Where Is the Empathy for Black Women When They’re Victims of Violence?

Megan Thee Stallion speaks onstage during Beautycon Festival Los Angeles 2019 at Los Angeles Convention Center on August 11, 2019. (John Sciulli/Getty Images for Beautycon)

On July 12, one of the brightest stars in rap could have been killed. 

Following days of online speculation about what happened after a late-night party in the Hollywood Hills, Megan Thee Stallion took to Instagram to explain that she had “suffered gunshot wounds as a result of a crime that was committed” against her and that she was “grateful to be alive.” Though she didn’t name the assailant, hip-hop commentators and fans widely believe him to be Tory Lanez, the R&B singer Megan had been seen hanging out with on social media since at least May. Following the incident, Lanez was arrested on concealed weapon charges and awaits a court hearing in October. 

Despite the seriousness of the situation, people continued to post jokes, memes and judgmental comments. While recovering from gunshot wounds in both feet, Megan took to Twitter to remind people that “Black women are so unprotected” and “we hold so many things to protect the feelings of others w/o considering our own.” She asked for sympathy, something that should have been granted to her from the beginning. Yet the public still seemed reluctant to show any. Black women’s hearts sank as they read Megan’s reflections, an all too familiar feeling of grief setting in. If a megastar like Megan was unsafe, what did that say about the average Black woman in the United States?  

Black women’s concerns about their physical and emotional safety are not exaggerated. Statistics show that more than 40% of Black women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetimes, and that they’re 2.5 times as likely to be killed by a man than white women. Black girls are also seen as adults from an earlier age; people view them as “less innocent” and, at times, blame them for experiencing abuse. The anger and grief associated with higher rates of sexual abuse are routinely misjudged as “attitude” instead of as trauma responses. This can limit the compassion Black women and girls receive from their communities and people in positions of authority alike. 

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Colorism only intensifies these disparities. Dark-skinned Black women face harsher punishments and prison sentences. Skin color seems to be directly tied to perceptions of victimhood. So it’s heartbreaking—and, unfortunately, unsurprising—that many onlookers discredit the severity of the violence that Black women like Megan Thee Stallion experience.

Comic relief, albeit an important part of Black culture, can also be used as a defense mechanism to avoid complex emotions. Jokes become deadly ideological ploys when made at marginalized people’s expense. And most of the “comic relief” about Megan’s tragic ordeal did more to expose the public’s inability to take domestic violence seriously. There were some jokes about Tory Lanez’ height and bravado, but they failed to get at the root issue: That women still have to tiptoe around men’s fragile egos, whether it be their Napoleon complexes or their failure to process rejection.  

Another issue is fake news. Some speculated that Megan fought Tory Lanez, a claim she has denied, and others—including Cam’ron—made unfounded claims that Megan revealed that she’s trans, as if that would somehow justify Tory Lanez allegedly shooting at her. This claim contributes to the dangerous normalization of harming Black trans people. It still hasn’t sunk in. In order for Black lives to matter, all Black life must be respected, protected and affirmed. 

“Savage” and Megan Thee Stallion’s other hit songs inspire millions of listeners to take charge. She’s built a career off of her fierce public persona, but that doesn’t make her invincible. We can’t forget that she’s experienced immense trauma in her young adult life, including losing numerous close family members. On July 27, Megan returned to Instagram to make an emotional plea. Tearing up, she described the physical and emotional trauma of the shooting. The post led to apologies from celebrities such as Chrissy Teigen, 50 Cent and Draya Michele, all of whom had made light of her experience. Thankfully, Megan’s fans and supporters stood behind her. Lizzo sent her a bag of goodies and Rihanna mailed flowers, both demonstrating the importance of Black women standing up for one another. 

Megan’s story also exposes the difficult position Black women survivors of domestic violence navigate as their desire not to “snitch” on abusers clashes with their need to get out of harm's way. Police involvement can put Black women in danger or at risk of incarceration themselves. And many survivors and their advocates argue that the criminalization of abusers does little to rehabilitate our communities, and that the focus should be on providing survivors with resources they need for healing. 

So where can Black women turn? Organizations like Ujima, part of the National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community, offer educational tools and community outreach. But it’s clear that there aren’t enough tools for survivors. And the stakes couldn't be higher. Prison abolition activist Indigo Mateo recently commented that to be a Black woman survivor is a kind of strange privilege—in a sense, we’re lucky because not all of us make it. Black women are killed at a higher rate than any other group of women.

During this moment of national reckoning against racism, we must take violence against Black women seriously. We must speak up.

Some of our sisters will never get the chance to speak again. 

Resources for Survivors

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233. If you are unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474

W.O.M.A.N. Inc. offers a 24-hour support line at 1-877-384-3578 and offers counseling services and peer supporting groups for domestic violence survivors. 

RAINN has a hotline and live chat for sexual assault survivors that offers emotional support, health resources and legal information at 1-800-656-4673.

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Cooperative Restraining Order Clinic offers free legal services for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking in the Bay Area.