I didn’t want to watch Gayle King’s CBS interview with Megan Thee Stallion, whose real name is Megan Pete. Although I’ve been writing about violence against Black women and girls for years and even wrote about Pete’s shooting allegations against fellow rapper Tory Lanez in my most recent book “America, Goddam: Violence, Black Women, and the Struggle for Justice,” there are times when I do not have the emotional fortitude to engage.
In October 2020, Lanez, whose real name is Daystar Peterson, was charged with two felonies: carrying a loaded, unregistered firearm in a vehicle, and assault with a semiautomatic firearm. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go on trial in September.
In the rare moments when we hear about yet another story of violence against a Black woman, those women are too often disregarded, disdained and demonized.
In the rare moments when we hear about yet another story of violence against a Black woman, those women are too often disregarded, disdained and demonized. For nearly two years, Pete endured an onslaught of online berating. She mustered the courage to once again share details about one of the worst nights of her life in her interview with King. This prompted a new wave of harsh criticism and accusations of mendacity. If she could find the strength once again to risk being maligned, derided and villainized, the least I could do was bear witness.
Conversely, there’s been a sense of fatigue, particularly in Black communities, over the circumstances surrounding the incident. It’s hard to see any updates about the case without people sarcastically asking something along the lines of, “Are we still talking about this?” Or worse, “Is she using this incident for clout?”
I’m both exhausted and infuriated by the indifference and the hatred spewed toward her. Our refusal to engage sends a message to Black women that we need to silently endure and unequivocally protect those who harm us. We cannot continue to sweep things under the rug. Our harmful experiences aren’t an inconvenience or a distraction.
Studies have shown that Black women are disproportionately more likely to be the victims of abuse. In 2020, at least four Black women and girls were killed daily, according to statistics from the FBI. A 2017 Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality found that adults viewed Black girls as needing less protection than their white counterparts. These harrowing data points offer the lens that we need to use to view what happened to Pete.
This is coupled with our inaptly named “criminal justice system,” which has been an inimical presence in Black communities in the U.S. since its inception. It’s a system that struggles to view Black women as victims and thrives on hyper-indexing Black people as “criminals.” In an August 2020 Instagram Live, Pete explained that she didn’t name Peterson at first when the police showed up because she was afraid of what they might do, citing the violence that Black people had endured (particularly in a year when George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were killed) when they encounter the police. As she also said, she was trying to “spare” Peterson.
These are difficult and unfair choices Black women who endure intracommunal, patriarchal violence face.
Even once formal charges were filed and Peterson’s bail was raised after prosecutors said he violated a restraining order, his denial of being the shooter, coupled with palpable disdain and distrust for Pete, continued to embolden people into calling her a liar.
After being shot and enduring the initial backlash to her alleging that Peterson had shot her, Pete wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, “Why I Speak Up for Black Women,“ and delivered a memorable “Protect Black Women” performance on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” in October 2020. From then until now, her attempts at sharing her experience with violence as well as a broader history of Black women being violated and, subsequently, demonized for speaking out about it have come up against demoralizing rebuttals of her victimization.
Notwithstanding more public conversations about listening to and believing Black women, the needle on how we confront intracommunal, patriarchal violence without feeding into pathological or hyper-criminalizing narratives about Black people has barely moved.
Encouragingly, however, the court of public opinion has been by no means one-sided. I choose to invest in those supporting her as opposed to the chorus of voices admonishing Pete and labeling her a liar. While it remains frustratingly complex for Black women to share their stories of intracommunal violence without fear of sacrificing connections with our communities, I know that she does have notable, unequivocal support. The negative commentary, however, is an ongoing and painful reminder of the lack of spaces we have to share our stories of victimization without being attacked and dismissed.
What’s even more gutting for me in 2022 is that it is sadly predictable that her coming forward about who allegedly shot her would prompt such ire and contempt. Notwithstanding more public conversations about listening to and believing Black women, the needle on how we confront intracommunal, patriarchal violence without feeding into pathological or hyper-criminalizing narratives about Black people has barely moved.
I would like to think that any vocal public support for Pete marks an important moment in the history of how we confront this type of violence against Black women. Unfortunately, weariness is what I feel, especially after her interview with King. While it’s heartening to see an outpouring of affirmation and support for her and the amplification of the unique challenges Black women experience, the continued misogynoir (prejudice against Black women) in response to Black women talking about the violence they confront is unnerving.
It’s something that Pete noted in her interview with King, as she asserted her status as a victim and choked back tears. “I’d rather it play out in court and the facts come out and everything comes out than me having to plead my case,” she said. “I’m a victim. … I’m not defending myself against anything. Like, something happened to me.”
Should the criminal legal system find Peterson guilty, I expect another wave of backlash against Pete. If found not guilty, critics will likely use his acquittal or a mistrial to disparage her further. There’s really no “win” for her, irrespective of the outcome. What’s glaringly apparent, however, is that we have a long way to go in the fight to end patriarchal violence against Black women. I want meaningful accountability for what happened to Pete. I also want a world where this violent encounter could never happen again. A world where all the factors that allow for the trivial treatment of violence against women, especially Black women, are meaningfully being dismantled. I want that for her; I want that for us.