Feature image photo by Jasmin Merdan via Getty Images
Black girls have been at the center of horror for decades — maybe you just haven’t been watching.
We can define horror as: terrible things, usually out of one’s control, happening to someone who is isolated (usually due to such events) and invalidated about those terrible things. It wasn’t until falling down a rabbit hole after watching the first Scream that I realized this genre gave me language for what my life, for what so many black girls’ lives are.
Two of the forces that are constant in a horror movie: invalidation and isolation. The terror seems to only corner you, and since no one else can empathize, it keeps cornering you alone. As you try to get someone to help you, you realize you have to get them to believe you first. To get them to believe you, you have to get them to care enough to even see you.
Even though not all of us have the same exact memories, there are so many that feel so similar that they read universal: you sitting statue-still while the hot comb is at your kitchen, no matter how long you hold your breath, you’re burnt on the exhale. The first time someone calls you a bitch. The first time someone calls you the n-word with a hard r. The first time a white person looks at you like you took a shit on their new white sheet minutes before the KKK meeting down the street. The first time you ask for help and are denied. The forty-seventh time you ask for help and are denied. The twelve-thousandth time you beg for help and are denied. When you learn to survive, and it’s graceless, but you are too busy screaming to make your prayers pretty. How survival means fighting in class, skipping class, smoking, drinking, cussing at your mom, cussing at the men who want your Black girl body, cursing everyone who says it’s your black girl body’s fault for what those hands, those mouths, those dicks have done to you, how you cut and beat and burn and numb your black girl body, how you do anything to survive it because at least when you do these things, people look at you long enough to register that you still exist. And isn’t that what you’ve been begging for this whole time? For them to just fucking look at you?
But again, you forgot to pray specific. It’s one thing to look. You need them to see you. Not just take you in a glance but to fucking realize that you’re not doing this for shits and giggles but because you are grabbing on to any semblance of power for yourself, over yourself, within yourself in a world that demands, actively works to make sure, you do not exist.
I can tell you from experience because I come from a family of black girls, I’m in deep love with black girls, and — of course — I was one.
I can tell you because I tried to talk one out of suicide last week. Another is returning to an abusive relationship. So many on my timelines are asking for just $50 to make it through the next couple of days.
There’s at least one story of assault we keep tucked in the back of our throats. But even more we’ve tried to tell ourselves we’ve wilted beyond healing. Like, in the midst of the Big Assault, how can we even compare the smaller ones?
Like, my manager put a box cutter to my throat and asked me “Do you want me to end it for you right now?”, what does it matter what my grandfather did? What those men did (and do)? What those white girls and white women have done (and do)? What does it matter?
The blade is always tickling my throat my body sends sharp fingers up my throat when you lotion my back I sleep with my back smack against the wall and I wear two pairs of underwear even though his hands are still circling my thighs from the inside out and I bite I bite I bite my wrists I canine tooth sharp against the long of my fingers until I forget.
One of the trademarks of horror, of abuse, is that no matter what you do, it doesn’t really change the story. Yes, sometimes you survive, but you’ve decapitated heads, you have a mother who doesn’t know how to love you, you’ve seen the intestines of someone you love, you have to wear panties and boxers to bed with the door locked from the inside, the screaming of your best friend echoes when you least expect it, everyone in the world, except for the two who have been with you in the beginning, will never believe you. What kind of surviving is that? We black girls do not survive horror stories. We either die or we don’t, still spinning in the center of them.
There is a haunting that black girls know. One made of so many smaller horrors with black girls not quite dead but nowhere near your kind of alive, scratching up the walls of a house they never intended to live in. But one we had to create nonetheless. And pulling the thread on one reveals the unravel of black girl ghosts haunting.
We black girls do not survive horror stories. We either die or we don’t, still spinning in the center of them.
Horror Is So Gay is a series on queer and trans horror edited by Autostraddle Managing Editor Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya running throughout October.