I’ve written about street harassment before, but wanted to revisit it as I wrap up this week in support of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).
“Street harassment is any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender or sexual orientation. In countries like India and Bangladesh, it’s termed “eve teasing,” and in countries like Egypt, it’s called “public sexual harassment.”– http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/about/what-is-street-harassment/
Recently, one of my favorite black women bloggers posted about the work of Hollaback! an organization that fights against street harassment. Majority of black women responded with support of the Hollback! campaign “stop telling women to smile…”
A couple of black men also responded, not understanding what the big deal was if they tell a “sista” to smile. Because of the very real oppression black men face in our imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (thank you, bell hooks) it’s hard for them to recognize that they receive male privilege. It’s not the same level of privilege as white men or other even other men of color, but they do get some.
“There are many reasons why black men, generally speaking, have issues with confronting sexism. One reason is explained by this common finding of social science research: Societies tend to align in hierarchies wherein one group is privileged over another. The natural inclination is to identify more closely with the group that provides higher status. Since men enjoy more privilege than women, and blacks less than whites, black men consider themselves men first because it affords privilege…The external narrative that focuses on the tragedies of the black male coupled with the mechanisms black men develop to cope with racism and subjugation equate to an inherent difficulty in seeing the world through the eyes of black women. As such, it takes a genuine and concerted effort for us to recognize the ingrained sexism in our communities.”–http://thegrio.com/2013/08/30/the-reality-of-black-male-privilege/
Because of their male privilege, many black men tend lack self-awareness about the things they do to women, just like other men. They don’t understand why street harassment is annoying to black women, because it doesn’t click that they aren’t the first one to give a “compliment” that day. They are not the second one to give a “compliment.” Or the third. Or the fourth. Or even the fifth. A woman can literally be harassed all day by strange men. Black women are especially vulnerable since our bodies/personal space has never been respected in America. Telling a stranger “to smile” may seem like a little thing, but it can be stressful for a woman to have to entertain folks they don’t even know.
It’s strange a lot of black men don’t get this, as it’s no different from the racial games/masks they often have to wear in the presence of white folks. Being forced to smile or cheese to show they are a non threatening black man. It’s obnoxious, ain’t it.
Also, a lot of street harassment can turn scary quick. As I discussed in my previous post on this issue, black women have been assaulted/killed for not responding “properly” to a strangers comments. I know a lot of men feel they would never got that far, but why create an uncomfortable situation for a woman to begin with?
It’s a tricky situation for black men and women, because it’s a cultural thing to give each other the head nod or call each other brother/sister, and really mean no harm. I think majority of black women recognize this. However, this is different from someone hollering out degrading comments about your body parts or get hostile/calling you a bitch when you don’t smile right away for them. That’s street harassment.