Imagine walking up the street just minding your business as a heterosexual male, you have to walk by a group of homosexual males. There is one man in the group who finds you attractive. He proceeds to yell “good morning sir” as you walk by. You don’t acknowledge the stranger, and he gets louder, shouting “oh, you think you are too good to speak to me?” and begins to call you all kinds of names, while following you. The aggressor looks like he could take the incredible hulk out, you are not an unfit guy, but you know this man would win the fight. To avoid further aggravating the stranger, you then, as a heterosexual male, give your number to stop the embarrassing harassment. You give your real number because the aggressor says “I’m gonna call you right now, this better not be a fake number”, you are now forced to wait while said phone call is made. You are not interested in this man, you told him you have a girlfriend, he says “so what, you can’t have friends”. It’s a never-ending cycle of the aggressor having his way, your only option is to smile like you are pleased and wait for the encounter to be over.
This is an all too familiar scene for most women on a daily basis. From the time we get our boobs and butts in the early stages of puberty, we learn the survival tactics of being a woman:
- Walk as quickly as possible past large groups of men
- When step 1 does not work, find a new route
- When steps 1 and 2 aren’t possible, do not make eye contact, continue walking
- When steps 1, 2, and 3 don’t work, don’t say anything, continue walking
- When steps 1,2, 3, and 4 don’t work, say you have a boyfriend (even if you don’t), continue walking
- When steps 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 don’t work, take the number, continue walking
As a black woman who grew up in both worlds, I know first-hand most of my white counterparts do not experience street harassment in the same way women of color do. I cannot speak for the world, but I do know my city, and I know most cities around the country are similar. As I once heard described in a hip-hop song, “a ghetto is ghetto no matter where you are”, which tells me most urban cities are dealing with the same kind of woes, rape culture being one that we are rarely allowed to talk about without pushback, but live daily. I know most white women do not experience the form of street harassment I’m talking about because there aren’t many people hanging out in suburban communities. There also aren’t a large number of people walking as a means of getting somewhere, it’s usually for exercise. The other reason is white privilege. White women are considered sacred. Even if a white woman was walking down an urban street, she is more likely to be helped than harassed.
In recent years it seems as though rape-culture is a topic I can’t get away from. I was involved in a discussion when the Birth of a Nation movie was released. Ticket sales were low and the box office flop was ultimately blamed on the black feminist who spoke out about Nate Parker’s role in a rape that took place during his college years. Women of color took to social media and voiced their opinions on why they did not want to support the movie or Nate Parker despite the story of Nat Turner deserving it’s just due. Those reasons largely being because the court of public opinion decided Nate was guilty and he got away with rape. Contrary to what many will want to admit, the movie failed because it just wasn’t a good movie. I watched it on bootleg, I wanted to see if he did Nat Turner any justice, in my opinion, he did not. Three-quarters of the movie echoed the same old slavery stories we’ve been watching since the original Roots first aired. The revolt was the shortest part of the movie, there was no depth into how Nat Turner’s revolt played a pivotal role in the practices of slavery nor the widespread fear it sparked. Nate Parker made a movie that softened the blow for a part of white America that would never see the film anyway. Though his movie was a flop, Nate Parker did spark a fire under a conversation that is hardly ever talked about in the black community. He opened the door for women, who have been invisible in the world and their own communities for too long, to speak freely about how fed up they are with this form of oppression.
Too often when women of color speak up about oppression in their communities coming from black men, they are told they are being divisive. It’s as though the focus can never shift from the struggle of the black man and how hard they have it in America. I am not negating the fact that this is absolutely true, but black women are also black and we face a double form of oppression because we are women. Zora Neal Hurston dubbed the black woman the mule of the world, and she ain’t never lied. We are forced to carry the burdens of white supremacy while balancing the microaggressions of white women, sexism, classism and a whole host of other isms I just don’t have room to list.
We are expected to choose our blackness over our femininity when one does not outweigh the other. While involved in the social media debate about the Birth of a Nation movie, I was trolled by a black man. I became frustrated with him and used some choice words in a post to express just that, and he took the fight to my inbox. Leaving message after message after message, finally I said just stop, would you please leave me alone. His response was, I’m making my point and just because you say stop, I’m supposed to stop? And that’s when I realized we are so rooted in rape-culture that a guy who is very educated and involved in my community can’t even see when he is participating.
My inbox is my space, its mine, if I ask you to stop posting in my space then you should stop. The need to get your point across has nothing to do with my space. The same goes for my body. The guy standing on the street, catcalling a woman who has to walk said street to get home, is just like that guy invading my inbox. You needing to impress your friends by getting her number is not her problem. Her no should be valid, be it about your advances on the street or in the bedroom.
I often hear that most men and their friends do not resemble these street monsters but in reality, every man has contributed if he hasn’t tried to stop it. The same way it is the job of white people to end white supremacy, it is the job of men to end rape culture. When it comes to actual rape and not just street harassment you would think the lines weren’t so blurry.
Many times, the conversation of rape is followed by the victim line of questioning, what was she doing, wearing, saying, who was she with, why was she there? Hardly ever is the question what was he thinking, doesn’t he know no means no? In the black community, one of the biggest arguments to why a rape victim isn’t instantly believed is because of statutory rape. If you are black, then you know someone or heard a story about a guy who was dating a younger girl and had consensual sex with her. The guy was probably only a few years older than the girl but none the less older. Young lady’s family gets wind of the sexual encounter, for whatever reason they believe the intercourse was forced and not consensual because the boy is older, and the boy is charged with rape. Forced to register as a sex offender and his life is ruined because of a legal loophole. This scenario is the exact reason we should be teaching our young men about consent and how being a black man in America can get you caught in a trap if you aren’t careful.
This, however, is no reason for us not to believe women of color when they are telling the truth about rape. In our culture, we often make excuses for the offender while making it the job of the victim to anticipate becoming a victim. How many of our grandmothers have told us to cover up in our own homes because a man was in the house? It could be your grandfather, your uncle, or your brother who is the male presence, that man should be expected not to view you as a sexual object considering you are family. That same man has the freedom to walk around the house in just his boxers, never once being told to cover up because a woman is in the house. How many of us have a known pedophile in the family that keeps getting invited to the family functions, solely on the premise he is family. The children are expected to stay away from “Uncle Pedi” instead of just leaving him out the equation.
Intercultural oppression is just as real as racism, it’s time for black men to see us as a whole and not just the women behind you. We are your biggest supporters and we want you to support us. We are telling you, we have been hurt by you and we want you to fix it. We love you enough to create whole movements to protect your bodies from the brutality of America. The destruction of the black woman is invisible because everyone else’s pain and trauma have been hers to fix. We are tired and are rising up in voice and action asking black men to stand up for us.