Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Street Meet: Black Women, Black Men, & Everyday Sexual Harassment

By Tracy Renee Jones

I am 11 years old wearing a Catholic School uniform. I make a run for the candy store a few blocks away from the school. The men say things to me but I don't know what some of the words mean. Their stares make me uncomfortable.

I am 15 years old wearing shell toe Adidas and a gold name plate. Backpack on one shoulder, one sock slouched as I make my way to my Catholic high school.

I am 23 years old wearing steel toe boots and dingy, baggy clothes on my way to work the docks at UPS.

I am 30 years old wearing a suit, early in the morning, while making my way to work which I now called a ‘career’.

I am 36 years old wearing the shapeless clothes one does when they get older, my hair is in a ponytail and I’m walking with my adult daughter.

“Good Morn’en”, says the toothless alcoholic who lives on the curb as I make my way to the bus during my morning commute.

“Hey Pretty Lady”, says the dirty day laborer as he rubs his dick, “You got a hus-ban?” I look down my nose at him, making my disgust clear. I refuse to break my gaze until I see the look of humiliation cross his face.

“Dam, you got a fat ass, Ma!” says the under age drug dealer as I escort my 11 year old daughter from martial arts class. His friends break out in a roar of laughter. I feel my daughter grip my hand tighter; she pulls me along in an attempt to get me away from the perceived danger. I bite my tongue because I don’t want to show out in front of my child, I’m supposed to be an adult and ‘respectable’ acting in public.

“Fuck you then! What? You think you’re better than me?!” says the random Nigger on the corner in some urban hood that could be in any urban town anywhere in America.

“Yeah, I do” is my usual response. I look him straight in the eyes and punctuate my retort with all the confidence my body language can muster. I enjoy the look of pain I’ve caused him to feel; I enjoy being able to turn the humiliation meant for me, back on to him.

“You ain’t all dat anyway..don’t nobody want you”, says the random Nigger on the corner in some urban hood that could be in any town anywhere in America.

“Oh, but you do, Nigger, seeing how you going through so much effort to get me to say SOMETHING……. I MUST BE ALL DAT!” I stop and turn and face my harasser. Hands on hips, ready to battle and belittle. I am quick thinking, observant and clever. Never without a string of insults ready to hurl at anyone has who chosen to be my target. I’ve been known to maintain verbal altercations for blocks, screaming myself hoarse, going word for word until I beat my opponent down.

He’s stunned that I respond. Confusion and then anger bubbles over the rim of his ego. He is caught off guard because I didn’t scurry away, nor did I find his comment insulting enough to show the humiliation that he was hoping to cause me.

“When you gonna let me hit that?” says the Nigger whose advances I have been declining for the last 15 years. His chances with me were over when I saw him kick my home girl through the front door of my house; it was made of glass. Besides that, I don’t do recycled dick. We've had this exchange over and over again during the last near decade. He must have been feeling extra insecure today, because my smile and polite decline in front of his boys wasn’t acceptable this time.

“Oh, you acting funny now! You wasn’t saying that when you had my dick in your mouth” The crowd of male onlookers laugh and encircle me, waiting to see if their friend had succeeded in ‘putting me in my place’. There is no need for me to go into the details of what transpired next, all you need to know is that I never dealt with this guy IN MY ENTIRE FUCKIN LIFE and for him to speak so disrespectful, so blatantly sexual in front of my daughter didn’t sit well with me.

I knew he was violent, I had seen what he was capable of doing to other women but that didn’t stop me from going verbal ape shit right then and there. Our corner exchange wasn’t done until MY DAUGHTER pulled me down the block as I cursed and retorted with everything I had in me. I was deep within a red rage; so it took a few moments before I realized that my daughter was also yelling at the men to ‘Leave my mother alone’ while dragging/push/pulling me down the street.

How dare this man who had never so much as had a private conversation with me insult me in such as way? And in front of my daughter, no less. I was only walking home from a college class, sweat pants and t-shirt on; though the clothing is never a justifiable reason for the abuse.

Why am I unable to walk down the street in peace, even now, as I near my 40’s? I’ve recently moved back into a ‘Black’ neighborhood and it didn’t take long for me to feel the loss of civility, the hostility in the air. It wasn’t a week in the new neighborhood before the need to curse a stranger out came to pass; but this new paradox includes the threat of physical violence for each and every time I decline a Black man’s advances. Times are harder than before so I must be careful; a Black man who seeks to insult/win/kick game to me may feel even more ‘disrespected’ when I don’t want his shifty ass. I chastise myself for not carrying a weapon in case I 'need it'; living in a Black neighborhood is similar to living in a jungle. Kill or be killed..theoretically...realistically.

The pursuit is even more extreme because I’m ‘light skinned’ (I’m exotic!), and work a professional job (as per my work clothes). My complexion and attire make me even more of a catch, and make my decline of a Blacks man’s advances even more insulting because they associate it with ‘white’ people therefore escalating the exchange to one of hostility even quicker.

