It’s a cooling late spring Friday evening and I’m walking down the street in a goth mumu. No seriously, my long, oversized tannish pink long sleeve I am wearing as a shirt dress makes me look like I am demurely hiding a pregnancy and am going to give birth to Yeezy’s next ill-advised Mad Max-rip off runway show. I even have my cheap Target brand wanna-be Rick Owens platform wedges and worn black leggings filled with embarrassing amounts of cat hair to match. Unless you’re into post-punk alien scrubs, the look doesn’t scream sexy or chula, even if my Sade-inspired brightly colored headscarf and silver hoops around my neck, wrists and in my ears are cute accessories. It works for me today though. And apparently it works for my latest street harasser who has decided to follow me down the street.
At first I didn’t notice the harasser following me because I was too busy regretting not challenging my sworn enemy and unfortunately greater Grand Rapids-area native (fuck you, Forest Hills isn’t Grand Rapids) Rob Bliss, who passed by me on the street, to a duel. He looked smug, dripping with gentrifier aspirations and colonialist, navel-gazing airs, if you were wondering. Sometime after this unfortunate run-in the harasser must have noticed me and started to follow me in his car.
This is not my first time being followed in a car and at this point I am too familiar with the car harassers’ tactics. They notice you and slow down and from there, they have a few methods. They can decide they just want to yell at you and tell you what they think about your ass, or be more bold and hold up traffic, inching their car little by little as they impatiently yell out for your attention because naturally you’re actually the one holding up traffic. Even creepier, sometimes they scope you out, circle the block and come back down a street ahead to try to cut you off on your walk. This tactic is terrifying because you notice them looking at you and clearly showing interest them they suddenly drive up and disappear, and you don’t know if they’ve dropped it or if they’re going to pop up three streets later. You have to remember cars and pay attention if they slow down or a specific model is a repeat. This particular harasser chose the less secretive but equally as persistent tactic of repeatedly stopping his car at the side if the road a bit ahead of me so as to try to get me to talk to him.
The first time I noticed him I wasn’t not sure if it was the first time he did it and like Lionel Richie, I wasn’t quite sure if it was me he was looking for. He was pulled up beside a house after all and I didn’t hear him say anything towards me before or then, so I figured it was just a coincidence. But at his second or third attempt at this I realized it was intentional because he spoke to me. Well, more like he told me, like he was relaying his order at the McDonald’s. He informed me. He was kind enough to let me know the fact. “How about you give me your number?”
Now if you know me, you know I intentionally don’t have a car. It saves me tons of money and stress of constant repairs on machines that inevitably get pummeled by West Michigan winters. Beyond that, I take the fact that I have a right to safe usage and passage on public streets I fucking pay taxes for very seriously. Since I was a kid my idea of letting my mind rest or race to exhaust my anxiety or quell my fears were through late evening and night time strolls. That is my right and the right of all peoples regardless my gender, sexuality or expression, or the clothes I wear, or how intoxicated I am or am not. Full stop. The end.
So when men impose themselves on my time and right to exist in public spaces and engage in tactics of entitlement, intimidation, dehumanization and objectification in attempts to woo me that are viscerally remind me that these streets are built for them and I am merely a guest who must acquiesce to their horrid, rank, misogynist wants and desires, you bet I am going to flip the fuck out. On God.
I looked the harasser dead in the eye, edging towards his car, hands gesticulating Caribbeanly, “Fuck no you cannot, absolutely the fuck not, get the fuck out of here, what the fuck is wrong with you? Hell the fuck no.” My voice echoed down the intersection we were on. My arms waved threateningly, my body mimicking their cadence. My response rattled between the buildings like the whole block were my ribs and lungs. If you think hunting me down in your car and asking for my number is what gets a girl hot, well, I think bellowing at your busted ass down the street and embarrassing the fuck outta you is flirting back. It’s just the goddamn poet in me. He drove off quickly, letting my voice chase him down the street. Shaking out of exhilaration and the adrenaline rush resistance inevitably gives you, I finished my walk home, cursing and talking out loud, all without changing the rhythm of my walk. And while this unfortunately happens to often, I think “Now this I needed to tell someone about.”
But sitting on my porch writing this and thinking back at it, I realize how fucking ironic it all is. Just minutes after passing by the man behind the horrible “10 Hours of walking in NYC” viral street harassment video, I get street harassed.
Bliss’ video did nothing to change the situation of the women in the very city he hails from and ultimately, that clearly wasn’t his point or intention. And I’m not the type of girl guys like him think are worthy of respect and protection from misogyny anyways. Because you see, I am too colored to be the poor, defenseless white heroine at the center of a Rob Bliss Blaxplotation faux-feminist social experiment video (& if Grand Rapids rumors are to be trusted, too Black to be of romantic preference to the darling Forest Hills native as well). But the men who harass me would be the ones Bliss would star as they were originally, as they are almost always Black, as my harasser was tonight.
And that fear of speaking out and simultaneously being seen as not woman enough to protect and also helping in the demonization of Black and Latinx men is enough to drive an otherwise vocal girl silent. Rob Bliss and the other white people that erase the voices and gendered experiences of folks of color, especially queer and trans women and femmes, while demonizing our people, may try to drown me out but they do not speak for me.
As someone who has been involved with misogynoirist white men who’s subtle and overt dehumanizing and belittling of my womanhood has driven me to mental breakdowns and lives in a city with a dating scene that screams “NO BLACK GIRLS” at every corner, I absolutely do not think Black men are more misogynist, abusive, violent or predatory than white men. And if anything, I believe the way Black men harass and practice (and experience) gendered violence is shaped by deep generational trauma and a survival-mode masculinity built from trying to create a sense of self in an demoralizing, emasculating white supremacist world who’s own sexuality and gender identity is a mess as well and has been imposed on communities of color forcibly, violently.
But regardless, I don’t apologize for misogynoir and the intimidating of Black women and demand that ALL communities do better to unlearn and challenge the violent misogynoir that targets Black women, especially dark ones, and tells us our lives and bodies are merely sexual objects, womanly enough to fuck but not woman enough to demand protection, masculine enough to take abuse but not to demand the respect intra-racial machismo and patriarchy says exclusively belongs to straight cisgender men. While in two unique and different yet still violent ways, both my Black street harasser and Rob Bliss are part of a problem that is overdue in needing to be addressed.