By Arturo R. García
Basketball fans are well-acquainted with stories about a local star who never got to show their skills outside the neighborhood courts.
And make no mistake, Tayshana Murphy was on her way to bigger things. As Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams wrote:
Mention a court in New York City — West 4th, Rucker, Orchard Beach — they don’t just know of Tayshana “Chicken” Murphy. They know her. She possessed that killer crossover and played “man strong,” as Taylonn, her father, likes to say. Tayshana loved contact. “Babies,” she called the girls who helplessly bounced off of her when she drove to the rim. She played taller than her 5-foot-7 and with a fierceness that contrasted against her gentle, hazel eyes.
Those eyes sized up Shannon Bobbitt of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever this summer.
Bobbitt conducts a clinic every year outside the Harlem projects where she grew up. The clinic is a way for children to see the footsteps she laid for them to follow. Bobbitt had heard of Tayshana and that she could ball. She probably had no idea that the high schooler was itching to test her skills against the professional.
“She’s fast as hell, Pops,” Tayshana told her father of Bobbitt. “But she’s so little. She can’t handle me. I’m too big for her.”
Murphy’s story came to a premature and violent end on Sept. 11, when she was shot and killed in the Grant Houses project where she lived. Initial reports said the shooting was a case of mistaken identity stemming from a feud between residents of the Grant Houses and the nearby Manhattanville Houses – a story her family refuted.
Three men have been arrested and charged in connection with Murphy’s murder: Tyshawn Brockington and Robert Cartagena, who allegedly shot her, and Terique Collins, accused of delivering the murder weapon. But since her death, details have emerged adding more layers to the tragedy.
Less than a month after Murphy was killed, WABC-TV reported that homophobic graphitti had been written and drawn on the wall near the stairwell where it happened. Yet, as Mecca Jamilah Sullivan observed in The Feminist Wire, Murphy’s sexuality and how that may have factored into her death was not being talked about:
The D.A.’s indictment press release doesn’t mention the homophobic comments or the possibility that anti-gay hate played a role in the crime. Even the New York Times article on the Grant-Manhattanville feud, which quotes another 18-year-old woman as Murphy’s “girlfriend” leaves the issue of homophobic hate silent, focusing instead on Murphy’s foreshortened basketball career. One exuberantly homophobic blog even goes so far as to say that the love of basketball turned Murphy gay. The message of all these sources is clear: Murphy wasn’t really a black lesbian; she was an athlete. And her loss should be mourned accordingly.
According to Bridgette P. LaVictoire at LezGetIt, the hate speech on the wall opens up another possibility.
“Even if Tayshana was not lesbian,” LaVictoire wrote after the graphitti was found, “there is always the possibility that she was murdered for just appearing to be lesbian, and because of a view of women that puts such an athletic woman into danger because of a patriarchal view that women should be far more submissive an far less athletic.”
It’s important to note that Murphy’s family hasn’t commented on her sexuality. But Sullivan’s point stands: coverage of the case has not mentioned whether authorities intend to prosecute her murder as a hate crime. (All three defendants have pled not guilty.) And stories reflecting on her life, whether at her wake or at an event named after her, have kept the focus primarily on the court.
Though the family’s right to privacy is unimpeachable, it may have opened the door for another, more problematic narrative to emerge: the New York Post reported this week that Murphy was part of a female gang, pointing to it as an example of “good girls recruited by neighborhood gangs into lives of violence, where carrying weapons and committing crimes is as commonplace as shooting a free throw.” There’s no source mentioned other than some mysterious “cops,” and the bulk of the article focuses on a whole other case.
But the story is already getting posted verbatim on other sites. If it gets enough momentum, it’s not hard to imagine that in a trial it could be used as a way to paint Murphy as an Angry Lesbian Gangbanger – to define her life by hate, and put her sexuality, however she defined it, on trial as much as the men accused of killing her.
About This BlogRacialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable
Keanu ReevesJohn Cho newsflashes.
Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.
Comments on this blog are moderated. Please read our comment moderation policy.
Use the "for:racialicious" tag in del.icio.us to send us tips. See here for detailed instructions.
Interested in writing for us? Check out our submissions guidelines.
Follow Us on Twitter!
- Maripoya on A Few Thoughts On Star Trek: Into Darkness
- DJ on A Few Thoughts On Star Trek: Into Darkness
- Meg on A Few Thoughts On Star Trek: Into Darkness
- Miles_Ellison on On Wayne Brady’s Rebuking of Bill Maher
- racialicious on The Rise Of Beyoncé, The Fall Of Lauryn Hill: A Tale Of Two Icons
- Short but Sweet: Kim Ho’s The Language Of Love
- Will Best Man Holiday usher in a new golden era of black rom coms?
- Book Excerpt: “Seeing Things” from Godless Americana
- Race + TV: Four Summer Shows From Across The Pond
- A Few Thoughts On Star Trek: Into Darkness
- Quoted: On The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson
- Friday Foolishness: Selena Gomez Is Wearing A Bindi?
- The Rise Of Beyoncé, The Fall Of Lauryn Hill: A Tale Of Two Icons
TagsABC activism advertising african-american asian asian-american barack obama black blackface celebrities comedy culture diversity fashion feminism film gender glbt HBO hip hop hispanic history hollywood identity international interracial relationships latino media mixed race movies music muslim politics race racial stereotypes racism religion sex sexism sexual stereotypes stereotypes tv Uncategorized white youtube