I’ve had bottles thrown at me (while 5 months pregnant) in broad day light for not responding to a Black man’s advances. I’ve watched cars circle the block to maneuver themselves on the side of the street where I was walking so that the driver AND passengers can make crude comments at me.

I've hurried down streets, dragging my young daughter behind me as she whispered that 'she was scared' of the men in the car. She has asked me why the men chase me. She's stood in front of me acting as a protective shield in an attempt to block the attention and/or insults being hurled at her mother. As a teenager, she's approached men in the street on her own to warn them that should stop harassing me when they see me in the streets.

I’ve had police officers drive down one way streets to catch up with me when I was an underage minor. I’ve had police officers stop me in public, detain me, and question me, only to give me a phone number. Imagine how excited I was to hear about how “I made his dick hard with my fat ass” just by walking down the street minding my business.

I’ve had ministers ignore the line of prim and proper ladies waiting for a moment to shake hands after service while he whispers his best come on to me as I wrestle my hand from his.

I was harassed by one of the ushers at my father’s wake; I’ll never forget the way he licked his lips and handed me a cards. Distraught and not really paying attention, I took it in my hand, only to look down and see a phone number…”You’re gonna need a man around to take care of you now”. It took a few seconds for his words to sink in. I looked over at the casket of what contained my only hope of ever feeling safe and secure. Only feet away from where my father lay; this exchange was a glimpse to how brazen and disrespectful all other Black men would be to me.

I’ve been raped and assaulted; because I refused to acknowledge and accept a Black man’s advances. There are women who have been gunned down in the street because they refused to play along with a Black man’s attempt at flirting.

I've been called every combination of whores, bitches, cunts and skank.

I've been accused of, asked and requested to do any of a number of things with my body.

I've been threatened with sexual assault repeatedly by people I don't know and who may or may not have been capable or willing to go through with their threat.

I've been spat on.

I've been hit.

I've been groped.

All after declining the verbal advances of a random Black man on a corner/block/street/ in a town that doesn't much matter.

Most men can be accused of obnoxious cat calling at times. In some context it’s an undesirable behavior that is tolerated at best. Young men of all nationalities may show their appreciation for a girl who’s caught their eye by whistling or some other non threatening gesture. I’ve had plenty of winks and whistles or polite compliments and have never had an issue with it.

But at what point does harmless flirting become harassment? And why is it that the main perpetrators of this type of behavior are Black men?

I don’t always yell back obscenities when I’m sexually harassed in the street. At times I will challenge the behavior of the man; question him and turn the tables. I ask how he would feel if it was his mother, his sister or his daughter on the receiving end of such hostility and disrespect. I may be gullible in my belief that honest discussion can create understanding and affect behavior and that nearly every human interaction is a chance to exchange and learn.

Often times, the response is simply ‘oh, well’, the woman shouldn’t be walking down the street ‘like that’. Or she should expect to be harassed based on the way her body is built. Or that a woman should ‘appreciate’ the attention, as if a blatant sexual comment from a stranger is something to be desired. There are the occasional few who are capable of empathy and do go on to recognize how their behavior may be undesirable. Some simply say they are mocking what they see other men do. I ask do the women respond favorably and I know they don’t. So I wonder what makes Black men think this behavior should be perpetuated.

I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being considered community property just because some men think my skin color makes me a member of a secret harem and I owe them the time of day and some pussy and a blow job.

I want to be invisible. My daughter now dresses in boy clothes. Her sexuality has been a topic people feel they have the right to speak on ever since she was 5 years old and learned to dress herself.

No one asks why my daughter dresses to hide her gender; why she wears layers upon layers of clothes; why she wants to be invisible. She's had to see me be harassed in the street her entire life. Why would she want to be seen?

I want to walk down the street and be left to my own thoughts without the intrusion of some babbling idiots attempt at garnering my attention.

I’m tired of some Black men behaving like mindless, hyper sexual brutes and then crying victim when women (of all races) cross the street to avoid potential harassment.

I cringe when I see you; you’re like a genetically screwed up pack of wolves that viciously prey on their own kind. I’m tired of the barbaric, sub human, distasteful theatrical display of Black male testosterone.

I’m tired of nearly every exchange between myself and Black men turning into competitive belittling of which I usually win (thanks Mom).

Next time you have the urge to break your neck to speak to a woman in the street ask yourself would you put the same effort into greeting a male? If not, chances are your attempt at displaying ‘manners’ is a thinly veiled opportunity to show a strange women that you noticed she had a vagina rather than a gesture of common courtesy. Let’s call it what it is.

On behalf of all women, but especially BLACK women, I am officially calling your sexist, intrusive, abusive behavior for what it is…Sexual Harassment.

I don’t owe you shit, not a response, not a smile, not eye contact and definitely not a chance to gain access into my personal life. I’m a person and I deserve to be treated like a human. That’s your prerogative if you insist on playing the role of untamed animal but you will not claim me as your piece of meat.

I don’t give a fuck if your ignorant ass grandmother, momma or favorite auntie told you it was ‘polite’ to speak to a woman; you’re words aren’t wanted or appreciated.

The End.


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