You Wanted It

The circular marks are still embedded in Cottonmouth’s body. Mariah Dillard tattooed those circles into him, cutting deeper than the skin, leaving crop circles in the field of his torso. It wasn’t enough to push him over the cliff; no, it wasn’t enough to maim him, to injure Cottonmouth; Mariah had to eliminate the echo of you wanted it — she had to destroy any possibility of that sadistic refrain ever entering her ears again.

You wanted it. The chorus in the requiem of Mariah’s selfhood.

You wanted it. The sonic refrain of a repressed memory, buried deep within Mariah’s psyche.

You wanted it. The erratic eruption, not of innocence lost, but of power stolen; “you wanted it” doesn’t indicate the theft of one’s purity, as if, somehow, women should be valued (and then trapped) by the presence or absence of a hymen. No, “you wanted it” brings back that poetic and literary lesson taught to us by Audre Lorde: “you wanted it” reminds Mariah (reminds us) that the power of the erotic will be replaced with the demon of pornography, wherein love is transmuted into objectification, and sexual intercourse becomes colonial invasion. We’ve left the realm of sex and intimacy, and entered into the inferno of objectified proximity. Mariah didn’t kill Cottonmouth; she defended herself against the perpetual crucifixion Cottonmouth carried out when he sang that chorus.

But because we want villains, because Luke Cage needs a counterpart, needs an antagonizing force to oppose — and let’s not mistake sibling rivalry for all-out wars between good and evil — Mariah emerges as that which needs to be fought against. Superficial readings of Luke Cage will paint her as the villain par excellence. But, as Alfre Woodard herself reminds us, Mariah Dillard is like all of us: she is making ethical decisions every hour. Maybe it wasn’t Mariah who killed Cottonmouth; maybe Cottonmouth killed himself — first through his complicity, and second through his victim-blaming. He sang his own death knell, invited death’s scythe through the dark incantation of those words: you wanted it.

And maybe Cottonmouth didn’t kill himself by himself. Maybe, just maybe, this world contributed to Cottonmouth’s death. Maybe politicians’ grand claims about grabbing vaginas, or movie directors playing the victim in order to promote their historically inaccurate fantasies, also contribute to Cottonmouth’s death. Hell, maybe every time we hear “bitch,” “slut,” or “ho” in reference to a woman and do nothing about it occasions Cottonmouth’s exit from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

But we don’t live in comic books. We don’t live with Luke Cages and Black Panthers; Storms and Misty Knights do not visit and protect us. But we do live with you wanted it. It permeates every aspect of our society. And, just like we don’t live with real-world Luke Cages, we don’t die when we sing this demonic hymn. In fact, some of us are celebrated. Some of us are protected from the pain we deserve — or worse, given solace when our movie flops at the box office. “We shouldn’t have went so hard at Nate,” people will say. Or, worse, they’ll extol the film as a piece of cinematic artistry, disconnecting it from the writer and director who still refuse to take seriously the injustices they carried out so long ago. Never mind that the film was an act of seriously revisionist history, painting black women as damsels in distress in need of Nat Turner’s salvation (Nat Turner himself doesn’t even talk this way in his testimony); never mind Ava DuVernay’s ability to beautifully dance between multiple cinematic genres, producing everything from historically accurate films to short silent films to documentaries. No, we’ve got to celebrate Nate, past be damned. He’s the victim, not the villain; and Ava DuVernay’s brilliance is merely acknowledged but not celebrated.

Enter Bresha Meadows. Her story doesn’t involve the sexual dimensions of assault, but it involves assault and abuse nonetheless. She killed her dad; like Mariah, she could no longer allow the scenes of abuse to continue to play on loop, to continue to populate her memories. Like Mariah, she ended the possibility of a threat; she eliminated all traces of a life too traumatic to speak of. “This is a story not to be passed on,” Toni Morrison tells us in Beloved, and if you think Bresha’s story is one to be told and re-told, you’d be wrong. Instead of a ghost haunting a house, a real-life terror filled the walls, beating mothers bloody and threatening the lives of children. That’s not a story anyone should have to tell. But we tell it nonetheless.

And here is where we do live like the comic books. We need villains. So what do we do? We lock her up. Our laws can’t make a distinction between the destruction of a threat and cold-blooded murder — oh, wait, they can, but Bresha, like Marissa Alexander, is a black woman… but I digress. Our moral compass is so warped, and our thirst for recompense so high, that we’ll lock up a young woman for protecting her family. One distinction is that Mariah is a city councilwoman, and Bresha is a young black girl. The other big distinction is that Mariah was sexually assaulted and Bresha and her family were physically and verbally abused (but do we know whether or not that came with sexual assault as well? I doubt we’ll ever find out) — but this distinction, as large as it is, is one without a difference when viewed from the lens of white supremacist capitalist heterosexist patriarchy (that long but rhythmic phrase coined by bell hooks). It doesn’t matter, because, unlike George Zimmerman and Brock Turner, Bresha Meadows didn’t have a dick, and she wasn’t white — or at least operating in service of white supremacy.

It’s difficult to be ungendered, to borrow a term from Hortense Spillers. It’s hard, I can imagine, to bear the weight of one’s entire race while not being thanked or given a rest. Women, women of color, and black women more specifically, enter this world already buried, already pinned down by their strength and their fragility. Or at least that’s how I’ve come to see it. But I’m not a black woman, so I’ll never know for sure. So let me say it this way:

Men of all colors ridicule black women for having and then displaying their beautiful black bodies.

Men of all colors have such a fragile sense of masculinity that they would rather take their rage out on black women instead of turning inward and trying to reassess how they might relate differently.

Men of all colors have such a truncated sense of love that they find it impossible to celebrate the physical and existential beauty of everyone — including other men. Men of all colors reduce homoeroticism to homophobia, and are often only able to positively relate to one another through acts of misogyny and misogynoir.

Again, I’m not saying this from some high horse; I’m implicated in this as much as I hate it. I’ve done some of these things, and every day, I struggle to live differently. And every day, I fail miserably. If you think this is a blame game, it is. And I’m blaming myself as much as I blame others who share my genitalia. And so, I begin by exorcising you wanted it from my own vernacular.

You wanted it made Donald Trump.

You wanted it made Nate Parker.

You wanted it killed Julia Martin.

And yet, men say you wanted it every time they refuse to stand in the way of the patriarchy they perpetuate.

Maybe Mary Daly was right; the world might be better off without us.

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