As much as I can empathize, I will never know what it’s like to be a woman subjected to the uninvited, and in many cases, menacing attention that comes from strange men on the street. On any given street. At any given time. For no other reason besides a man assuming he is well within his right to antagonize a woman no matter his intentions. Just this week, some man asked me for the time and proceeded to follow up with the pertinent question, “What that mouth do?” I wanted to answer, “Curse you out before stabbing you in the throat,” but you know, I can barely afford my student loans, much less a court case.
So even if I am somewhat familiar with the concept of street harassment, it is not on the level that women face — being a man guarantees that. So, I appreciated Hollaback, an anti-street harassment organization, teaming up with video marketing agency Rob Bliss Creative to show exactly how frightening a solo walk on the street can be for a woman. I wasn’t sure every instance featured in that video constituted actual harassment; however, I am a man, and therefore, must listen to what women tell me on the matter than try to “mansplain.”
Now, what I did not appreciate, though, is the obvious racial politics at play in the clip. What immediately stood out about the visual is that it was a White woman harassed by mainly Black and Latino men. Such imagery clearly evokes stereotypical views and fears about men of color. Couple that with one of America’s favorite fairy tales — the scary Black brute terrorizing the sweet and innocent, White women — and one can quickly see why such a video resonated with certain audiences.
Watch the video here:
Although Rob Bliss Creative acknowledges that the 100-plus incidents of harassment captured throughout the 10 hours of filming “involv[ed] people of all backgrounds,” you only see darker men.
And it was not an oversight. Surprise, surprise.
In a post, Bliss Creative writes:
“We got a fair amount of White guys, but for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing, or off camera.”
They can go on to say the video “is not a perfect representation of everything that happened.” Fair enough, but as Hannah Rosin explains at Slate, “That may be true but if you find yourself editing out all the catcalling White guys, maybe you should try another take.”
Rosin goes on to reveal that Bliss Creative has faced this problem before:
In a video to promote Grand Rapids, Michigan, he was criticized for making a city that’s a third minority and a quarter poor look like it was filled with people who have “been reincarnated from those peppy family-style 1970s musical acts from Disney World or Knott’s Berry Farm,” as a local blogger wrote.
Pity, but not surprising that some can’t tuck their casual racism in long enough to make an important point about sexism.
White women are not the only people subjected to street harassment. Black and Latino men are not the only perpetrators of it. There are Black women who can attest to this given they often find themselves victim of White men who greet them with commentary rooted in the oversexualized caricatures wrongly associated with women of color.
This sort of oversight gets in the way of the sort of tag teaming needed to combat sexism, which men of all persuasions perpetuate. It distracts us from other conversations, particularly ones we should have “in house.” Say, Black men finding numerous ways to excuse what is heard in the footage.
It’s another reminder of how often Black women stand up for Black men when it comes to police brutality, but many Black men are nowhere to be found when a Black woman’s victimization is the topic of conversation.
We have to do better and it’s a sentiment that applies to all of the above.