“Don’t Save Her, She Don’t Wanna Be Saved”: On Kehlani and the Protection of Black Women
by Ashleigh Shackelford
After Kehlani’s suicide attempt and public scrutiny (read: anti-Black misogynistic violence) for apparently cheating on her ex, Kyrie Irving, it’s evident that Black women are never going to be saved — because we’re not deemed worthy of protecting in the first place.
Case in point: the disgusting commentary from public figures such as Chris Brown and Lil’ Duval show that Black women will always be seen as disposable, even during their most vulnerable moments. Anything could’ve been going on in Kehlani’s life, including past or present trauma, that made her want to kill herself. But none of that was considered, because our oppressive power structures find complicated ways to make Black women invisible. At the same time, we’re hypervisible to anti-Black misogynists in a white supremacist society.
Kehlani’s mental health became conflated with the idea that she was too much of a ho to live. Kehlani might be a cheater, but really, who gives a fuck? But Black women are always deemed hos + disposable, so her decisions aren’t even up for debate. Either way, she’s denied humanity. In a world where Black women, femmes and girls are denied love, access, support, resources, safety or protection, Kehlani was always set up to fail, even if she finds resilience within that failure.
When Ciara and Russell Wilson announced their engagement, the fuckboys came ready with clapbacks, saying Ciara is an industry ho who’s been passed around. The problem is, everyone who was committed to critiquing Ciara’s newfound happiness and relationship based their commentary on the idea that Black women, always seen through a ho lens, are not allowed “happiness” outside of being theoretically “marked” by partners they’ve been with. Ciara is seen as unconditionally indebted to her child’s father and previous partner, Future, for the rest of her life. Future making a child with Ciara means that her happiness should always be centered on him, regardless of that fact that he cheated on her and destroyed their relationship. Black women are not provided access to “happiness” when it conflicts with misogynistic power.
Karrueche Tran, who once dated Chris Brown, is often dragged through the Internet mud because her successes are credited to her relationship and her ex-man’s celebrity status. The idea that Black women can’t navigate their brilliance without it being attributed to the men who wronged them, fucked them, or wifed them is based in the reality that Black women aren’t validated or celebrated on their own terms.
Black women are consistently denied the opportunity to be seen as autonomous, worthy human beings without their relationship to men or proximity to ho-ness categorizing them. Look at India Love Westbrook, who’s recognized primarily for her previous relationship with The Game. While people show concern for 18-year-old Kylie Jenner, who’s dating a man eight years older than she is, India would never be offered that support — because she’s Black. She is seen as accessible and sexual any time white supremacist ideology wants to consume or control her. India’s agency is skewed in a society that deems her unworthy of being protected, but worthy of being exploited.
Just like most Black women, Kehlani’s mental health, agency and life were considered irrelevant and disposable. Meanwhile, niggas (read: cisgender straight Black men) can be fuckboys without consequence. But more important, Black women and femmes are never considered, regarded, shielded or celebrated. Saving us means nothing if the safeguards and humanity we deserve aren’t there to protect us in the first place.
Ashleigh Shackelford is a queer, agender, Black fat femme writer, artist and cultural producer. Ashleigh is a contributing writer at Wear Your Voice Magazine and For Harriet and the creator of Free Figure Revolution, a body positivity organization. She is currently working on her M.A. in Africana Studies at Morgan State University. Read more at Facebook.com/AshleighShackelford.