Think about the number of times a woman has thought, “no one is ever going to believe me,” and then think of how many times those women have thought, “I’m unconventional and I’m a person of color who is a female.” Both are prevalent, but the latter statement holds a different weight known all too well. Those words come from FKA twigs in an interview about her lawsuit against Shia LaBeouf.
“I’m unconventional. And I’m a person of color who is a female,” said FKA twigs.
On Dec. 11, The New York Times reported that musician FKA twigs— formerly known as Tahliah Debrett Barnett—is suing actor Shia LaBeouf for sexual battery, assault and emotional abuse. The article details disturbing incidents of LaBeouf’s abusive behavior towards Barnett, including knowingly transmitting a sexual disease and accounts of physical, verbal and mental abuse.
LaBeouf has been granted privileges with his career, always redeemed despite his repeated history of abuse and misdemeanors. Rather than focusing on someone who, frankly, doesn’t deserve any more attention, it is time to recognize how a Black woman is taking back her power and raising awareness on domestic abuse and intimate partner violence.
Barnett is coming forth as a woman of color—someone who has dealt with fierce racism before in her previous relationship— and is now publicly holding a powerful man accountable. Her money, resources and time are spent knowing that society has not been on her side before.
Like many others, she feared no one would believe her because of her gender and race. Time again, Black and minority women have faced lack of sympathy after violence towards them—take the cruel jokes after Megan Thee Stallion was shot just this summer as an example, or the memes created from Tina Turner’s biopic detailing her abusive relationship. In the U.S., one in three women will experience intimate partner violence, and 40% of Black women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. American Indian and Alaskan Native women also experience high disproportionate rates.
Not only does marginalization leave them in more vulnerable positions, it can trap them in abusive relationships without anyone intervening or sympathizing. LaBeouf assaulted Barnett at a gas station by throwing her against the car and screaming at her in public— no one stopped to help. It is a striking reminder of the disparities of gender-based violence.
In the court filing, Barnett’s attorney states the motive for suing was not for personal gain, but to “help ensure that no more women must undergo the abuse that Shia LaBeouf has inflicted on his prior romantic partners.” While we watched LaBeouf happily display his new relationship amidst all of this, we are not naïve to his abusive patterns and his “charm offensive,” even though we hope this relationship is different.
In this society, it seems that a woman has to suffer to make things better for another. But, Barnett’s actions also remind us that in this society women protect each other.
We need to learn about signs of domestic violence for ourselves and think about those who are marginalized already – especially because of surging domestic abuse rates during COVID-19. We praise Barnett and all women who have spoken out and taken back their power against the odds.
If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse, you can reach out to university resources. All services and counseling are free and confidential. Penn State also offers survivor and domestic violence support during COVID-19.