“Stuck up bitch, don’t let me catch you on this block again”
This week, I read Melinda Mills’ 2007 master’s thesis “‘You talking to me?’ Considering Black Women’s Racialized and Gendered Experiences with and Responses or Reactions to Street Harassment from Men.” (An aside: I think I like Hawley Fogg-Davis’s “A Black Feminist Critique of Same-Race Street Harassment” (2005) better).
Something Mills wrote about which was new to me as far as the experience of women of color is how she (mixed race: black and white) and a few of the ten black women she interviewed have been called “white bitch” when they reject the advances of black men on the street. She says:
“For many of the black women who refused to respond to a variety of men’s attention, they often faced accusations of being another race, presumably because women perceived as the same race as the harasser would have enough respect to respond to a man of the same race. Thus, when black men interpellated black women as similar, familiar, and likewise, but the black women hailed as such rejected this interpellation, the black men attempted to restore their black masculinity by interpellating these women as white. For example, a black-identified (though admittedly black and Latina) woman noted that she faced accusations of being white simply because she refused to respond to the unsolicited attention of a black man” (Mills 77).
Reading this reminds me of a story someone shared at a NY Street Harassment Summit I attended in 2007. The young woman identified as being half white, half Chinese. An African American man was harassing her while she was outside on her lunch break. She said it happened so quickly that she didn’t have time to respond to him before he called her a “white bitch.” She said her first reaction was, “but I’m mixed” before feeling frustrated and upset about the whole incident.
I’ve read about white women being called “white bitch” immediately after they ignore or otherwise reject a man of color’s advance whereas before he hadn’t mentioned their race.
The usage of “white bitch” by men of color toward women of different races is very interesting and it does seem to imply that these men equate “white” with “stuck up” or women who think they’re better than them. In fact, these women in all likelihood don’t think that at all, but instead they simply don’t want to be approached and harassed by a random man on the street or the subway, etc!
Similar to the issues Mills addresses in her paper, today I came across a slideshow on YouTube called “Why do Black men harass Black women in the street?” The creator also talks about how badly black men have reacted when she’s ignored or otherwise rejected their advances on the street, in particular she notes how ignoring a catcall can escalate the incident to verbal and physical violence. She has had men say the following to her after she refused to give them her phone number:
“You think you better than me?” “Fuck you shorty, someone needs to cut your face up!” “I could have that ass if I really wanted it” “Stuck up bitch, don’t let me catch you on this block again” and “You are an ugly whore.”
Those responses are frightening and disturbing in so many ways!
She states that young black women Adilah Gaither and Tanganika Stanton were both shot and killed by black men because they turned down their advances. The next slide says, “And Black men wonder why we cross the street when we see them coming or standing in groups.” The last slide says, “You don’t have a monopoly on all Black women! Black women are tired of your ape-like aggression on the street. LEAVE US ALONE…”
Also similarly, different women in Tracey Rose’s documentary “Black Woman Walking” touch on how black men target them for harassment. One woman (at around minute 7) says she usually ignores the men, acts like she doesn’t hear them, or is polite. She said, “I’ve heard about women getting hit over the head with bricks because they rejected dudes on the street and so I kind of limit my comments and say, oh, no thank you.” Another woman (around minute 7:20) says that “it’s not so much the fear that you’re walking and you’re afraid and you’re looking over your shoulder during the day, it’s the, okay, if i don’t respond right, what will happen then?”
Clearly, not all black men harass black women or pose a threat, but there does seem to be a common experience among many black women that they expect to be harassed by black men and that they are fearful of how those men will react – will they escalate to violence or insults – should they reject their advances. The answer to the question “why does this happens?” still seems to be at large…
What are your opinions and/or experiences?
[Disclaimer: I’m white and I’ve been harassed by white, black and hispanic men and men in a few different European countries while traveling. I’ll never know what it’s like to be a woman of color harassed by men, particularly men of the same race. In my street harassment work, one of my goals is to understand and represent as many experiences as I can but I recognize that my white perspective and privilege is always present and unfortuantely it can be a barrier to my ability to achieve this goal.]
[And another aside, I just discovered that Hawley Fogg-Davis published an article in Politics and Gender in 2006 based on the presentation she gave in 2005 which I cited above. Not sure why I didn’t find it before. It’s available in its entirety online.]