Yesterday, I saw this picture on a blog:
The picture was courtesy of a group called Oakland Street Art. On their website it was noted why they do what they do: “A space to document, share, and appreciate the wealth of beautiful street art in Oakland – from murals and graffiti to stenciling, stickers and chalking.” The caption of the picture read: Anti-sexual harassment stickers up around Lake Merritt: “Stop telling women to smile.”
I related to all of the stickers, but especially the one telling women to smile. It’s bad enough that some white folks expect you to be their Mammy and skin and grin for them, but it’s also annoying some black men expect this as well. Now remember I said SOME black men. I know other men engage in this behavior (obviously), but my interactions tend to be with black men, regarding this issue.
I have had black men get angry with me, because I wasn’t cheesing. Never mind the fact I might’ve had a bad day, singing my favorite tune in my head and didn’t notice them, just realized I didn’t have enough to get a caramel mocha from Starbucks, whatever the case might be. It doesn’t matter, I am a woman, and I am expected to make their day.
I remember one time, I was sitting outside enjoying the sunny day. I was starting off into space, loving the warmth on my face. A guy walked by and told me to “smile.” I was confused because I had been daydreaming. I guess I didn’t respond fast enough for him, because he said angrily, “smile, damn!” I looked at him like he had two heads. I wanted to say something smart, but just decided to ignore it. The truth is, you never know how some men are going to react, when you try to defend yourself.
Speaking back against street harassment has been deadly for women, especially black women. Too many men think they have a right to black women’s bodies. It’s because our bodies tend to be degraded in mainstream and black media. It’s also because people have learned you don’t have to respect black women (after all, we are just crackheads, baby mamas, hoodrats, crazy, loud & angry, etc). Men of color who verbally attack black women on the street, would be hesitant to do so to white women. It’s a combination of having colonized minds and fear of the police getting involved (it’s been proven that men of color are more likely to be arrested for assaulting white women, than women of color).
The video Black Woman Walking is dedicated to Adilah Gaither. She was a young woman who was shot and killed because she wouldn’t give a boy her number. Street harassment is a real and serious issue. Some folks don’t see the big deal in a man telling you to smile. They figure it’s better than him calling you a “bitch.” The problem is, if you don’t react the way they think you should react, it’s not long before you become a bitch, hoe, cunt, etc.