8.17.2013

#BlackPowerIsForBlackMen: Street Harassment

Last week Jamilah Lemieux, Ebony Magazine's digital news and life editor, started the #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen hashtag, prompting a conversation about the tenuous intra-racial relationship between black men and women. The conversation came on the heels of the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen tag started by writer Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia), which took white feminists to task for their continued exclusion of Women of Colors' voices from dialogues about gender equality, and was also precipitated by 'male feminist', Hugo Schwyzer's public meltdown on social media and his continued antagonism of popular feminist WoC writers. Both  hashtags provided a cathartic moment of expunging and healing for black women and other non-black women of color who are often drowned out, disregarded, blacklisted, or silenced within the feminist and black civil rights movements.

While some black men were more than willing to listen and glean insight, #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen angered a subsection of others, who stuck their fingers in their ears and demanded to know what sexism we were referring to. Several resorted to emphatic denials of black male privilege, anti-black woman misogynoir, and name-calling. Needless to say, one (of many) erroneous act(s) that gets under my craw and causes me distress is the street harassment women, especially black women, face and the barrage of verbal insults we're assailed with if we don't respond in kind. 


Once, while scanning my Facebook timeline, I came across another “Dear Black Women…” picture meme that-- while presented under the guise of holding black women in high-esteem-- seemed to be nothing more than another manifesto taking black women to task over some perceived infraction. The issue: this expectation that black women should speak when spoken to by strangers on the street and smile on command lest we come across as being “bitter". 

I am beyond sick and tired of this culture of sexism that dictates it’s somehow my duty to placate some man’s ego for fear of being berated, stalked, attacked, or looked upon unfavorably because I’m exercising my right to do whatever the hell I want with me and mine. As an adult woman in her 30s, I feel no sense of obligation to speak or smile on cue just because some stranger I've never met or interacted with, will feel slighted.  On any given day, a woman can be in the throes of some experience that has her distracted, is in a rush, or is simply just trying to navigate or inhabit public spaces safely and don't want to be accosted or bothered. Some months ago, I was watched and then stalked into a wine bar and told by the perpetrator that he “had the right” to basically invade my space and rattle off a list of unsavory things. Specifically, he vehemently said that he "deserved a woman like me" after I was asked him to leave me alone and expressed my disinterest.

Listen, my humanity (when people bother to acknowledge it) has been relegated to a binder's worth of fucks. Having to navigate a predominantly male political landscape that wants control of my body and thinks rape is legitimate, with any resulting pregnancies considered a gift from G-d is treacherous enough. So the prospect of having to walk on eggshells around a subset of men who're more than willing to defend the right to be able to stomp the shit out of me while their buddies stand around and record it, because I won't say "hi" or smile.

When you tell me to smile or insist that women need to speak when spoken to as if this isn’t a democratic society, the short answer is NO, I won’t and don't. Your response should be to move on without incident. To justify verbal (or physical) assault on women or get deep in your feelings, because of our refusal to respond to advances (benign or otherwise) is sick. If you're a man whose treatment of a woman is contingent upon whether or not she smiles and bats her eyelashes at you… a stranger… on the street and it has that much of an impact on your ego you, then it's an indictment on you and has nothing to do with whatever perceived negative dispositional affect men like to diagnose Black women as having.


Below is filmmaker Tracey Rose's (2007) short-documentary, “Black Women Walking”, which explores the narratives of different black women who've encountered street harassment from men in their communities. The film was made in tribute to 16-year-old Adilah Gaither, who was shot and killed in 1998 while waiting at a bus stop, because she refused to give her phone number to a boy. 


17 comments:

  1. Girl, preach.

    Street harassment isn't taken nearly as seriously as it should be.

    The film was made in tribute to 16-year-old Adilah Gaither, who was shot and killed in 1998 while waiting at a bus stop, because she refused to give her phone number to a boy.

    Which is precisely how this type of shit happens.

    RIP Adilah.

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    1. And yet folks will hardcore try to fix their fingers and mouth to deny that black women aren't doubly marginalized and don't suffer from sexism and violence. Logical fallacies galore...

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    2. Well, we are so ugly *smirk* that I guess we should be grateful for whatever crumbs people are willing to throw at us.
      Also, I dislike the fact that so many black men insist that are refusal to lie down and take their abuse in whatever form they choose to serve it is "destroying black families."
      Yes, apparently thinking I should be respected and cherished and not abused is the real reason no one wants to marry me.

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  2. I used to hate it when men would tell me to smile. That I looked like I was mad or asking me what was wrong because I didn't break out into this huge smile just because they deigned to hit on me.

    One of my biggest pet peeves is when you politely turn a man down and he doesn't want to seem to take "no" for an answer. They start to follow you and can't for the life of them understand why you're feeling uncomfortable. And I've been called a bitch on more than one occasion for not sufficiently falling at a man's feet when I've been hit on. This topic should definitely be talked about more. It's one of those things where we all know it's happening, but no one really talks about.

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    1. "One of my biggest pet peeves is when you politely turn a man down and he doesn't want to seem to take "no" for an answer."

