Content Warning: This essay includes mention of physical, emotional and sexual abuse
In September, Megan the Stallion, a young Black rapper from Houston, went on Instagram Live and admitted she had been shot in the foot by Tory Lanez. Like clockwork, Megan started receiving death threats and was called a snitch by some of her own fans who made unsubstantiated claims that this was an orchestrated plot to bring another Black man down.
Prior to this, Megan had not spoken publicly on what happened and initially hadn’t told police or medical staff the truth, reasoning that she didn’t want to go to jail and “didn’t tell the police nothing because [she] didn’t want us to get in no more trouble.” This is believable for everyone who has experienced the particular gaslighting that occurs when men don’t take responsibility for their actions, which is exactly what happened when she later did try to speak up. We have all heard this story before, and some of us know it intimately. Black women all over the globe are often implicated in our own rapes, murders, and domestic violence cases, making nowhere safe for us to turn after these things occur.
There’s a need for safe spaces where folks can name the abuse they experienced and trust that harm doers will be held accountable. Instead, this society shames survivors and makes fun of them for staying, or dismisses their abuse and writes it off as love.
At the same time, survivors are always expected to hold nuance, to be considerate and think about possibilities and alternatives, even when those who claim to care maintain rigid, all-consuming stances that hurt us. Even when they shoot us.
Sometimes even other Black women minimize the abuse Black women face. “I predict that they had some sort of Bobby and Whitney love that drove them under this snapped-esce road,” said Draya Michele of Basketball Wives, crafting a tired domestic violence joke about Megan’s shooting. “And I’m here for it. I want you to like me so much you shoot me in the foot too.”
One afternoon when I was seventeen, a boy whom I did not love, and I knew it even then, forced me to prove to him that I did. Another boy or girl—I can’t remember—had just sent a text message that said, “I miss you,” and the legs of the boy whom I did not love moved quickly, like my ex-stepfather’s at his angriest. Except this time, when the boy’s feet got close to me, they stayed on the ground, whereas my ex-stepfather’s pushed his into the core of my face, leaving me purple, red, unseeing, and missing school for two weeks because the makeup couldn’t cover the bruises and swelling.
This boy whom I did not love, and never really liked, locked me out of his house in the Oakland hills. His voice beckoned me to his car in soft, chastising nudges. I remember thinking it was nothing serious, even though he’d also hidden my purse, phone and car keys.
I know now that had I screamed the length of this seven bedroom house, all of its emptiness would have responded back with “hush girl, stop making all that noise.” The neighbors would have said it wasn’t that serious too, and the boy would have smiled big the same way he did then.
As soon as I got into his car I froze, the seat belt choking me for the two minutes it took for him to drive to the bottom of the hill. As his friend stood nearby waiting to grab lunch, the boy shook his small hand in front of my face and said to me, “I’ll know if you catch the bus. Walk and make it back to me. Okay, baby?” His wet kiss across my cheek was cold and gritty, but I shook it off, smiling as I threw my pretend love to the sky.
I needed a walk anyway, I reasoned, and it did not matter if this boy thought it was for him. It was not for him. I was not for him. And without my phone, purse and car keys, there was nowhere else I could go except back up the hill to his house, I thought, or miles down the street home. I needed only call or walk or ask.
But I did not want the questions that would come after: What was I doing here alone in this house with a boy unsupervised? Didn’t I know that only fast tail girls did this? I must want to be a fast tail girl, hunh?
The only person at my house at 4:00 pm was my then stepfather, who had tried to kick a hole in my head months before. My mother was in her third trimester when he’d thrown a ceramic plate at her. It hit the wall and he explained he knew it wouldn’t reach her body, that he was no risk to the baby, but I saw his eyes. I saw the blood-thirst. So I did not go “home.”
As I strolled back up this busy street with white folks walking their dogs and pushing new babies, my small face half-hidden in tears, no one asked if I was okay. This was a test I never signed up for, but my legs kept climbing. I told myself this would be the last time I saw the boy. I only needed my things.
As the sun rose to its highest point, another version of me walked behind, shaking her head. It took me an hour to get to the top of the hill. I thought that was the end of it, this performance. But when the police car rode up beside me, my first worry was whether my Chevy Oldsmobile was registered, and then, if the cops thought I was casing nearby houses.
The officer asked me if I was okay, and my back went straight. The tears on my face were no longer there, the not-love I had for the boy glistening. I shook my head “yes,” and the officer turned his siren on once, then left.
When I got back to the house, shaky and out of breath, I collapsed in the boy’s arms, his worry for me palpable and real.
It has taken me a long time to face that that part is a lie.
When I arrived back at the gated house, the boy made me wait until he felt like letting me onto the premises. And once that happened, his friend, who’d been there since they drove back up the hill without me, almost looked halfway as sorry as I felt. The boy whom I didn’t love slurped his Nation’s milkshake long and hard, like a drag from his cigarette, while his friend’s burger hung limp in his hand, the lettuce and mayonnaise dripping out.
