Tjhisha Ball and Angelia Mangum: Two names you should know but probably don’t. Tjhisha Ball and Angelia Mangum were 19 and 18 years old, respectively, two young women who were brutally murdered on September 18th. Their bodies were found in Duval County, Florida, reportedly thrown off an overpass, by passerby in the wee hours of the morning. Little has been said about the murder of both of these young women, and what has been said either glosses over or luridly magnifies one very important factor in this case: Tjhisha and Angelia worked as exotic dancers.
Over at PostRacialComments on Tumblr, the blog not only redacted the information about Mangum and Ball working as dancers, but proceeded to break down for readers questioning its motives why they would not include, comment, or discuss the girls’ work or the criminalization of the girls by the few media outlets to highlight the story of their murder.
In “Black Girls Murdered (But Do YOU Care)” from Ebony Magazine, Senior Digital Editor Jamilah Lemieux says, “Someone(s) apparently murdered two women and left their bodies on the side of the road for the world to see. We shouldn’t need for them to have been “good girls”—or White girls, or, perhaps good White girls—for this to be cause for national concern. There is a killer, or killers, on the loose.”
— Rap Game Rahab, doe (@_peech) September 27, 2014
In “Rest in Peace: Angelia Mangum and Tjhisha Ball” from GradientLair, owner, activist, and blogger Trudy writes, “As I’ve stated before, Black criminals are treated like monsters. Black victims are treated like criminals. This further complicates, in addition to the dehumanization and criminalization of Black bodies, because they are Black women. Black women regularly go missing and at times are killed; our stories are underreported or shaped as “criminal” even when we are victims.”
While both pieces were necessary and both began to address the case of Tjhisha and Angelia’s murders, they are certainly the anomaly in terms of the majority of the coverage. Even in the case of “Black Girls Murdered,” a mostly positive portrayal, I thought to myself, “Why are we not acknowledging their work? Why are we pretending their work doesn’t matter? Why is their work becoming the elephant in the room?” I walked away from most articles I read feeling both shameful and shamed, as if they were written to say, “News reports say they were exotic dancers, quick, let’s fight to erase that so the girls can appear deserving of our sorrow and rage.”
At Salon, writer Ian Blair penned “Grisly Murder Ignored: How We Failed Angelia Mangum and Tjhisha Ball” and went so far as to completely erase input given on this case by sex workers. Not only did Blair not reach out to any sex workers, he neglected to quote any of a wide pool of us who have been posting regularly about these girls for nearly a week straight. Blair’s piece barely nods to and briefly namechecks “the sex work activist community,” with no mention of the YouCaring fundraiser Melissandre (@MeliMachiavelli) and I set up to fund the victims’ funerals. The piece reads as if Blair simply copied and pasted information he read online and didn’t bother to interview a single person for his article. There is no acknowledgement that much of his information came directly from current and former sex workers on Twitter. Salon’s writer fails to point out that neither Ball or Mangum’s families have enough money to bury the girls and the YouCaring fundraiser exists solely to help them with this endeavor. Blair prattles on, without much reference to Tjhisha Ball and Angelia Mangum themselves (the subjects of said “failure” on “our” collective part), instead devoting most of his column space to regurgitating words of well known and more respected Black people; quoting Ta-nehisi Coates at length; discussing Ferguson; Mike Brown; #IfTheyGunnedMeDown; Daniel Holtzclaw; Marlene Pinnock, and seemingly anything other than what the Salon write-up ostensibly set out to address: two beautiful young women who were brutally murdered and who also happened to work as strippers. This offering from Blair also casually ignores the reports that each of Daniel Holtzclaw’s alleged victims, save the last woman he is accused of having victimized, were also either sex workers, drug users, or both.
In fact, in the cases of Tjhisha Ball and Angelia Mangum, as in the case of Daniel Holtzclaw and his alleged victims, the idea of sex work as an important factor in the crime continues to be obscured by other supposedly more important issues, watered down to nothing in order to be considered palatable to sensitive audiences. The few conversations I’ve seen on Twitter, Tumblr, and the occasional news articles and blogs focus only on the collective (non)reactions of people when a Black woman is the victim of violent crime. I do not want to take anything away from that analysis. I know it’s absolutely true: Black women are the least and the last in line for anger, rage, justice, pity, sympathy, and empathy.
