Throughout the Caribbean and within West Indian communities found within Brooklyn, J’Ouvert is a celebration of Carnival. From East New York to Flatbush, the streets are filled with calypso music, wandering waistlines, paint and powder. This colorful and dream-like festival, which usually takes flight on the heels of Labor Day, is for some, a chance to return home or visit a celebrating island.
The first recorded Caribbean street party in New York City took place on September 1, 1947, on Lenox Avenue. It’s safe to say that the history of J’Ouvert is long and precious to many who call the Big Apple their home.
But it is also a time to #SayHerName. Aside from the West Indian pride that transforms the city into Carnival, there is also a history of pain.
Three years ago, a 22-year-old woman named Tiarah Poyau was shot in the face for saying no to the advances of a man named Reginald Moise. Tiarah refused to dance with Reginald at a street party in Crown Heights on September 5, 2016. She reportedly said, “Get off me” as Moise attempted to grind on her.
In the end, Tiarah’s refusal cost her her life. As they congregated, Moise, who was under the influence of alcohol, pulled out a gun and shot Tiarah in the face.
Prior to her death her future shone bright. She was a St. John’s graduate student in pursuit of her master’s degree in accounting. She even had a job at PricewaterhouseCoopers waiting for her upon graduation. Like many young Black women her age, she was in between tests and planning for the future, but also cherished the moments where she could celebrate and turn up.
Incidents like Tiarah’s are usually rooted in familiar situations– a party, the streets, the bus stop, or on a date. But the problem is the same. Some men’s fragile masculinity incites them to behave viciously. Those who act in this manner have narrow ideas of strength and what it means to be a man, which produces violent behavior and tantrums when women push against their toxic script.
Margaret Atwood once said, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
This is more than a party gone wrong because Tiarah’s death didn’t happen in a vacuum. Black girls and women are extremely vulnerable to abuse. Almost a quarter of Black women in the U.S. have experienced rape and 40 percent will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Black women are also murdered at a higher rate than any other group of women, and a majority of those murders are carried out using guns.
Growing up, we were told to be polite toward those who catcalled us from corner stores. This was meant to protect us from anger that crouched behind dirty compliments. Black women push smiles and careful conversation when large and unstable male bodies make them feel unsafe. Some of us have been pulled tighter than we’ve liked, and like Tiarah, we’ve all had the experience of turning down a dance. However, we’ve lived to tell the tale.
Tiarah’s story embodies the experience of so many Black women. She is not the first or the last woman to fall victim to the toxic masculinity and entitlement some men portray.
Janese Talton Jackson, 29, was shot by a stranger after she repeatedly rejected his sexual advances. Mary Spears, 27, was shot multiple times after she refused to give her phone number to a stranger. Nokuthula Thashe, 28, was shot by her boyfriend after turning down his marriage proposal. Julia Martin, 27, was stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend after she let him into her apartment so that she could return the engagement ring he gave her.
Too often Black women are taught how to manage the rage some Black men feel where they’re rejected. Stories like Tiarah’s end when we teach Black men that they have no right to the bodies of Black women. It ends when we stop teaching Black women how to handle the virulent emotions of others.
There are many “Reginald’s” littered throughout our community. He’s the guy in your DM’s or inbox, who begins with kind conversation but turns cruel after you ignore or dismiss his advances. Men like Reginald sleep in the swell of insecurity and are conditioned to believe that Black women owe them their time and affection.
This year, Reginald was found guilty of only the lesser charges he was accused of—criminally negligent homicide and weapons possession. In May he was sentenced to 17 and 1/3 years for the 2016 shooting, according to the New York Post.
As we submerge our souls in the lively music among the last rays of the summer, it’s important we remember to hold each other accountable. In the midst of our celebrations, it’s important that we #SayHerName, so that one day we can reach an era where the list ends. The death of Tiarah is the stuff of nightmares but serves as a reminder to listen to our sisters and speak to our brothers. Her stolen future shows us just how far we have to go.