Op-Ed: Free Megan
When a well-known Black man is faced with allegations of mistreatment towards women or girls, the court of Black public opinion rushes towards acquittal. A Supreme Court nominee sold people on the idea that he was guilty of a “high-tech lynching” when a former clerk’s sexual harassment claim tainted his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. A heavyweight boxer was said to be manipulated by his wife, who claimed he beat her during their marriage, and he was duped by another woman, whom he was convicted of raping a few years later. The girl who got an infamous rapper locked up had performed fellatio on the dance floor that very night; the White girl who accused an NBA superstar was in a hotel room with him, what was she doing there anyway? A lot of us seemed to think The Juice was guilty but wanted to see him get away with murder. The young r&b king was dating a pop singer, who is from the islands, and ‘Caribbean women have tempers;’ people who never met either of them swore up and down that the couple had fought one another, and that she could give as good as she got. We don’t know what the football player’s wife had said to him prior to him knocking her out, but it must have been terrible. America’s favorite dad didn’t need to rape anyone in order to have sex with lots of women, and the Piped Piper couldn’t have been with all those little girls if those little girls weren’t willing to be with him. A hip-hop mogul’s own rape allegations were the subject of an entire documentary, yet the music community and fans alike seem unwilling to consider anything about him aside from his tremendous success and contributions to “the culture.”
Fast forward to July 2020, when the world woke up to the news of Megan Thee Stallion being shot. Never in my three-plus decades of hearing about rappers being victims of gun violence had I seen such deeply polarizing reactions. An overwhelming number of people took to social media to immediately declare that the alleged assailant, Canadian singer Tory Lanez, was either innocent or justified. A rapper-turned-media mogul, who was also a victim of gun violence, shared a meme that featured Megan and Lanez in the famous scene from Boyz in the Hood, where Ricky is killed; Another rapper reposted one that said “Tory Lanez saw that d*ck and started shootn (sic.)”
Some would point to Megan’s own actions as the reason for the widespread doubt. She initially claimed that the injuries to her feet had been the result of stepping on glass, later admitting that she had hesitated to cooperate with the Los Angeles Police Department because of their history of brutality against Black people. The incident took place during a season of protests over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, both reminders that Black people’s relationship with law enforcement is so fraught, that we don’t trust them.
Despite the fact that we avoid the police as a precautionary step, I don't believe that our community has been truthful with itself about the people we are willing to defend and the people we are not willing to protect.
Black people seem to understand how the justice system has brutalized our men, how it has declared innocent ones guilty and stolen the lives of so many. As a result, we have made it our business to protect our men from that system, by any means. Even if the means involve sacrificing Black women and girls.
Whenever a well-known Black man is accused of a crime against a woman or girl, there is widespread defensiveness among our people. We’re clear that it takes a lot for a Black man to make it and we don’t want to see one lose all he’s worked for. We don’t trust the victims, we don’t believe their motivation for coming forward to be legitimate somehow. We acknowledge the bias against Black men in the legal system and in broader society, but behave as if somehow Black women and girls are without their own unique vulnerabilities.
Our distrust of the system has allowed us to behave as though Black men are simply incapable of being abusers, which contrasts starkly with the fact that Black women and girls experience sexual and domestic violence at higher rates than nearly all groups of people. We, as a community, don’t want to believe the stereotypes that White people have created that suggest Black men are inherently violent or predatory. So instead of allowing for the reality that some of our men are abusive, and some of them do great harm, many of us have placed our heads in the sand and either denied these men’s capacity for violence or acted as if the violence didn’t matter.
Thus, Megan finds herself trapped.
She’s left not only to cope with the trauma and the physical damage that the shooting caused her but she’s also forced to deal with the pain of being accused of being some sort of anti-Black male agent bent on harming an innocent man. Though she has been vocal about her distrust of police and her own inclination towards avoiding them, in the eyes of many, she’s guilty of the worst sin a Black woman can commit: siding with law enforcement against a Black man.
The Black community’s inclination to protect Black men has never been met with a similar community-wide commitment to protecting Black women. Our racial loyalty has always been with Black men, first and foremost. To stand with women and girls who have been victimized by Black men is regarded as taking a stance against Black men, as committing an act of racial disloyalty.
For many people, it doesn’t matter that Megan is a victim, it doesn’t matter that she could have lost her life that night, or how much pain being shot by a one-time friend might cause her. It doesn’t even matter that she initially tried to protect Lanez from the hands of the law. What matters is that she is part of a case against a Black man and that Black man might go to jail. What matters is that she has dared to publicly accuse a Black man of violence, going against the unspoken vow many of us have taken against ever admitting to such a thing.
Tory Lanez seems to know where our loyalty lies, and since 2020, he has leveled the idea that he has been unjustly targeted as a Black man, and that other Black people should be standing in solidarity with him. Some may say Lanez has never been an A-list star, but he seems to have acquired a rabid online fandom in the wake of the shooting allegations that is dedicated to proving his innocence and challenging the character of the victim. It's as if his alleged violence against this woman made him more popular. It isn't simply our predisposition to support Black men that Megan has found herself up against; it's also the pervasive hate of Black women, known as misogynoir, that has made her a target.
Black women deserve solidarity from members of their own community, but there are plenty of us, too, who eagerly show our support for the men who have been accused of harming one of our sisters. However, Black women’s loudest supporters are always other Black women, and since this story has unfolded, many of us have taken to social media, published articles, or signed statements affirming our belief that Megan was unjustly harmed by a man whom she considered a friend. But despite the outrage displayed on Twitter and the heart-wrenching pieces from journalists like Ivie Ani and Shanita Hubbard, it can't help but feel like Megan is standing largely by herself at a time when she should be showered with love and care.
These lopsided loyalties stand between our people and anything resembling liberation. Until the protection of Black women matters as much as the protection of Black men, our entire community will continue to suffer. Until the hatred of Black women that permeates our culture is eradicated, we will continue to exist as second-class citizens within our own communities. We must break free of the notion that any Black man accused of a crime against women and girls is being unfairly targeted in order to place him within the criminal justice system. Painful as it may be, we have to acknowledge that the capacity for violence exists amongst even those whom we love, and how frequently Black women and girls fall victim to that violence.
Megan Thee Stallion deserves to be free, free to focus on her healing, her career, and her life. But instead, she is bound by an unspoken code of loyalty that finds her alleged assailant being hailed as some sort of hero. Our women deserve much more. How much must we endure before the world seems to notice?
Jamilah Lemieux is a writer, cultural critic, and editor.