. But where’s the accountability for their behavior?”
The alleged history of Dre being the Ike Turner of the 90s has been so cleanly swept away.
From allegedly beating up women like Dee Barnes at an industry party, Punching Tairrie B at the Grammys and the years of abuse he put Miche’le through.
People just don’t care? https://t.co/5YrnBUjqGm
— Sisa (@Titanbaddie) July 1, 2020
Men can find sexually liberated women threatening
Another reason so many people are refusing to empathize with Stallion is also an old story: her own sexual liberation. As Mason tells Yahoo Life: “There’s a public image of Meg that we all know and love, and it’s very powerful, so I think people are having a hard time reconciling that with the idea that she might be an abused woman.” Stallion’s songs often promote women’s empowerment through sex-positive lyrics — something some critics are now turning against her, with one Twitter user writing, “Maybe she should’ve twerked on them bullets.”
Recently, sex expert Nadia Bokody explored this phenomenon, writing, “Some of the most confident, assertive women I know also happen to be the most sexually empowered. But, as I learned myself some years ago when I began this journey, there’s a high price to pay for it. The double-edged sword of owning your sexuality as a woman is the threat you pose to men.” She added, “Sexually liberated women violate the status quo of gender norms because, in essence, they’re women who can’t be tamed.” Mason agrees, saying, “I think there is some fear about [Stallion’s] power and her agency,” and that Lanez’s shooting her as she attempted to leave was about “him trying to control her and have power over her.”
Yeah, the classy ones that respect the masculine principle. Not industry whores like big-ol-freak.
— The Poet Laureate (@Abeast92) July 18, 2020
Many Black women must also take accountability & responsibility for our actions. If we’re presenting ourselves in the manner of a “savage” or a “hot girl” in association w/ harlotry, no man will find worth in protecting & uplifting this! A man protects what he finds value in.
— KanuriYah (@KaNuri) July 18, 2020
Some also say this is the reason that the Notorious B.I.G.’s sexual exploitation of Lil’ Kim continues to be overlooked, as her provocative lyrics and attire did not make for a good victim. In 2016, Kim told XXL that as a teen recording Hard Core, “I was just a little kid trying to enjoy my teenage life. … They kind of marketed me as an older girl, even though I wasn’t.”
And, Mason notes, “part of the issue is that [the slut-shaming is] not only coming from men, but it’s also coming from women, who are being very critical or judgmental. For women who defend Tory Lanez or the R. Kellys of the world, there’s this idea that if [they] don’t act like that, then [they] won’t get treated that way — and that’s false. Period.”
Mason presses on about women further, noting, “I haven’t seen many articles or heard anybody being outraged at the fact that she was shot by this man. I wonder where the support is from the violence against women movement, the antiviolence movement or the Me Too movement. … She fails to get the community support that she needs because there is a frame around who gets to be a victim or who is victimized. The silence around what she’s experienced has been deafening.”
Overall, Mason says, the response to Stallion’s shooting reminds her of Breonna Taylor, as both are among the many examples of “Black women that have been victims of violence, yet haven’t gotten the attention and support that they should have.”
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