By Georgia Klassen-Marshall
"What does it mean to be a woman of color?" Solemn faces flash before a white wall. Women of different ethnicities, religions, fields of study, hair types, and walks of life flicker in the scene, eventually focusing on Megan Thee Stallion. Straightfaced, she sits staring into the camera, with the question mentioned above floating in the viewer's mind. The backtrack to Megan's hit song B.I.T.C.H. flows through the video, creating a strong foundation on which her critiques of how America treats women of colour will stand.
I first encountered this video collaboration between Megan Thee Stallion and the New York Times on Instagram. The caption read: "This piece really means a lot to me, and I hope it touches everyone." If it means a lot to my girl Meg, it means a lot to me too, so I immediately watched it. The video depicted women of colour in various settings and emotions. Images of Black joy, humility, frustration, sexuality, sadness, anger, and love juxtapose the forced expectations stated in Megan's voice-over. Here, Megan is highlighting the misdirection of the stereotype that Black women are inherently aggressive and mean. This stereotype is often used to degrade Black women and to depict white women as gentler and kinder than their Black counterparts. This leads to the assumption that Black women are stronger and can handle more trauma or degradation than white women, incorrectly justifying society's violent actions towards Black women.
“The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.” With both racism and patriarchy propping themselves upon her shoulders, the Black woman stands at an incredible disadvantage. In this video, Megan Thee Stallion articulates the expectations society holds for Black women and women of colour: "Loving herself, but not too much, because then she's conceited." This line stood out to me and aroused questions surrounding Black women's roles as caretakers in society. Black women have been on the front lines of so many social justice movements. In the Stonewall riots, Marsha P. Johnson, a gender-nonconforming Black drag-queen, stood alongside Zazu Nova, Jackie Hormona, and hundreds of other protesters to defend queer people and fight to end the discrimination against them. The infamous hashtag and now organization Black Lives Matter was founded by three Black women. However, when it comes to black women's protection, the world seems to often turn a blind eye: "She marches for everyone else. Riots for everyone else. Dies for everyone else. She loves everyone else, lives for everyone else. But when it comes down to her? There ain't a motherf*cker in sight." Megan's words could not have rung truer.
In July 2020, Megan Thee Stallion was allegedly shot by rapper Tory Lanez upon returning from a pool party at Kylie Jenner's house. At first, Megan did not disclose that Tory shot her, for fear that as a Black man, there was a greater chance police would use excessive force against him. A month later, on an Instagram live video, Megan told the whole story and shared that Tory shot her. Tory denied all claims against him and even made an album surrounding his "innocence." As of October 2020, Tory Lanez has nearly twenty-four million listeners on Spotify alone. This is a prime example of Black women putting themselves at risk to protect others, while many members of society turn their backs on them or blame them, the victims, for their perpetrators' actions.
As a white woman, I could never answer the question, "What does it mean to be a woman of colour?" However, I can ask myself: What does it mean to be a white woman? What disadvantages am I subjected to? What privileges do I enjoy? What responsibilities do I hold? To be a white woman is to carry both the burden of patriarchy and oppression while also perpetuating racism and discrimination, even unintentionally. We must be strong and assertive in the face of our oppressors, yet keep in mind empathy and the importance of listening when interacting with those we have marginalized. Women of colour have too often been excluded from the feminist movement since its early days, whether through the prohibition of Black women attending National American Women's Suffrage Association's conventions in the 19th and 20th centuries or through today's white feminists harassing Muslim women for wearing hijabs. White women, like me, must take steps back within the feminist movement to make space for women of colour, particularly Black and Indigenous women, to air their struggles and let their voices be heard.
Megan Thee Stallion's video incites questions and doesn't provide answers, transferring the responsibility of solving these issues to the viewer. It leaves the viewer with a sense of obligation and duty to show up for and stand in solidarity with women of colour. Of course, no one person can erase racial biases from all citizens or single handedly dismantle systemic racism and white, male supremacy. However, we must all be in the mindset of reconciliation and complete reform if we are to make our continent an equal and equitable society. Megan’s call to action is one of many stretched across the internet, in hopes of provoking discussion regarding racial and gender discrimination, and it must be listened to if we want to honour women of colour in the way so many of us claim we do.