Since the summer of 2019, Megan Thee Stallion has made a serious impact on “the culture”: dominating the music charts with hits like “Savage,” collaborating with Beyoncé, making TikTok a more bearable place to be and giving us one of the catchiest phrases and mentalities of the last few years by coining “hot girl summer.” She’s shown up for her fans countless times since she first emerged in the music industry, so now—when she needs people the most—why aren’t we showing up for her?
On July 12, the rapper (whose real name is Megan Pete), was shot during an altercation in a car with fellow rapper Tory Lanez. While there was initially confusion over the specifics of the incident (including whether or not Megan was arrested and whether injuries to her feet were sustained from broken glass), on July 15 Megan took to Instagram to clarify the situation: “The narrative that is being reported about Sunday’s morning events are inaccurate and I’d like to set the record straight,” the rapper wrote. “On Sunday morning, I suffered gunshot wounds, as a result of a crime that was committed against me and done with the intention to physically harm me. I was never arrested, the police officers drove me to the hospital where I underwent surgery to remove the bullets.”
“I’m incredibly grateful to be alive and that I’m expected to make a full recovery,” she continued, “but it was important for me to clarify the details about this traumatic night.” While the rapper didn’t specify exact details about the incident, per The Guardian Lanez was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and released on bond. And it’s pretty clear from Meg’s statement that whatever happened, happened *to* and *against* her and her physical safety, which is super scary. But, instead of being supportive, by large the internet either responded unkindly, making jokes about the shooting and Megan’s gender identity, or they just didn’t respond at all. Because despite the fact that the rapper is one of the most popular musical acts of the moment, everyone, including the media, has remained relatively silent on the incident, with only a few groups of people showing support for Megan and her recovery.
And while it’s disheartening, to say the least, we shouldn’t be that surprised by the response (or lack thereof) to Megan being shot—because it’s emblematic of how society has and continues to treat Black women and their health—by not protecting them or taking them seriously.
The reaction to Megan Thee Stallion’s shooting has been nothing short of sick
To get things straight, there’s absolutely nothing funny or light about someone being shot: It’s traumatizing and should be taken seriously. In a July 27 Instagram Live, Megan elaborated more on her experience and the trauma she endured, tearfully telling her followers that she had to have surgery on her feet after being shot in both of them, saying: “It was just the worst experience of my life, and it’s not funny.” But for some reason, almost as soon as news spread about the reported shooting, people online were quick to respond with humour, with many making light of the situation as just a couple of celebs being “messy.”
For example, in a July 22 episode of the Wine and Weed podcast, Basketball Wives LA star Draya Michele commented on the situation, saying: “I predict that they had some sort of Bobby and Whitney love that drove them down this… type of road,” referring to the abusive relationship between late singer Whitney Houston and her ex-husband Bobby Brown. Michele, then went on to glorify the violence, stating: “I want you to like me so much that if I’m trying to get out the car, and you’re like, ‘No, sit your ass in the car,’ and I’m like, ‘No, I’m getting out the car.’ [He’d say,] ‘No you’re not!’ Bam-bam!”
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And on July 24, Chrissy Teigen made an extremely ill-timed joke about Megan in response to a Twitter trend, tweeting (and then deleting): “I have a megan thee stallion joke but it needs to be twerked on.” Almost immediately, the Cravings author was criticized for taking aim at someone currently in recovery and who’d gone through such a traumatic experience.
Chrissy Teigen can jokey joke about everyone around her, particularly black women, but let someone say something even mildly off colour about her and it's a big to-do. Mmkay.
— kinsey 💫 (@tinykinseyscale) July 25, 2020
Yamikani Msosa is a Toronto-based anti-oppression facilitator and equity consultant. She says when she first heard of Megan being shot her “initial thoughts were just, ‘damn, I hope that she’s OK.'” You know, a normal, feeling human reaction. “And also, a lot of my thought process was that it’s interesting how everyone’s just turning this into a joke about her getting shot and not recognizing how traumatic it is to one, experience being shot, and to experience being shot by somebody that you know.”
Msosa says she also wasn’t overly surprised by the problematic narrative surrounding Meg, and the jokey and dismissive responses to her pain, because she’s seen it before when it comes to violence against women. “There is this rhetoric of ‘Megan Thee Stallion’s out here, you know, hot girl summer, yes Meg,’ but she’s also a human,” Msosa emphasizes of the separation between the celebrity and the person. “[She’s a human] who has probably had her own experiences of violence with men, and has talked openly about not having the healthiest relationships; so I thought ‘This is really not OK how a Black woman’s pain—regardless of how famous she is—is being put on display as this thing that we get to consume and just laugh at, rather than seeing her own humanity and the larger systemic issues that are at play here.'”
