I was going to post about some upcoming book / event stuff, but I wanted to take a few minutes out to discuss something that really bothered me.......
I woke up this morning to a text that my best friend sent me last night. She was on her way home on the subway when she was harassed by this man, whom she described as 'mentally not all there.' After several minutes of him first, trying to pick her up and then verbally assaulting her, she pulled out her keys, making sure one of them was poking out of her clenched fist, and threatened to kick his ass. He eventually backed off and got off at the next stop.
What bothered her (and me) was that there were other people on the train. People who witnessed what was happening and did nothing. One couple in particular sat silently and did nothing, not bothering to move seats UNTIL my friend threatened her harasser, making my friend think that they were more afraid of her than the man. Another male passenger seemed to think it was funny and just smirked at my friend until the assaulter got off the train.
What bothered me even more is that my friend said that she felt as though others thought that as a black woman, being attacked by a black man, that she wasn't worth helping. In the case of the couple, the man (white) kept his (white) girlfriend close, which seemed that he was more concerned about her than the woman that he didn't know .....who was the one that was being assaulted.
But what does this have to do with race?
This is not the first time this has happened. Not to her and not to me.
Several years ago I was walking with another friend of mine down a busy street. The same friend that a few weeks before this incident I was with when we were pulled over by the cops who requested our ID and asked why we were in the neighbourhood we were in. When they were satisfied with our answers, one of the cops accused us of being prostitutes. This was on a summer evening, around 7:00pm when the sun was still shining. We were not dressed in any particular way; I think we were going to the Mall or something.
Anyway, this particular incident involved a man passing us on the street and reaching out and grabbing my friend's breast - hard - and laughing as he walked down the street. We were stunned and stopped, looking at each other. People passed us on the street, and their eye contact with us made me realize that they had seen what had happened. No one went after the man, who just calmly walked down the street.
She thought she somehow deserved that assault. After all, why didn't anyone help?
My friend's experience last night also triggered an incident that happened a few years ago when I was stalked and physically assaulted by an ex-boyfriend. This was at the entrance of my apartment building, in broad daylight. I clearly remember a man walking by, whom, presumably hearing my ex screaming at me at the top of his lungs, stopped to observe for a minute, as I made eye contact with him. Despite that, he walked away. My attacker was 'coded' white.
I said to my friend today, "the fact that this man stood by and watched me get assaulted and walked away was worse than the actual assault itself." I have always thought that if I were a white woman the man might have intervened, and feelings ( humiliation, unworthiness) arose that years later, I still cannot shake. I later found out that some 'friends' of mine knew that my ex had a long history of assaulting women. No one bothered to tell me when they knew we were dating ( but that is another story).
We are told that in popular culture our value as black women is less than the value given to a white or a non-black woman. And while this is no revelation, we also know how folks feel about us committing crime. In writing my book and interviewing black women who had been assaulted at metal shows being black, not their gender, was the catalyst for the attack. They were not given the genteel treatment or consideration that I've obseved other women get at shows....and in life in general.
They were not considered 'women' at all, which unnerved...and still unnerves me. And I will never accept it, which is why this recent incident with my friend really bothered me.
And there is also this, from this post entitled White Feminist Fatigue Syndrome:
Sexual violence is thus understood as something deriving from slavery and colonisation, affecting both women and men. This history of black women’s bodies as commodity objects to be used, violated at the pleasure of white men remains as a psychic, social, racial trace in contemporary American society.
Think what you will about this post. I recently had a bit of a dust-up with a white, male "Facebook friend' who had, previous to our most recent issue, coded me as an Angry Black Woman. He saw anger...and racism....in my recount of being fustrated of being treated unfairly at a show I reviewed this weekend. I'm well aware that when some recount an issue that is so subliminal and insidious in nature, that it is difficult for those who are not black ( and in this case, a woman) to fully comprehend how infuriating it can be.
What can you do? Listen. Don't insinuate that by talking about bad treatment, that I'm the racist and somehow irrationally angry.
Understand that with many years of lived experience dealing with overt and covert racism, with seeing the inequality between how white women and women of colour are treated, that our experiences - while not yours - are real. And more importantly worthy of discusssion and understanding.
What made me furious about what happened to my friend is that she could have been physically assaulted. Would it take THAT for people to take action? For the man / asshole who was smirking to take it seriously?
Our lives are JUST AS IMPORTANT as anyone else's. Its just extremely infuriating in situations like these, that we are the only ones who understand that.