This story has been updated.
People are laughing, but there’s no joke to be told.
When, on July 13, news began circulating that rapper Megan Thee Stallion was shot in an altercation with Canadian artist Tory Lanez — a close friend of hers — a spell of dizzying confusion ensued. Gossipy accounts of the night at Kylie Jenner’s home in Hollywood Hills, first from TMZ and then from other outlets, further obfuscated what might have happened; on social media, people tried to weave the story’s fragments into some coherent narrative.
Megan beat them to the punch. On Instagram, she explained what happened, noting she’d been shot and underwent surgery to remove the bullets from both her feet. “I’m incredibly grateful to be alive and that I’m expected to make a full recovery, but it was important for me to clarify the details about this traumatic night,” she wrote. Reports surfaced that Lanez had been arrested on a gun charge. He posted a $35,000 US bail and is scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 13.
That Meg had qualified the experience as “traumatic” didn’t seem to matter. Her post, inexplicably, was not met with compassion, but with ridicule. People were laughing. Tasteless memes surfaced. Puns flew. Chrissy Teigen tweeted an ill-timed joke about Meg twerking (then deleted it). Harlem rapper Cam’ron violently poked at Meg’s gender identity, and 50 Cent reshared the post.
Reality TV personality Draya Michele made light of the situation on her podcast, suggesting Meg and Tory had a “Bobby and Whitney love” — referring to Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston, which is to say an abusive relationship — and joking, “I want you to love me so much you shoot me in the foot.”
This tempestuous drama, and the discomfiting laughter that accompanied it, was only further stoked when Lanez suddenly released “DAYSTAR” during the last week of September — a 17-track album on which he repeatedly asserts his innocence and insists that he didn’t shoot Meg. (This is after TMZ reported that he texted her apologizing and saying he was “just too drunk.”)
Several people were quick to criticize Lanez’s actions, arguing he had used Meg’s trauma to sell an album; a few rappers came out and condemned the project, too. Others continued to support Lanez.
On Oct. 8, Lanez was charged with assaulting Meg. He is accused of one felony count each of assault with a semiautomatic firearm, personal use of a firearm and carrying a loaded, unregistered firearm in a vehicle. The Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood Division is still investigating the case, but if convicted, Lanez could face a maximum sentence of 22 years and eight months in state prison.
Still, looking at the initial response to the whole affair, you’d never have known someone had been seriously hurt. The jokes continued, especially after Lanez released the album, and the situation became a microcosm for how the world treats and mistreats Black women — not only in its failure to protect them, but also in its refusal to take their pain seriously.
As it is, half of white medical trainees believe Black people have thicker skin and experience less pain than white people. It isn’t hard to see how that extends, especially in this case, to the general public.
Eventually, Meg decided to respond. “Black women are so unprotected & we hold so many things in to protect the feelings of others w/o considering our own,” she tweeted on July 17.
“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.” The wording, many people noticed, recalled a famous Malcolm X speech from 1962, in which he asserted that the most disrespected, unprotected and neglected person in America is the Black woman.
The jokes, as they accumulated, took on a surreal quality. It’s as though people have forgotten the number of Black women who have been killed over the last couple of weeks alone. Any modicum of energy they seemed to have cobbled together amid the global protests against anti-Black racism suddenly dissipated, giving way to not just apathy, but hostility. That all of this has happened against the stark backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement is a coincidence that illuminates the limits of how many tend to engage with the trauma of Black people in general, and of Black women in particular: momentarily, under pressure, and when it suits them.
“It was just the worst experience of my life, and it’s not funny,” Meg further clarified, teary-eyed, in an Instagram Live video on July 27. Late last year, she lost her mother. Her father died when she was 15. She was going through all of this without the support of a family, and the world had resolved to mock her pain. “It was nothing for y’all to start going and making up fake stories about. I didn’t put my hands on nobody. I didn’t deserve to get shot.”
The rules of comedy have often been subject to debate. Who is allowed to joke about what and when is likely a conversation that will never be settled. Still, try to recall another situation in which a person was shot, underwent surgical treatment to remove the bullets, and then, while recovering, was made to endure the violence of their pain being laughed at, fashioned into a meme. Meg is known as a kind of American sweetheart, both the girl you want to party with and the one you’d pour your heart out to.
Some of the celebrities who made their tasteless jokes eventually circled back on their statements. Teigen tweeted an apology. Draya Michele did, too, but not before Rihanna cut business ties with her. (Michele was a model for Savage X Fenty.) 50 Cent apologized. Still, it all feels a little bit belated, since the jokes never should have been made in the first place.
It hasn’t all been so bleak, though. Megan did get some support from a number of famous friends. Lil Yachty, 12 Savage, Lizzo, Janelle Monáe, JoJo, Wale and more all posted tweets in support of the rapper. Beyoncé and Rihanna both sent flowers and well wishes. To show her loyalty and support, Kehlani announced she’d be removing Tory’s verse from her song “Can I” on the deluxe version of her latest album, “It Was Good Until It Wasn’t.”
In the meantime, Megan is still recovering: “A b-tch is alive and well and strong as f-ck,” she said on that same IG Live video. “And I’m ready to get back to regular programming with my own hot girl sh-t.”