No Sanctuary for Black Women: Megan Thee Stallion, Breonna Taylor and State-Sanctioned Misogynoir
Megan Thee Stallion was shot. And for a month she kept silent about the identity of the shooter as the internet denied her, mocked her and cracked jokes. People crawled out from under all manner of rocks to throw the kind of shade on Ms. Pete that never seems to subside when it comes to Black women.
Some of the worst gleefully trafficked in a Black patriarchal discourse of projection and blame. Retired NBA player Larry Johnson may have summed up the collective male dominant logic when he wrote, “Ladies, if you date a man who coined the term ‘Demon Time,’ and you get shot by him during Demon Hours, be accountable for YOUR stupidity.” But it wasn’t just dudes weighing in and adding insult to injury. Media personality Draya Michele claimed she was trying to find the funny in it when she said, “I predict that they had some sort of Bobby and Whitney love that drove them down this snapped-esque 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.” Famed rap mogul and producer Curtis Jackson (50 Cent), saw fit to post a meme mocking the incident. Later stating, “I didn’t think this shit was real. It sounded so crazy @theestallion i’m glad your feeling better and i hope you can accept my apology. I posted a meme that was floating around. I wouldn’t have done that if i knew you was really hurt sorry.” His post and others reveal what we already know: Black women are rarely believed and are forced to expose themselves to be even given the courtesy of consideration that they may in fact be telling the truth.
These posts are more than insensitive. They represent the kind of disdain that forms the foundation for the misogynoir that is the fuel behind the toxic masculinity evidenced in the shooting itself. That it is possible for people to find a way to joke about someone being shot is a statement in and of itself. But this is what the corporate-backed Breakfast Club culture has produced in the Black community. It is a kind of capitalist anti-Blackness performed in the bodies of Black people for profit.
As noted by Karen Attiah in her article for the Washington Post, this chart-topping phenom was experiencing a high-point in her budding career as a recording artist. Yet what her life-threatening experience illuminates is that there is no level of success or amount of paper that can protect a Black woman in our society.
Megan didn’t deserve this. No woman deserves this. Yet, we live in world where concern for women is filtered through narrow corridors of race and class, and protection is reserved for those who are whitest and wealthiest. And too many of us are all too willing to hold those corridors in place with our own bodies.
This is the structure that enables misogynoir to exist. The hatred of Black women is state-sanctioned and corporate-sponsored and culturally accepted. This is the particular burden of being a Black woman in a society that celebrates and exploits your beauty even as it violates and shames you for your identity. These contradictory realities were left for Megan to make sense of and navigate on her own as she kept to herself the identity of the man responsible for the gunshot wounds in her feet — Tory Lanez, a fellow recording artist on the rise. Yet that fool, still swimming in the gasoline of his own toxic masculinity, could not keep himself silent as his team lobbed attacks on Megan before she came forward.
When she finally revealed him as the attacker, she spoke for all Black women caught in the matrix of misogynoir violence: “He shot me and I still tried to protect him because the police be killing us.”
And I wonder if we can fully appreciate all that she said there and what that one statement represents for all Black women today. As a Black man, I cannot proclaim Black Lives Matter and remain silent to this particular trauma that Black women are made to endure due to the systemic violence that is reserved for them.
This is an impossible dilemma. Black women should not have to risk their lives to prove their love for Black men. And the fact that they are made to is an indictment on us, Black men, who place them in that life-threatening position.
In a society predicated upon structural racism, sexism, colorism and classism and a nation and community that continues to casually excuse, justify and glorify toxic masculinities, Black women are trapped in a deadly cyclone of state-sanctioned abuse, violence, violation and disregard for their humanity and civil rights.
All we need to know to appreciate the profundity of that statement is call the name Breonna Taylor. After all of the marching, the hashtagging, the demonstrations, the celebrity statements, even after Oprah, the police that murdered Breonna Taylor have not been arrested. Breonna, the young EMT who was on the front-line of the COVID response in her Louisville community. Willing to risk her life to save the lives of others. It was this woman who had her life snatched by officers Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove when they bumrushed her home in a botched raid.
Megan’s experience tells the other side of that story of state-sanctioned misogynoir. Megan was caught between the intersectional realities of being shot by a Black man in a city whose police are notorious for their bloodlust for Black people.
And we know that prisons are not the answer. Of all institutions, prisons are warehouses of toxic masculinity where the raw materials of rage, frustration, repression, self-hate, and rivalry are manufactured and reproduced. Rehabilitation is the last thing one should expect for anyone to experience in a US prison, especially for men already fueled up on toxic notions of manhood. Prisons are cesspools of toxicity. This, then, is why the call for prison abolition must be heeded and amplified in the Black community. Given the rate at which ours are warehoused in the prison industrial complex, our communities have been held captive by a US prison culture that thrives on violence and a survival machismo that is suicidal. This culture of violence set to a high boil behind the barbed-wire walls of prisons now permeates our communities.
