Late last month, a Los Angeles jury convicted Canadian rapper Tory Lanez for the 2020 shooting of Houston native Megan Thee Stallion in the foot. Lanez, whose legal name is Daystar Peterson, was found guilty on all three felony charges brought against him by L.A. County: assault with a semiautomatic weapon, carrying a loaded and unregistered firearm in a vehicle, and negligent discharge of a firearm. The jury conviction signals the end of the legal battle, but it seems that more than two years of constant vitriol since she named Lanez as her shooter has cost Megan dearly. The ordeal and its aftermath are a very public example of how, all too often, we silence Black women and punish those who choose to speak up.
To recap: On July 12, 2020, Megan Thee Stallion was leaving a pool party at the house of Kylie Jenner with Lanez, his driver, and Megan’s former friend and assistant, Kelsey Harris. An argument broke out, and it escalated enough that Megan decided to get out of the car and walk away as the group neared her home in the Hollywood Hills. According to Megan, after she exited the car, Lanez shouted “Dance, bitch!” and shot multiple rounds at her feet. Police were called to the scene and ordered everybody out of the car at gunpoint. In a video, as Megan limps away from the vehicle, she leaves a trail of bloody footprints.
Hyperaware of the recent police killing of George Floyd and afraid of police brutality, and hesitant to “snitch” on Lanez, Megan initially told the LAPD that she’d stepped on glass, before coming forward with the truth that Lanez shot her. On social media, Lanez denied the charge, instead spreading the story that Megan and her assistant had fought over him, and—as his legal team would later summarize in court—suggesting that Harris shot Megan out of jealousy.
In the discourse that followed online, Megan went from a victim of gun violence to a heartless woman who would falsely accuse an innocent man. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2022, Megan talked about that bewildering turning point and the vitriol that had followed her for over two years. “In some kind of way I became the villain,” she said. “And I don’t know if people don’t take it seriously because I seem strong. I wonder if it’s because of the way I look. Is it because I’m not light enough? Is it that I’m not white enough? Am I not the shape? The height? Because I’m not petite? Do I not seem like I’m worth being treated like a woman?”
What Megan is describing is misogynoir, a term coined by scholar Moya Bailey to describe the noxious combination of misogyny and racism that Black women experience. Misogynoir denies Black women not just their womanhood, but also their humanity. In 2017, a study by the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality found that Black girls were seen as older and less in need of comfort and nurturing than their white counterparts. This resulted in Black girls receiving more discipline than white students for similar infractions in school. They were more likely to be suspended and expelled, referred to law enforcement, and even arrested. Misogynoir depicts Black girls and women as more violent, hypersexual, and dishonest, among other harmful stereotypes, therefore rendering them more vulnerable to violence and criminalization. It’s what drives a man to shoot a Black woman with whom he was previously intimate and then blame it on another Black woman. It’s what emboldens him and his lawyer to try to make his trial about her sexuality, rather than his violence. It’s what transforms a victim of violence into a devious liar in the public’s opinion.
It’s been estimated that over half of the victims of violence in the U.S. don’t report it to police, and fear of not being believed is one of the reasons why. Megan told the world that a man shot her. In response, celebrities praised his music with barely veiled puns, invited him to venues where Megan was performing, and called her a liar in their songs. Meanwhile, strangers on the internet cracked jokes, speculated about Megan’s sexual history, and questioned whether she’d even been shot—despite videos of her bloody footprints and pictures of her scarred feet post-surgery. Over the past two years, it felt as if Megan was on trial, rather than Lanez. The vitriol has taken an overwhelmingly negative toll on Megan’s mental health. “I don’t wanna be on this Earth,” she said during her court testimony. “I wish he woulda shot and killed me if I knew I would go through this torture.”
Megan Thee Stallion has won three Grammys, collaborated with superstars such as Beyoncé and Cardi B, and played a part in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She dominated a summer and got her own Popeyes hot sauce. The public ridicule and hate she received—and continues to receive—for giving an account that has been backed up by eyewitnesses, police reports, videos, and testimony from the surgeons who operated on her, is a very public example of what Black women have to contend with when deciding to come forward about abuse and violence.
Though Megan has plenty of fans and defenders on social media, even a guilty verdict wasn’t enough to fully turn the tide of public opinion in her favor. After Lanez’s conviction, his supporters still rushed to Megan’s social media to accuse her of lying, make threats, and slut-shame her, while his family spun tales of a convoluted Jay-Z-led conspiracy to imprison Lanez for not signing a Roc Nation deal. It wasn’t until the recording of Lanez’s jail call to Megan’s former friend was released and the public could hear him all but apologize for shooting Megan that some doubters realized she just might have been telling the truth. But why did they need to hear it from him when they already had so much other evidence, including Megan’s own testimony? Such is the power of misogynoir. The legal win of a conviction is bittersweet, because telling the truth seems to have cost Megan so much.
Coming forth about violence should not have such a high cost for Black women. We can only hope that time and healing, as well as Lanez’s conviction and upcoming sentencing, will help tip the scales in favor of speaking up.