I have carried a knife on me all my life. Not in my purse. Not around a key ring. Always in my pocket. It was so hot that day and I had walked for so long that the welt the knife made against my thigh didn’t go away for hours. And as the boy tried to lock me inside his house this time, I pulled it out. He started tearing up immediately. I got all my things and never returned, but I always remembered.
Those two boys in that big house with the remote controlled gate and five cars weren’t different, really. They had both been violent to girls like me before, playing this game of good cop, bad cop, devotion, ride or die, power. Whether the boy’s friend wanted to help me or not changes absolutely nothing about what I was exposed to. The cop offered help too, and I knew that accepting help from men like him had consequences, but I had hoped the friend would help me.
My life, or the boy whom I didn’t love’s life, or all of our lives could be gone right then and there. There are no stories in my world that say police are skillful in de-escalation, even when they do not end in death or more pain.
Sometimes when my face was bloody, when braids were missing from my scalp or when I couldn’t sit up right, police were called, but they never made it better because I lived with my abuser. My mother, who was in her own cycle of domestic abuse, appeased the abuser by telling the police I was safe and that I would stay. We would handle what happened as a family. And I had to stay because I was a minor, even though my aunt and grandmother were on the other side of that door calling me to them.
I told the officer I was okay for the sake of me and the boy whom I didn’t love, not unlike how my mother promised the police and our family we were okay to both protect ourselves and a twisted show of loyalty to my ex-stepfather. I want to say that the reasons we pretended at okay are not the same. I could not handle seeing the body of another dead Black boy in front of me. But I do not know what my mother has seen. I don’t know her ghosts.
I didn’t want to go to jail and I knew I could go to jail, even though nothing was on me. I didn’t want him to go to jail even though I knew something was on him. And I didn’t want either of us to be murdered because “bad” Black children are dead Black children. And “good” Black children are dead Black children. And Black girls all over The Town are simply considered runaways and deviants when they are trafficked or somehow go “missing” after being spotted with Oakland police officers.
I can’t lie and say a part of me didn’t pat myself on the back when I told the cop that I was alright, that I didn’t need help. That part of me has been formed by gritting and bearing it. By producing, by thinking rest is for the lazy and weary. That speaking up is only necessary when we don’t know our abusers.
I have been shaped by sexual, emotional and gendered violence, at the hands of women and men and neither. Sometimes late at night, memories of that harm visit and ask, “was there something else you could’ve done?” I know that’s the wrong question. The chauvinist state ensures survivors are always met with the wrong question, and that question is, “How might you have prevented yourself from being abused? Was it really that bad?”
I’ve been trying to find the words to relate the familiar, unsurprising, regular assaults that Black women and girls experience. I have seen versions of these stories play out all of my life. I have dreamt about them. I have listened to these stories of abuse from grandmothers, cousins and siblings. We are all shaking with the fury of these sustained violences.
I learned to split myself a long time ago. I wouldn’t be alive had I not. And that isn’t a celebration. Maybe all Black women and girls who grow up in abusive households learn this early. Maybe all Black folks assigned female at birth know the double violence of becoming experts in steeling our faces for another slap and readying our bones for more disappointment.
The world has an appetite for our pain, and that is what I refuse. This is why I will never again decide to protect someone who harms me. Which isn’t the same as saying, I will let the police do with them as they may. I will decide on my own terms.
Sometimes that looks like telling my ex-stepfather how evil he is. Sometimes it means watching my abusers be eaten alive by their demons. Sometimes it means pulling my knife out faster and digging into skin. And sometimes it means knowing my first sexual abuser was molested by one of her family members, too.
I will not let this world shape what retribution means for me and I will forever keep telling the truth.
After being pressured by fans to apologize to Megan, Lanez allegedly sent a text saying he “just got too drunk.” As if that wasn’t enough, he recently hyped up what fans assumed was an apology and released a secret album (that I refuse to link here). Throughout the poorly produced and executed tracks, Lanez references Megan with lyrics such as, “How the fuck you get shot in your foot, don’t hit no bones or tendons?” and “”Even though I got a crush on Kylie, I woulda left with you.”
These men and boys who grasp for violence but call it love are excellent at gaslighting Black women and non-men, whether we stay or leave. In turn, we are tasked with upholding performances of love, and being careful that it never feels like rejection. Lanez’ supposed crush on Kylie (a white woman whose entire family does whatever they can to look like Black women) is another way men like him try to dangle things over our heads, essentially saying, “look at what I sacrificed for you.” But Lanez’ leaving with Megan was not enough to stop him from shooting her, proving this type of love, like or care is never enough because the issue was never about that anyway. Cishetero portrayals of love and toxic masculinity ensure that there’s always an inherent level of violence in our relationships.
So death to all the non-apologies men give women and marginalized genders they’ve harmed.
Not all men, but enough.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
The Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
Amber Butts is a writer, organizer, grief worker and educator from Oakland, CA who believes that Black folk are already whole. Her work centers Black children, Black mamas and Black elders. It asks big and small questions about how we move towards actualizing spaces that center tenderness, nuance and joy while living in a world reliant on our terror.
Amber comes from a long line of hairdressers, storytellers and loud women from The South. She likes cheese, comic books and sings off-key.
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