Musical artist FKA twigs filed a lawsuit on Dec. 11 that detailed the “relentless” abuse she experienced in her public romantic relationship with actor Shia LaBeouf. The 16-page complaint chronicles what the British artist, born Tahliah Debrett Barnett, referred to as “a living nightmare” outlined by actions both unmistakable — violent attacks and homicidal threats — and obscured by the insidious — closely-measured kiss quotas and intentional exposure to a sexually transmitted disease.
And yet, like many survivors of domestic abuse, Barnett did not report LaBeouf to the police, “first out of a misguided concern about harming his career, and later because she thought her account would not be taken seriously, and it would be futile,” according to The New York Times.
“I just thought to myself, no one is ever going to believe me,” she explained in her interview with The Times. “I’m unconventional. And I’m a person of color who is a female.” (Her biological father is Black Jamaican and her mother is a white Englishwoman of partly Spanish descent.)
When I read that, I immediately thought of another Black woman artist whose violent assault had also recently gone viral. In July, Megan Pete, famously known as the chart-topping “Savage” and “WAP” rapper Megan Thee Stallion, was allegedly shot twice in the foot by Tory Lanez, a Black male rapper with no romantic ties to her, as she walked away from him.
Like Barnett, Pete doubted the police would believe and protect her because of her race. “I didn’t tell the police what happened immediately right then because I didn’t want to die,” she admitted in a candid Instagram Live, referring to her initial claims of injury by broken glass and citing the recent police shootings that sparked the Black Lives Matter protests this summer. “I don’t want the police to shoot because it’s a n**** with a gun in the car.”
And like Barnett, Pete doubted anyone would believe her specifically because of her race and gender. Confirmation came in the form of people voicing their disbelief and ridiculing Pete on social media, so much so that the 25-year-old posted a photo on Instagram of her severely gashed foot covered in bruises and stitches as proof.
As both of these parallel events of violent abuse prove, not believing Black women decreases the avenues for them to seek protection. Even when they’re rich. Even when they’re famous. Even when they have the No. 1 song in the country. Even when they identify as mixed-race.
Both artists have since named the men who abused them and spoken out about their experiences in the hopes of supporting and protecting women. Barnett dedicated her case to “all those women that LaBeouf has mistreated in the past” and vowed to donate a significant portion of any money received to charities for “victims of domestic abuse.” Pete penned an unapologetic op-ed for The New York Times titled “Why I Speak Up for Black Women.”
“The way people have publicly questioned and debated whether I played a role in my own violent assault proves that my fears about discussing what happened were, unfortunately, warranted,” Pete wrote.
Their courageous advocacy echoes the centuries-old legacy of Black women fighting for the human rights of their fellow Black sisters and subsequently other disenfranchised and marginalized groups, particularly women of color, as well as white women.
But it’s 2020, the year that Black women’s voter turnout and advocacy saved the entirety of North America, and the end of a decade that ushered in unprecedented international reckonings of sexism and racism by way of the Black women-founded and led #MeToo movement (Tarana Burke) and Black Lives Matter movement (Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors.)
Performative platitudes regurgitated to us with the very same campaigns and hashtags that we created — #ProtectBlackWomen, #BelieveBlackWomen — are not enough.
Acceptance speeches sprinkled with long-overdue praise delivered by the president elect and vice president-elect for whom 91 percent of us voted and many flipped states, amidst a surge of coronavirus cases and white supremacist terrorism, are not enough.
Picking individual Black women for cabinet positions (particularly less-senior positions) is not enough.
American history has proven that none of the elected presidents and their respective administrations have ever done enough to serve and protect Black women. Not even the first Black president, who in 2014 launched My Brother’s Keeper, a historic initiative compromised by its refusal to acknowledge that the same systemic racism impacting Black boys was also uniquely and disproportionately impacting Black girls, sometimes even more so.
A letter by the African American Policy Forum that critiqued the initiative’s exclusion of Black girls garnered 1,000 signatures before it reached Valerie Jarrett, the then-senior adviser to President Barack Obama. Jarrett said in response, “I think the flaw in the logic is not understanding that this is not either/or, this is both/and. The president’s approach is to create a society where nobody gets left behind, and right now are young boys of color are falling farther and farther behind than everybody.”
The Obama administration should have believed the 1,000 women who signed that letter — especially because Kimberlé Crenshaw, co-founder of the AAPF, is also the mind behind the revolutionary theoretical framework that is intersectionality. They should have heeded Crenshaw’s warning, which echoes the cries of so many Black women before her.
“Clearly American society continues to be a toxic environment for many of our young people,” read the 2014 letter. “Yet male-exclusive initiatives seem to lose sight of the implications of the canary’s distress: it is not a signal that only male canaries are suffering. It makes no sense to equip the canary with a mentor, a gas mask and or some other individual-level support while leaving the mine as it is and expecting the females to fend for themselves. If the air is toxic, it is toxic for everyone forced to breathe it.”
So, to the incoming president and vice president who claim to want to heal America, please believe Black women like Crenshaw and Pete and Barnett. And make damn sure to believe those of us without fame or fortunes or access or resources.
Believe Black women like Anjanette Young, a 50-year-old who was getting ready for bed when Chicago police barged into her home and handcuffed her, naked, during a botched raid. Believe Black transgender women like Iyanna Dior, a 20-year-old beaten by a mob outside of a convenience store, the owner of which refused to call the police or help. Believe Black expectant mothers like Amber Isaac, a 26-year-old who tried to tell her doctors something wasn’t right before dying from treatable pregnancy complications hours after the birth of her first-born child. And believe Black girls, like Skhylur Davis, an 11-year-old who informed a 38-year-old white woman that the mail in her hand was her grandmother’s, only to be accused of theft and then assaulted.
Believe all Black women. Because to believe Black women is to protect Black women, and to protect Black women is to save us all.