“murder of a white woman: there must be an investigation.
murder of a black woman: there must be an explanation.”
Black women are upset, we are incredibly sad, we are begging to be cared for, and we have a right to feel this way. We are completely correct in our steadfast refusal to simply disappear into the ether when we are violated, when our lives are snuffed out. We are justified in our anguish and in our anger. We are righteous in this, and I am not here to take away from it. I am here standing with my sisters and speaking out too. We are the most spotless of lambs, sinless in our desire to simply be seen as just as important as anyone else. But, what I am also here to say is this: in the midst of the tangible and thickening silence from what could arguably be called one of the most vocal corners of twitter, Black Feminist Twitter, and even Feminist Twitter as a whole; in the midst of the silence from virtually everyone and everywhere: where is the outrage for two teenage girls who were brutally murdered? Is the outrage lacking because of their race? Definitely. Is it non-existent because of their reported interactions with law enforcement? Absolutely. But it is also lacking because they were reported as working as exotic dancers. This cannot be denied. It is unfair and unethical to say anything different.
Incredible that people would make a point to take issue with #TjhishaAndAngelia‘s “lifestyle” before they take issue with their murders
— Suzy X. (@msmalcriada) September 22, 2014
Activist Shaun King on Twitter (@ShaunKing) spoke candidly on his timeline about the difference between traffic and donations to support Mike Brown’s family before and after Ferguson police implied Brown was a suspect in an armed robbery. Trudy of Gradient Lair (@TheTrudz) calls this phenomenon “Post Mortem Media Violence”, and it is seen utilized in nearly every instance of a Black person being the victim of violent crime. It is Ezell Ford being called a gang member. It is Eric Garner supposedly selling loose cigarettes. It is Mike Brown allegedly being a suspect in an armed robbery. It is Tjhisha Ball and Angelia Mangum reportedly having interactions with police officers, being arrested, and working as strippers. It is, simply put, respectability politics in action, and Black women in the sex trades often suffer from it the most. Blogger, activist, writer, and sex worker N’jaila Rhee (@BlasianBytch) writes in “Black Sex Work & Stigma, #TjhishaAndAngelia”:
“Black women are rarely seen as ‘good victims,’ the kind that get respect and dignity in death and life. Black sex workers face a two-sided stigma of not only being hated for performing sexuality, but for doing [so] in a highly politicized black body. We are simultaneously victims of sexist racism, while being accused of being the cause of it. So it’s no surprise the few outlets that reported these murders did so in such a poor fashion.”
We cannot, while decrying violence against Black women and confessing our desire to be seen, heard, and cared for; deny both the intersection of Black womanhood and sex work as a blind spot and the incredible violence Black sex workers face. There comes a point where we must be willing, if we are able, to speak out against the erasure and shame that is so often laid on Black women who also work in the sex trades. We must be willing to consistently speak out about the casual shaming and stigma that is so often attached to our existence.
In the midst of writings that throw away the reality of our lives by saying, “It is difficult to determine [why there is no outrage regarding Tjhisha and Angelia],” this task can seem overwhelming. It can be too much to, once again, find yourself erased, consciously ignored, and pushed aside. It can be more than you ever thought you’d be able to take, dealing with the violence levied on sex workers—Black women who are sex workers in particular—by media, bloggers, celebrities, and the public alike. Because it is violence, in a way. It is a violent choice to casually exact things like erasure, stigma, and shaming on people who are already erased, shamed, and stigmatized every day of their lives for something as mundane as simply going to work. It is a form of violence to yell out, “Pay attention to these girls,” while simultaneously harshly erasing them from the conversation. It is violence to use the deaths of Tjhisha Ball and Angelia Mangum as a way to insert oneself into the forefront of a conversation while refusing to acknowledge the young women at all.