The public’s reaction to Megan is emblematic of how society treats Black women
Don’t be fooled, because the way people talk about Megan and her experience isn’t a one off—it fits right into larger issues around the treatment of Black women in general—specifically, the devaluation of their bodies and lives—and speaks to the way society views Black women: as in, they don’t care about them. Msosa says this stems from three dimensions: “I think it comes from the inherent devaluation of women’s or femme’s bodies, or anyone that aligns themselves in many ways with femininity—so there’s that gendered component to it,” she says. “There’s a racial component to it where—in many ways—Black women and femmes are seen as quite literally stallions; like we’re just these strong beings that cannot be hurt or harmed and that are often deserving of less empathy than others.” Just look at the way Black women are often expected to fulfill the role of “ride or die” in relationships—often at the expense of their own happiness, or the fact that—even after being the victim of a violent act—Megan had to stand up for herself, telling fans via her July 27 Insta Live: “It’s nothing to joke about and it’s nothing for y’all to go and be making fake stories about. I didn’t put my hands on nobody. I didn’t deserve to get shot.” Throw in the trifecta of being a celebrity in the spotlight, and Msosa says, all three compound to create a lack of empathy from the public at large.
Black women are so unprotected & we hold so many things in to protect the feelings of others w/o considering our own. 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 and I’m real life hurt and traumatized.
— HOT GIRL MEG (@theestallion) July 17, 2020
And while we’re talking about Megan Thee Stallion in this instance, the discussion around her treatment is vital because of what it says about other Black women. “Megan Thee Stallion has lots of money. She’ll be fine,” Msosa says. “[But] what about those women who don’t have lots of money, who don’t have lots of fame and are experiencing harm, and the community knows but aren’t being accountable and showing up for one another?”
Society uses Black women for their talent and then fails to support them where it counts
Not only are the reactions to the “Hot Girl Summer” rapper emblematic of the way society disregards Black women and their pain, but also in the ways many of us commodify them until they’re no longer “useful.”
Msosa points to the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, and the work by Black women and femmes who have spearheaded a large majority of these protests and movements. “Historically, we owe Black women, Black femmes, Black trans women, Black non-binary femmes, we owe them a lot,” she says. “So many movements have been led by Black women and femmes.” And people outside of their community only appreciate and celebrate their work until the going gets tough. “We’re a glorified until we’re not,” Msosa says. “We’re consumed in ways in which people will consume Meg Thee Stallion’s body, but not recognize how that’s a part of a larger historical trajectory of Black women’s bodies being consumed and disposed of when they’re no longer fuelling a [convenient] narrative.” So in other words (and entirely applicable to Meg), people are cool to advocate for and support Black women when it benefits them—like, say, other women becoming viral TikTok stars off Megan Thee Stallion’s music (cc: Addison Rea and all the TikTok tweens)—but unwilling to, or uninterested in, showing up when it comes to supporting them in moments when there’s nothing to gain.
And because of this ongoing and repeated pattern of treatment, Msosa says: “It almost feels at times as though Black women are seen as deserving of this violence.” Which is exactly why comments like those made by Draya Michele are so problematic—because they further serve this narrative, and emphasize the universally held notion when it comes to experiences of violence, of protecting the patriarchy. Comments like Michele’s, comparing Megan allegedly being shot by Tory Lanez to the domestic abuse Whitney Houston experienced at the hands of her husband Bobby Brown, and then saying that you want that kind of love, are incredibly problematic. Not only do they reframe domestic abuse as an act of love, but they normalizes it, inherently protecting the men who often perpetuate this abuse. “And then on top of that, [people say] ‘Let’s joke about it, let’s make light of it; because we know we can’t talk about the seriousness of interpersonal domestic violence or domestic abuse,'” Msosa says.
And it needs to change now
While Msosa wasn’t surprised by the dismissive and offensive reactions online, she says she was more disappointed, especially given the time that we’re in socially. “We’re in a moment of time where we see the active devaluing of Black lives through state violence, through police brutality, through interpersonal violence,” she says. “[People] say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but then when it comes down to the actionable pieces, there’s this switch that’s turned off.
“It [seems to] only matters when [the violence is] overt and it’s police brutality, but what happens when it’s people that you know, folks in your community, the everyday experiences of violence? How do we also say, Black women’s lives matter, Black trans women’s lives matter, in so far as the interpersonal experiences of violence?” When Black activists say Black Lives Matter, Msosa says, they’re not just talking about state violence against Black bodies, but larger systemic, community and interpersonal violence as well.
For all of us to do better, Msosa says, people need to be talking about the Megs in their lives who are experiencing violence, and how they can support them. “When these experiences happen, [we have to work on] not sensationalizing, but really asking how can we support individuals who’ve experienced harm: How do we focus the needs of folks who have been harmed in whatever way and figure out what they need as opposed to joking about it?” This includes dismantling our own, oftentimes oppressive, internalized biases around violence and how we process it.
Also, just be nicer to people on the internet. “I get that there is that [idea] of being a celebrity and your business is already out there, but I just find that the internet is a shit place to really demonstrate care,” Msosa says. “It can be so incredibly vicious.” More care online means considering what you’re going to post or re-post and the repercussion and impact it may have on others.
“Meg’s going to have access to a counsellor and probably has access to tangible supports, but what about the thousands of other Megs that violence happens to?,” Msosa asks. “And we just turn a blind eye, or we say things I heard growing up like, ‘Oh, it’s a private matter, you don’t deal with it.’ How much of those messages are coming through? And how much of a de-sensitization do we have to Black women being harmed that we can instantly make a joke about it?”