Content warning: The following article includes a discussion of domestic violence in the context of violence against Black women.
Upon hearing the news that legendary singer Tina Turner has died, I immediately thought of her life story, particularly the pain we all became so familiar with while watching the movie What’s Love Got to Do With It? The 1993 film starring Laurence Fishburne as Ike Turner and Angela Bassett as Tina Turner, tells the story of Tina Turner’s rise to stardom and how she gained the courage to break free from her abusive husband, Ike. But I didn’t want to think about him. I wanted my memories to be about her. Her music, her longevity in the industry, and that hair!
As expected, my social media feeds were flooded with condolences about Tina’s death. What I wasn’t expecting were the memes; particularly memes that commemorate her death by making light of her abuse. One such meme depicts Laurence Fishburne as Ike Turner, standing at what I assume to be the stairway to heaven or the pearly gates. The meme suggests that even after death, Ike is waiting for her. I know this was meant as a joke but it wasn’t funny to me. Maybe I was triggered because of my proximity to domestic violence; a reminder of my childhood where for years I witnessed my mother's face at the end of my father's open hand. Perhaps the untimely meme reminded me of how people make light of pain at the expense of black women.
So I ask. Why does the pain of Black women consistently serve as something to be consumed for the entertainment of others?
Jokes about Tina Turner’s early years as a victim of domestic violence aren’t exclusive to social media friends.
In the 2013 song by Beyonce, Drunk in Love, Jay Z has a line that says:
“I’m Ike, Turner, turn up / Baby no I don’t play / Now eat the cake, Anna Mae / I said eat the cake, Anna Mae”
The line references a scene in the movie where Ike commands Tina — born Anna Mae Bullock — to eat the cake he’d ordered in a diner before Angela Bassett ends up tussling with Laurence Fishburne, and with cake smeared across her face.
Unlike the vagueness of other hip-hop lyrics that attack Black women, this line feels personal….because it is.
The memes, the lyrics, and the humor around domestic violence are far more than “just a joke.” Regardless of its intent, when we dismiss this type of humor as “just a joke” it trivializes the most oppressed among us. It is this response to Tina and other Black women that speaks to how deeply we lack respect in all arenas of Black women’s lives.
On July 12, 2020, rapper Megan Thee Stallion was shot by rapper Tory Lanez after a pool party hosted by Kylie Jenner. Megan initially told the police that she had stepped on glass to protect herself and Lanez from experiencing prejudiced violence from the police. Megan later revealed on Instagram Live that Lanez had shot her in the foot and she went under surgery to remove the bullet.
After the shooting, social media was flooded with jokes and memes about the incident. Celebrities such as 50 Cent, Draya Michelle, and Chrissy Teigen, reposted those jokes and memes making light of a traumatic moment for Megan.
Tina Turner was more than a victim of domestic violence. After all, she didn’t earn the title “ Queen of Rock-n-Roll ” because of her painful history with Ike Turner. Her professional accomplishments include Grammy Album of the Year and Record of the Year, Kennedy Center honors, MTV video music awards, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and so much more.
This is how I choose to remember Tina because the suffering of Black women is not a joke. Violence against Black women is not something to be turned into comedy or taken lightly. We all should question why the mistreatment of Black women is so palatable. As stated by the Combahee River Collective, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”