      Yup! Being "nice" or "polite" seems to have them believing it's an invitation to invade your personal space and intercept your path. They rarely *ever* are satisfied if you grant them that smile. Suddenly they think they're owed more of your time, your phone number, your address or whatever else. You'll be a "ugly bitch" regardless of how polite or standoffish you are, if they outcome doesn't work in their favor. And we definitely need to project our voices about street harassment even more, in our efforts to help combat it.

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    2. It is interesting that we can't count on the normal "barriers" that might provide us some shelter.
      So for example, being a young girl who is too young to be a sexual partner to an adult man won't keep him from harassing her. Being homeless won't make a man think that perhaps the lady strolling by with a Gucci bag is probably not a match. I don't have any but I suspect having your children with you doesn't help either.
      My favorite however had to be my married, pregnant friend (who was wearing her rings) who was hit on by a guy as she pumped gas. So apparently, even clearly being another man's wife and carrying his child is no deterrent either.

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    3. >_<

      Because it's their God Given Male Right to act like uncontrollable animals around any female human not in diapers, I am sure.

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  3. Almost every time street harassment is raised in blogs, ESPECIALLY on blogs written and patronized by Black women, there's a posse of bridge trolls showing up to proclaim that we should be grateful for the attention, and how we're going to miss it once we get stale. OR, even better, it's our own fault for being harassed. *head desk*

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    1. Trust me... these bridge trolls are the main perpetrators. They love trolling virtual spaces where black women convene to build and share our lived experiences, to try to lend some legitimacy to their anti-black woman misogynoir and hate. These are the same men who have zero regard for a woman's personal space, worship at the altar of these sexist black 'mens rights' vloggers, and they take their hate out on black women because of their own inadequacies and shortcomings.

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    2. Years ago, I admit to liking the attention and at one point failed for it...far as feeling attractive, but I'm much older now and I just find myself being uncomfortable and/or disgusted about it.These days...as mentioned with Adilah, its also quite dangerous.

      I'm in my early 40s and I find it annoying when people want you to rush with your life. I'm like this :enjoy your life as you see fit.Just because you're a woman doesn't mean that you have to have a family. It sit here and listen to garbage studies done on basically how women will be miserable without a man and even heard of one crazy one suggesting that women who don't have kids are more printed to develop ovarian cancer than those who do.Just listen to the words from each study and you'll see how much they're hinting to women how much they should stay in their place.

      I don't care if a man compliments me on something, but I do mind when they're being disrespectful to me doing it.You would think that they would be cordial with you with your brother or boyfriend around, but they're not.If they can't be respect to me in their presence, what's to say that he will be in mines?I'm at a point in my life where I'll be just fine not having a husband, but if I did, I prefer them not doing that. I like meeting guys naturally.. plutonically.. how ever you call it.I just would like a guy to be respectful to me.

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    3. @Leo Princess, don't forget the ever popular "this is why we date white women"...

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  4. I want alladis on a T-shirt and a banner and a billboard. I can't co-sign nearly enough. In the words of Dustin Ross, "LEAVE US ALONE!!!"

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  5. I googled Adilah Gaither to see if they even found the pos who killed her, much less sent him to prison, and I found a WOAD post about her. This comment from Mikey Tandino both boiled and chilled by blood:

    "Lemme tell you a story. I went to some meeting and I am just chatting with the woman next to me, I say yeah Im going to work on or see which legislation can be available to make it illegal for men to harrass you on the street. This fool says to me " OH i guess you want more Black men in jail" . F*ck you care about that for? Thats the first place your brain goes? Shouldnt you be more concerned about being able to walk the streets w/o fear of harrassment?"

    This is also a part of the reason why street harassment will never go away. Couple with the bridge trolls who believe it's their right to approach women as they see fit, they have their little cheerleader among Black women excusing their behaviour. Someone's putting me in flight-or-fight mode, and I'm supposed to keep him out of jail because he's Black? GTFOH! Those women can go straight to hell along with the harassers.

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    1. Someone's putting me in flight-or-fight mode, and I'm supposed to keep him out of jail because he's Black? GTFOH! Those women can go straight to hell along with the harassers.

      Seriously! Whom would she rather have on the street: Adilah Gaither or the piece of shit who killed her?????

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  6. Nothing to add as I agree with everything you said...that's scary...especially the violence such as getting killed. I don't know how it really is in my country as I don't know any good blog like this one in my language. But from personal experience, it is awkward, unpleasant. I've never been followed or threatened though. Never been cat-called either fortunately (but I know that many women here and around the world are). Some guys who approach me insist but don't get angry at me. The funniest was that dude whom I ignored 3 times, as he kept saying "hello" to me and then telling me I'm supposed to answer.

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  7. I ride the Metro so I am her ass on a daily basis. I am a petite well dressed uniquely beautiful woman. I'm 30 but I look 20. I am different so guys do not know how to act around me. most men are scared to approach me the most of them are passive aggressive. I get those crazy creepy old men. from my own observations is definitely an issue of mental illness. a plague of mental illness. the fact that you were either ugly broke old fat or homeless and still think you are entitled to a woman is insane

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