Ma’Khia Bryant was a child. She was 16 years old and people talk about her as if she were a young woman. Usually, the conversation around the reason for this deliberate adultification of a young Black child focuses on how Black children are denied their childhood because they are Black. This time, there was a visible chasm regarding her murder. Ma’Khia being a fat Black child was justification for the police shooting her four times in the chest.
Fatphobia and antifatness are rarely part of the discussion regarding state-sanctioned violence, but they are important factors that offer more insight into the deaths of Black people. Like many systems which are birthed from white supremacy, there is resistance to acknowledge it as such. We are indoctrinated into antifatness from birth. Fatphobia provides the space to dehumanize fat people. Black fat people, especially if they are poor and dark skin, are even further removed from their humanity. Often described as being larger than they really are–perceived as being more dangerous, more violent, more deadly.
When I stated that antifatness was important to Ma’Khia’s death, I was met with violent antifatness, fatphobia, and flat-out denial. The responses, as vile and repulsive as they were, only served to prove my point. Ma’Khia was a “bigger target” and deserved to be killed. She was a 16-year-old girl, a child. Because she was fat, people denied her adolescence and forced her into pseudo-adulthood to rationalize why the police “had” to kill her.
People argued that the size of Ma’Khia had nothing to do with her death, and it was simply her Blackness. It is the same thing that has been done with other fat Black folk killed by the state. Michael Brown was an 18-year-old teenager, still a child, but he was described as a massive man as if he were bigger than life and this white police officer with a lethal weapon couldn’t possibly stand a chance against this giant man. Of course he would have to shoot him six times. Police reserve this sort of brutality to kill the night terrors white supremacy conjures up in the white mind.
The experiences that fat Black children have are important in understanding how Ma’Khia reacted and why she was killed. I remember when I was younger, the way that people would treat me. In elementary school, there were a group of girls who didn’t like me and they pushed me down a flight of stairs. Before, I used to view that time in my life with confusion, but now I realize that these girls felt empowered by the antifat society we lived in to at best, bruises or break bones, and at worst, kill me. I was an easy target because I was fat and I could “take it.” I could not retaliate because it would be seen as more violent than the violence inflicted on me. There was no one to protect me, and no one believed that I deserved to be protected.
I imagine that the only way that Ma’Khia thought she could protect herself was with a weapon, in this case, a knife. Clearly, she feared for her life and was prepared to defend it by any means necessary. She called the police for help as we are all taught to do when we are young. If there is trouble and there is no one else to help you, call 911. The police saw her as a young woman, not a child, and killed her. This is not to say that she was not killed because she was Black, it is to say that her fatness also was a contributing factor to why she was killed. Ma’Khia was not seen as a child, she was seen as an older person and it was evident in how the news described her as a young woman.
The hatred for fatness impacts how the police interact with fat Black people the same way that colorism, transphobia, or any other marginalized identity informs how Black people interact with us. Black people’s identities do not stop with our Blackness. Racism is not the only way in which white supremacy manifests itself and it is time that we have more nuanced conversations around state-sanctioned violence.
Danielle Young is a writer, editor, photographer, abolitionist, and fat activist. All of these pieces of her identity coalesce into her dedication to defending and telling the important stories of Black fat people. Young is currently working on her latest installment in her Black fat photo series BLACK and attempting to pen her first memoir. She has also opened commissions for editing and a print shop to purchase fine art prints of her photography. You can support her work here: