Category Archives: women

Street Harassment or Public Flirtation? How do we define it?

“God Bless you darling”

“Have a good day dimples.”

Those are the two I’ve heard addressed towards me this week and I thanked them both politely and went about my day. I imagine that these comments might be unwanted by a different woman walking down the street and I can appreciate and respect that. But I would hope that she could also open her mouth and say, “No thank you.” or “I don’t appreciate that, will you please stop?”

Ever since the video of Roberts’ recorded experience of being addressed by strange men in the street was released, my nerves have been somewhat on edge whenever an online conversation flares up which generalizes or defines what occurred flatly as “Street Harassment” that should be criminalized. What is “Street Harassment” please? Who does it and what does the face of a possible campaign against it look like? Who would it serve?

“Hey Ma, my man over there thinks you’re cute and wants your number.” That’s one I used to hear endlessly in High School.

If you think the guy is cute, is it still “street harassment” because thousands of hook ups and even marriages begin this way.

When single women go to bars to meet men, those men are strangers. This game the sexes have always played has required men to be the initiators and for women to be the ones who decide whether they will respond affirmatively or with displeasure for what ever reasons.

For me, harassment whether in the street or in the office or in a bar, club, or wherever is what occurs after you have expressed the desire to no longer be pursued. Men will pursue. That’s what they do. That is what we have required them to do. And I don’t care how anti-feminist or offensive this sounds but it’s what many women like them to do.

I was hanging out with a male friend of mine yesterday and I asked him he felt about this issue. Interestingly he is the second Black male who told me he didn’t really care about it but started paying attention when he noticed that most all the men in the video were of color.

As to the question of how men would respond if it was the other way around and woman were always cat calling, whistling and making kissy noises at them, please! Does anyone need to take a poll or do a hidden camera segment to know what the overwhelming response to that would be?

That would save men like 80% of their time!

I’m not saying I haven’t had men say things to me in the street that I haven’t found infuriating. But I always chalk it up to that one particular guy or incident, not all men and certainly not all Black men. I can’t even imagine how I could! I guess I’ve just never found it to be an issue for me.

Now I get how patriarchy plays into our internalized normalization of this occurrence but as women with intelligence, voices, and power, we also have to be aware of the ways in which we contribute to the appropriation of gendered social cues. Because to me, there are situations in which the same women who hate to be called out in the street, require this same amount of assertion in a setting where they crave attention and flattery. Again, if the attention is unwanted and this has been made clear but still continues, you are now dealing with a harassment case.

Do I think a man is wrong or bad mannered or a rapist just because he says something to me I don’t want to hear in the street? No. But if he pursues me after I have made it clear I have zero interest, then he has a problem. And at that point, I have to do what I can to protect myself and my rights.

And finally, compliments from men I don’t know in the street have yielded feelings of positive reinforcement for me on several occasions. I’m not saying I know who is harmless or who is potentially dangerous. I’ve also gotten compliments from women in the street and love those as well! What I’m saying is, I wish there was more carefulness around the definition of “street harassment” and not this dangerous lumping in of “How are you today”s and “God Bless you”s and “You’re beautiful”s with a general sense of being made to feel unsafe.

Roberts also makes a general statement about places where people don’t experience harassment.

“People don’t put up with harassment at work, at school, at home. And we shouldn’t have to put up with it in the streets. I have a right to feel safe.”

WHAT????

Women get harassed everywhere and have been for ages! They’re being harassed this second. If she only gets harassed in the streets and not at school or in the office than good for her but that sounds kind of like a generalization to me. Who are these people who don’t get harassed at work or in school or at home? What strange new world does she live in and can I visit? I just feel like this issue has become about about one women’s experience and I don’t seek to undervalue her experience or her feelings but I worry that her testimony speaks for the experience of other women in ways that are not accurate and I hate it when one person speaks for others in even the smallest ways without checking in on them. There has to be an attempt at balanced and fair reporting that includes opposing viewpoints in order to have a truly constructive conversation about this issue.

Day off Interlude

Day off Interlude

I have no particular point to make here. I just wanted to share what I did today on my day off from the morning to this very moment perhaps so that you can learn a bit about me.

I watched two episodes of “Project Runway” on my phone while in bed on the Lifetime Channel app. I live for people making things and I when I saw the commercial for “Threads” the Jr. version of PR I lost it. Shows about kids cooking and making clothes or anything. I live for it.

I wished everyone in my Facebook network a “Happy Indigenous People’s Day” and responded to a status update I made last night that “Goldilocks was mad rude.”

My mom has been visiting with me for the last couple of weeks so I got up, sat and talked with her for over an hour while crocheting a hat and watching “Wendy Williams” and “The View.” Among the topics of our discussion were, Heidi Klum, Kimora Lee Simmons, marriage, gay marriage, and several things that came up related to guest on both shows. I’m not into Wendy but I paid attention when Betsy Johnson was on because I adore her. I love how spry and youthful she is at 72! I also love that she has her daughter walk the final walk at her shows and that now she brings her granddaughter with her as well. I just love that whole image.

Next I paid attention on the View because Russell Brand was on and I really dig him. He always brings a certain element of anything can happeness around him and it always keeps interviewers on their toes. I like that. And I love comedy and I like his politics most of the time.

After that mom went out to do her thing and I got myself reluctantly together to go to Chelsea and get my eyebrows threaded, a ritual that I enjoy because when I do it it’s usually all I do. It’s a laid back day.

It was so cloudy out I almost convinced myself I wanted to stay in but I am so thankful I didn’t. It was very nice out. On my iphone, I played WTF, one of my two favorite podcasts at the moment and lost myself in it as I rode the train. I listened to Marc’s ranting and venting and sadness and totally wished I could be there and tell him it would be all right. It’s usually a cross between that and wishing I could tell him GET OVER IT! Then I listened to his interview with the second Black Comedian he’s interviewed since last week with Ms. Pat. Today was Larry Wilmore. I found I could totally relate to his humor influences as a young person (as a girl, I also loved Groucho Marx and Monty Python) and that, like him, I am also a “contrarian.” That’s not a good or bad thing. Just an accurate assessment. In not all but many ways, I aim to always to be going the opposite direction from everyone else.

After my brows were done wonderfully because my favorite lady, the only one I ever want to see, did them, I decided to stroll down to 14th Street. When I’m listening to podcasts, walking alone is great. And although Chelsea is covered in dog shit, I somehow always like to walk down there. I like taking photographs of building and things I find in the side streets.

At 14th Street I hoped on the uptown express to head home. The podcast ended somewhere around 116th Street. I had my eyes closed because I’ve had a period headache (I can say period to you right?) all day. I ended up smiling because Marc played the show out unexpectedly on his acoustic guitar. It was really nice. Music is really important to me and I really liked the spur of the moment improvisational feel of what he played because it sounded like it came right from his insides. I like how he shares.

When that was over I played Hugh Masakela’s album “The Lasting Impressions of Oooga Booga” where I had left off listening in the apartment earlier that afternoon before I left. There’s this track that always plays on one of my hundred Pandora Stations called “Mas Que Nada,” Masakela’s cover of the Jorge Ben song and it lays me out every time. I mean I think it’s magical. After hearing it like three times over the weekend, I finally broke down bought the entire album on iTunes last night.

I’ve known about Hugh Masakela all my life and have certainly heard “Mas Que Nada” many times before because my parents played him in the house while I was growing up. But this happens to me all the time. It’s like one day something that was all in the background of my upbringing just comes to the forefront and a strong definition takes shape and I feel it in my core. It speaks to me. This song speaks to me. The entire album is fucking brilliant but I just want to get on my knees and give thanks for “Mas Que Nada” even if it is a cover.

When I got home I heated up some Roti my mom made last night and continued listening to Masakela on my stereo and then I started writing this.

I’m really glad to have had this day off.

Lessons in Non-Equality and Why Segregation Often Works: Part 2

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Merriam Webster gives the following definitions for the words Equity and Equality

Equity:

1:fairness or justice in the way people are treated.

Equality:

1:the quality or state of being equal

I do wish that Merriam Webster would go into detail about exactly how the state of being equal is defined but since it doesn’t I will venture to come up with my own definitions of equality as I have come to understand them.

I believe that in nature, no two things are ever created equally. I believe there are scientific studies which have posited this opinion. To me it makes sense. Not even identical twins are actually the same in all ways. They can look the same in appearance right down to their DNA strands but they are still not equal. They’re not the same person. Twins are two different people but they need the same things as any other human being in order to survive and thrive. Family, friends, community, education, spiritual guidance, opportunity, livable wages, etc.

The sexes no matter how it is you understand the construct of gender are not equal. Men and women are different and no amount of masterful renditions and reiterations of the song “Anything I can do” can change that fact. Men and women are not the same and if we were, what would be the point of our evolution and development? How would we serve one another or learn about who we are? In order to be in relationship or learn from relationships, we have to have something or someone outside of ourselves to relate with. Differences are necessary to that end; differences in species of plants, animals, atoms, stars. We are all made up of a unique combination of similar concentrations of energy. Differences are necessary in my opinion because ultimately they can be used to discover and reveal similarities and the benefits of balancing both as a way of navigating life harmoniously without a system of evaluation which quantifies or categorizes one experience as being worse or better than another.

Tulips don’t wish to be dandelions. Fish don’t wish to be horse. They are what they are and they stay the course. They know what environment, what food sources and what systems of regeneration, socialization and development serve them best. But that is nature, not humanity. Humanity is the branch of nature blessed with free will.

I’m going to make a huge leap here.

Racism

: poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race

: the belief that some races of people are better than others

:  a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

Now who would go and create something like racism? Who would actually think to create, institute and perpetuate a system which says that one form of life based on the concentration of pigment should be treated inhumanely, beaten , tortured, raped, lynched, castrated, bought, sold, mentally and emotionally traumatized, stereotyped, stigmatized, followed around in public suspiciously, incarcerated for life in massive numbers with no hope for rehabilitation, treated like animals in the country his ancestors built, laid the foundation for, died for, bleed for? Who would do that? Who would create a system of laws which segregates one form of life based on a color, not so that they can create and build a community for the education, socialization and spiritual, cultural re-connection that is necessary for any life form which is uprooted, stolen, bred for slaves, torn apart and had its family structure obliterated but simply to say, “we brought you here against your will to serve us but you do not deserve to be given what you need to survive.”

Who the fuck does some fucked up, sick, dysfunctional, barbaric, unnatural shit like that? In other words who created a system of horrific inequity among those within it’s own species that are equal in biological category?

Still with me?

Next: When We Think of Segregation

What place freedom?

What kind of world do I want my unborn daughter to grow up in? It’s a question I’m asking myself more and often lately. And it kind of scares me.

How do young Black girls come to love themselves if they ever do? I know way more about how they come to hate themselves and each other. Though I have never hated my skin color, I myself struggle all the time with the crippling tendency to identify my value with how I look each day, my weight, hair, make-up, clothes. It’s an ongoing process. In my searching and my studying about the power of the human heart and mind, I understand that these things are only transient, fleeting symbols in our lives. But when I’m in the thick of these illusions on a daily basis it’s a real challenge to remember that these images are not who I am at the core. It’s even harder not to always be angry, disappointed, cynical and even a little apathetic to the oppressive nature of racism and the ways in which it subtly and systematically pumps out the message that people who look like me are not as important, valuable, lovely, integral and human as those who identify as white.

And let me be clear. I don’t hate white people. Just by default of the nature of the way I was raised, (home schooled and vegan) I often have a lot more in common with some white people than most blacks until I don’t. But I’m still uncomfortably aware of the way racism and white privilege work to stereotype, demonize, dehumanize and destroy the character of people of color in ways that have not changed since slavery. I am a woman of color and as such I fall into a category which is largely stereotyped, marginalized, brutalized and undervalued to the end goal of mental, emotional economical and political obliteration. It is the evolution of slavery.

This weekend I was hanging out with six lovely ladies at the house of my good friend and academic mentor. We were eating this great chili that her daughter made and chatting about topics like the inhumanity of incarceration and the experiences of mixed race children and how they make their way in the world. Some time later in the evening I started talking about being a home schooled vegan who graduated from a charter high school. Incidentally her daughter also brought up her experience at something called the Afrika School. I asked her what that was and what emerged was this realization the both of us were raised by women who took us to institutions to educate us about African heritage outside of the system of Westernized indoctrination and education which leaves out completely the stories of African Culture pre Slavery time. We were both enrolled in African Dance, Art and drumming classes as well as holistic and alternative practices like meditation, chanting, smudging, vegetarianism, veganism, cleansing, crystal healing, altars prayer and a respect for feminine energy.

But we never talked to our peers about these experiences. And though we never put them down we also never shared them, revered them or boasted about them. That’s another thing we had in common. I think we both agreed that while we didn’t regret it, we also didn’t know how to fit what we had learned from these experiences into the world we existed in where the majority of young black women and men did not receive his kind of tutelage. And when you already feel strange, or odd, or different from people as a young person for whatever reasons, it’s rare that you make the decision to be your “self” not knowing who that is yet or to share stories which would potentially alienate you even further. In High School, fitting in is about being like everybody else. College is about “reinventing” yourself. It’s all a fucking marketing tool.

In any case we exchanged some of the hijinks of these experiences and had a few awkward laughs over them but agreed we were better off having had them rather than not at all and I told her that I would be interested in interviewing her about our shared experiences at some point. I think it’s important to have a space of comfort and pride with which young black women take part in self affirming practices. I feel bad that  as a young person I was not more out of the closet about my time at the Shrine of P’Tah learning about Imhotep, the pyramid architect or at the Fanny Lou Hamer institute learning more about Black Educators with a small group of young people whose parents had the same ideas my mom had. I might tell myself I wasn’t embarrassed about these experiences but if I wasn’t why would I choose to keep it to myself?

Two reasons.

1. Popular culture aka white identified systems of oppression,  never brought it up and young people respond to popular culture even if they live under a rock.

2. I was embarrassed to share things that were not discussed in popular culture.

I do hope that by the time my children get here, this is no longer the case. But in the meantime I have to do what I can to make up for all that I kept to myself by staying connected to those with like-minded ideals for the promotion of spiritual and historical education of young Black hearts and minds. And while I do that I have to confront and dismantle any residual shame or embarrassment that still exists in me over the possibility of not being accepted by popular culture or any majority.