Anti-sexual Harassment Stickers

Yesterday, I saw this picture on a blog:

Oakland Street Art
Oakland Street Art

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.

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Gimme the Loot

I love slice of life films. So, my curiosity was peaked, after reading a review  for  Gimme the Loot.  It’s rare  that we get good black films these days, let alone about black teens. However, my eyebrows were raised after I watched the trailer). I wondered why so many young white women in a film about black teens. I researched the  writer-director Adam Leon, and turned out he’s a young white director. The film has also been endorsed/presented by Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme. It made more sense that two white male directors  would feel the need to incorporate whiteness into black folks lives. To be fair though, the young white women do serve a purpose for one scene in the film.

SPOILERS !!! SPOILERS!! SPOILERS!

The two young actors (Tashiana Washington (Sophia) and Ty Hickson (Malcolm) were amazing. They portrayed Bronx teens, pretty convincingly.  I am especially looking forward to more work from Ms. Washington. While her role was the cliché loud/foul mouth black girl, you understand why. As a young woman in the male dominated world of graffiti/taggers, she has to make folks take her seriously.  Actually, that might have made it a more complex film, looking at her life from the perspective as a young woman tagger.  There are a couple of sweet moments for Sophia, but overall, the character is the  standard sassy black girl. I also didn’t care for seeing the black female character lamenting about possibly not being seen as beautiful as the white female lead.

My other concern was that Sophia and Malcolm engage in a lot of criminal activity.   Okay, I’ll backtrack a bit. The storyline revolves around two best friends, Sophia and Malcolm, who are also graffiti artists.  They decide they want  to leave a mark on New York City (NYC), in a big way.  The two teens set their sights on tagging a big apple, that pops up, every time a home run is made at  Shea Stadium. In order to do this, Malcolm has arranged for them to pay $500 dollars to a security that works there, so they can get into the stadium. Of course, they are teens with limited funds, and need to get money anyway they can.  So, there is context to their criminality, but I still didn’t care for it. The first scene starts off with them stealing from a store and progressing to a potential robbery .

Currently, New York City has been under fire for its Stop & Frisk law.  The concern of racial profiling of black & brown folks, especially young folks, is very real. There have been several instances of unjust harassment of young people of color by the NYPD:

NYPD Commanding Officer Caught On Tape Ordering Cops To Stop And Frisk Young “Male Blacks 

How ‘Stop and Frisk’ Is Too Often a Sexual Assault by Cops on Teenagers in Targeted NYC Neighborhoods

I know it’s just a film, but it made me uneasy to see young folks of color casually stealing, robbing, and selling drugs. It’s not an image that needs to perpetuated, when there is so much intense racial profiling, in areas like the Bronx.  Leon does try to show the racial and class disparities in NYC, with Malcolm and the white female character, Ginnie (Zoe Lescaze ). It’s  during the scene with Malcolm, Ginnie, and her white girlfriends where you feel for Malcolm (and Sophia) and understand how their lives have been framed, so much differently from these  upper-class white girls.

I did enjoy watching the two charismatic teens zig-zag around their neighborhood. It was interesting to see all the many characters they interact with, during their harrowing weekend. The ending scene was also very heartwarming.  It will be interesting to see other folks of color thoughts on this film.

Welcome

Hello….My name is Tonya J.

I am the creator of the zine “See Me: Issues that Affect Our Lives,  Acts of Resistance against Oppression, and Black Feminist Thought.”

What’s a zine? It’s  a take on the word maga(zine) and is a form of self- publishing. Read here to learn more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zine

The purpose of this blog is the same as my zine…to resist oppression with black feminist thought.