Monday, November 3, 2014

The Hollaback Video is Racist, But That Doesn't Mean Street Harassment Isn't an Issue

I've noticed a trend: white women use white feminism to let white men off the hook for their sexism and Black men use white feminism (or the excuse: well what white women did was racist!) to let themselves off the hook for their sexism.

In either case, when I as a Black woman was walking home last week a guy followed me for about two (long South London) blocks. He not only acted like he had a right to be in my personal space but he acted like he had more of a right to my time than I did.

After opening with my name because he saw my student ID in my bag (so not creepy!) he questioned me about where I was going (definitely not creepy!) and proclaimed himself to be single. I had no choice but to say that I'm taken even though I strongly resent the idea that another man needs to theoretically own me in order for me to have the right to rebuff another man's advances.

In the end, I had to quickly j-walk across the street just so he would stop following me. I purposely walked the wrong way for a good five minutes, careful to stay in a heavily populated area, until the  guy disappeared just because I knew I didn't want him to have any idea of where I live.

That's street harassment. And unlike what you'll see in the recently uploaded video by Hollaback that shows a white woman walking for 10 hours through NYC only being harassed by Latino and Black men this guy who harassed me was white. (It already says a lot that they use AAVE to signify responding to street harassment in the very name of their organization).

But street harassers don't have a race because two days later a Black man approached me saying "Hey are you lonely? Need some company?" as I quickly tried to walk away. I was just walking to get groceries.

I'm all for pointing out that the "myth of the Black rapist" (s/o to Angela Davis) needs to die. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that groups such as Hollaback are less about ending male privilege and more about upholding white supremacy. Because if you need to make white males invisible in your so-called anti-sexist critiques how are you really fighting patriarchy?

But what I'm not willing to do - what I cannot do as a self-respecting Black woman - is act like the opposite is true and Black men don't do street harassment any at all. Or furthermore, I'm not willing to pretend that street harassment isn't a vital issue for Black women.

It's convenient to use this video to silence talks of street harassment within the Black community. The same Black men who will argue that Black feminists care too much about what white women are doing will then take any racist thing white women do and use it to justify why any critique of patriarchy is inherently anti-Black and white supremacist.

This argument is so disrespectful and debilitating towards Black women because although street harassers have no particular race (unless you count men as a race), street harassment is far more severe for women of color.

I guarantee, if the star of the video had been a woman of color - particularly a Black woman - the comments heard would have been even worse! There probably would have been sexual propositions, more blatant stalking, and more degrading language.

Historically, we also can't ignore that Black men have been murdered for even looking at a white woman. Let's start with Emmett Till (1955) but Alfred Wright was brutally murdered in 2013 for being married to a white woman.

This cultural reality makes it so that white women remain "protected" from the full brunt of male entitlement. At least in relation to men of color. This no doubt carries to street harassment. When you're a woman of color the "hey beautiful's" and "how you doing's" caught on the Hollaback video can and will quickly turn to "you're an ugly bitch anyway" and maybe even lead to a threat of physical harm. Recently, a Black woman's throat was slit by a man who she rejected after he had approached her on the street. 

Black women are often put in the tricky, sandwiched position of having to call out white women's racism both because they'll be viewed sideways by Black men if they don't and because white women's racism impacts all Black people irregardless of gender. But also Black women have to then reconstruct everything done through the white gaze to bring attention to "Hey this topic does matter! And it actually really impacts Black women!"

So by all means call out the racism of Hollaback but don't do it at the expense of Black women - who believe it or not - are very real victims of street harassment.

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  1. Great article! I think the original video was so alarming for many Black people because it is yet more propoganda that is incorrectly targeting Black men as being somehow MORE dangerous than all others on the planet. I am also against street harrassment, but I am even less for the constant assault on Black people through media outlets. I am SO happy that the Black community did not let this one slide, and are sharing their stories of harrassment by non-Black men. I also think there should be stronger definitions about what "street harrassment" is, because I did not consider most of the examples in the original video to be "harrassment". But I come from a place where men "holla" at women in a respectful manner (as I felt the majority of the men were doing in this video). I think there must be a greater effort to define what is "saying hello" and what is "harrassment".

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