Because here is the truth: Ball and Mangum hadn’t reached their 20th birthdays. They came from poorer families. They obviously, judging only from the photos of them that have popped up online, enjoyed their lives–to some extent, at least. They were beautiful Black girls. They were beautiful young girls. They had entire worlds and lifetimes ahead of them. Tjhisha and Angelia were brutally murdered and still, over a week later, not many even know about it. Tjhisha Ball and Angelia Mangum were important, lovely human beings who also worked as strippers.
Acknowledging their work and the violence many full service sex workers and exotic dancers face is not inappropriate. Realizing and admitting the facts is not untoward: Whatever labels we use, strippers; dancers; escorts; street workers; and many other sex workers are required to accept and deal with the high probability of being victimized both during and because of their work. This is life and they live with it every day. They must watch over their shoulders, carry weapons of self defense, and even create plan upon plan upon contingency plan just to arrive home safely at the end of a work day. Beyond that, many working in the sex trades, regardless of job description, must accept that this—the erasure that has happened to Tjhisha and Angelia—may also happen to them if they are the victims of violent crime. For Black women, that acceptance and the weight of it is doubly hard.
When two other sex workers were brutally murdered just over a year ago, Petite Jasmine and Dora Oezer, we saw their photos everywhere. Beautiful, smiling photos of them with their dewy skin and wonderful smiles popped up on both sex worker and non-sex worker blogs. There were moments of silence and rallies all over the world. Videos appeared on YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, and elsewhere of people making impassioned speeches begging for justice for them and decriminalization for full service sex workers. When Christy Mack, an adult film actress, was brutally beaten not long ago, funding campaigns to help her recover opened almost immediately and donations poured in and nearly surpassed the incredibly large and desperately needed amount. Though the original campaign never reached its goal (ending just $8,000 shy of the initially requested amount of $100,000), dentists, surgeons, and other professionals offered Christy Mack their services free of charge. In both of these cases, signs were made and hashtags were used. Social media sites exploded with traffic and people who never cared about sex workers beyond occasionally shaming them suddenly cared about these women who obviously needed our help.
When an unbelievably high number of Black men were killed this summer for walking down streets, reaching for driver’s licenses, standing on corners, and even just walking around inside big buy stores, hashtags remained in use long afterwards. They are established and used with a fervency unlike anything else we’ve seen since Twitter turned green for Tehran. Black women are vocal for these men: marching, fighting, organizing, supporting, and loving everyone involved. Black people are angry—and, again, rightfully so. There is nothing stopping the flow of information about these cases, either. Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) organize group pictures, thousands of lovely, shining faces, serious and staring straight ahead with their hands up in the air and #HandsUpDontShoot plastered everywhere.
But the most vocal personalities on Twitter, the Kings and Queens of hashtag activism and awareness, can barely be bothered to retweet #TjhishaAndAngelia. The most vocal of activists, arguably in the world at this point, haven’t lifted so much as a finger to help build awareness of the need to help Tjhisha Ball and Angelia Mangum’s families bury them without bankrupting themselves. They also seem to be unbothered by the lack of news regarding the investigation of their murders. There is a wall of silence here, and it is too large and too thick to think it is only coincidence or innocent ignorance.
As a Black A.M.E. minister might say, in closing, I am angry today. I admit it. I’m angry because yet more sex workers were found murdered and no one but a very few even feel bothered by it. I’m angry because more Black girls were found murdered and they immediately disappeared off of our collective radar. I feel this way because it was not one but two teenage girls murdered, and we cannot hear so much as a sigh of sadness from anyone.
But they do deserve our sadness. They deserve true and intense mourning from us. Tjhisha Ball and Angelia Mangum, regardless of their life choices up to last week, regardless of their race, deserve our attention. They deserve our full attention to every aspect of their lives we’ve glimpsed this far. They deserve for us to acknowledge the reports of them moving away from their homes to work as strippers and make some money. They deserve a nuanced analysis when we write about them: they came from poor families and maybe they just wanted to live without struggling financially, which is something dancing could have helped them do. They deserve our voices calling for their murderer’s arrest and trial. Tjhisha and Angelia deserve us to fight for them, just as hard as we’re willing to fight for anyone else. They deserve to be buried properly and their families deserve to be able to bury them and grieve without needing to worry or adding to their sorrow.
Tjhisha Ball and Angelia Mangum deserve more than our silence.