The stark contrast of this ultra-racist condition within the criminal justice system is most revealed in the lived realities of Black women, who have the unfathomable burden of finding justice and a sense of a peace in said system that is set up to reproduce the violence it claims to seek to end. How are Black women supposed to feel about a system that watches them get victimized by men who in turn are victimized by the very system that is meant to protect them? That question only scratches at the surface of a dilemma that is as debilitating as it is confounding.
Offerings of support certainly provide some measure of community for Megan and other survivors of such violence, but they cannot provide the kind of sanctuary that these women deserve and need in order to heal.
Black women should not be made to keep silent when violence is committed against them. Doing so only leads to further trauma and a calcification of spirit that can lead to a depression that sabotages the promise of healing. Zora Neale Hurston’s quote should be taken literally. “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” Although we, Black men, may protest the thought, Hurston includes us in that “they” there in that quote. The cold fact of the matter remains that when it comes to violence against Black women, we often find ourselves in bloody camaraderie with very police we rightly revile. Our contradictions are the shadow that precedes us in this movement. It is time for us to turn toward the light and confront them and confront the ways we continue to be an obstacle for Black women in the march for liberation.
And we should not keep silent either. Toxic masculinity is not precluded to white suburban and rural communities, home to mass shooters and white nationalist cells. Toxic masculinity is the purview of all cultures and communities. And we are no stranger to its deadly toll. This is not the moment to get into a study into why it has emerged as it has within the Black community. White supremacist capitalist patriarchy has a fundamental role to play. But our own home-grown Black cultural nationalist patriarchy also enables us to casually embrace certain notions of Black manhood that are predicated in violence or at least the threat of it.
It is in the hushed corners of this communal embrace that the vilest acts of violence can and do occur. Olawatoyin Salau should have celebrated her 20th birthday on August 27th. This young outspoken and courageous activist was raped and murdered by Aaron Glee, 49, in June after he used his Christian faith as cover to gain her trust. We need to do more than denounce these acts and distance ourselves from the men who commit them. We need to acknowledge the presence of toxic masculinity in our midst and actively engage ourselves with addressing its roots before the violence surfaces in the lives of women in our community.
In a circumstance involving structural oppression based on identity, there is no neutral space to occupy. You are either for or against the oppression. You cannot claim to be against the sexism that Black women endure unless you are actively engaged in resisting patriarchy and the systems of male domination that threaten the everyday lives of women in our society. There is no such thing as not being involved. Your silence speaks for you. Just as we would rightly dismiss a white person claiming to be anti-racist despite their doing nothing to resist either their white privilege or the structural racism that provides them that privilege, we should readily dismiss any Black man who claims to be for Black women yet fails to show up and actively engage in supportive ways the transformative measures being called for by Black women activists in all areas of Black existence. Neutral is an anathema that should be called out for the cowardice it implies.
Justice for Black women is not just retribution and restitution. Ultimately, justice must be the realization of a community void of violence and violation. That is the work of abolition at its heart. And its attainment cannot emerge without the guidance of those harmed by the system as it is. As a consequence of how white supremacist capitalist patriarchy is structured, Black women sit at the intersections of all the forces of oppression attacking us at this moment. We must remove from our language this talk that genders the movement in a way that renders the reality faced by Black women as a footnote or afterthought. That, in itself, is an unforgivable injustice.
Bottom-line is Black women have nowhere to turn. But to themselves. And it is there in that sacred space that our solutions will be found.
There is no Black freedom until Black women are free. There is no justice for Black people until Black women have received justice. And we are not healed as a people until Black women are healed and made whole. And by Black women, I mean to say, all Black women. Black women of all complexions, ages, genders, nationalities, all Black women. And for all this to happen, the system we live under must change, and, we, Black men, must change, too. We who are born from and to Black women must become men anew. We must renounce in our skin a masculinity that permits violation and give rebirth to a spirit of manhood that is loving of the women in our community as first measure toward a liberated identity that can help transform our world. Nothing less will do if we are serious about the change we need now.
When women cannot even celebrate their own bodies and the universality of their sexuality without enduring the relentless and tired critiques of men, we have a problem. The proper name for that problem is patriarchy. The chart-topping success for Cardi B and Megan’s song and video “WAP” certainly must be seen as a personal triumph for Megan. But in light of her experience, it also becomes an act of solidarity of women showing up for each other. The video in this context sans male gaze is an anthem, not revolutionary (in the political sense) so much as a salve. For in a world without safety, predicated on their depredation, whatever sanctuary there is, Black women must find it within and among themselves.
As this movement moves forward and the society shifts in response, whatever sanctuaries are to be created for Black women’s protection and healing and recreation will be made by the genius of their grit, grind and determination as infused with their self-willed love as they see fit. And if and when and how we enter will not be ours to say.