You think you’re better than me?

“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.]

17 Responses to You think you’re better than me?

  1. Golden Silence says:

    Thank you for writing this piece! I agree that it’s hard to see harassment from a different racial perspective if you’re not of that race, but I give you credit for your efforts in understanding it.

    You know my situation: I’m Black and I get harassed across the gamut by all races, but never as virulently and violently as from Black men. I think it goes beyond a same-race issue—I think class plays an issue as well. The Black women who get harassed are usually not the types who like hanging out on corners and doing nothing with their lives, they’re the type of intelligent and diverse women who have a lot to offer the world. The Black men who usually harass that violently are the guys with nothing going on for themselves.

    These men, knowing their status in life, want to take Black women off their pedestals, so to speak. These men assume that because we’re all the same race that we’ll have the same mindset and mentality, and they can’t fathom that a woman of their race won’t give them the time of day. Not being able to handle this rejection, they then get ugly with the “You think you betta than us!” and “You think you white!” comments.

    I’ve also said that since we Black women are lower on the totem pole than Black men, the Black men who harass think they own us and want to “keep us in our places.” They think we must accept their crude “compliments” and that we should accept these men no questions asked simply because we’re the same race.

    And after my incident yesterday with a group of young Black men telling me I was “racist” against my own (simply because I told them their “compliments” for me were “worthless”) and them asking “You think you too good to hang out wit’ niggas [yes, they used that language] like us?”, boy does this post hit a nerve with me! I just don’t understand why the Black men who harass think they own me and have the right to talk to me in any way simply because we’re of the same race!

    I cannot erase my color and I cannot erase my gender to make me invisible to these harassers, but I hope this intra-racial harassment ceases one day.

  2. Golden Silence: I greatly appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. A few women that Mills interviewed brought up the class issue too – they also felt it was lower class men who were the main instigators of the harassment. Ugh, it’s all so complex. It makes it hard to find ways to make the streets harassment-free.

    I am always in awe of your strength to battle the men who harass you day after day. It also infuriates me to think how much energy you could devote elsewhere if these men weren’t always there harassing you and taking up your time and energy. Ugh.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.

  3. Golden Silence says:

    Thanks for your response and compliment! I appreciate it.

    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…

    True, not all do. But I’ve come to the point where due to self-preservation that I’ve developed a trigger reaction. If I see a group of Black guys hanging out, I find myself becoming mentally prepared to deal with what could happen. Fight or flight. I hate walking around with that mindset of “Black guys hanging out on the corner = violent street harassment,” but 9 times out of 10 with me that’s what happens. We talk about male allies in general, but in this case we need Black male allies. Instead of laughing and pointing when they see Black women being harassed by these bums (which also happened to me yesterday—my getting cursed and yelled at by a bunch of thugs was funny to all the passers-by), they need to jump in and say “Hey, that’s not cool man. Learn how to respect Black women.” Maybe seeing a Black man carry himself with class will show these fools that their poor behavior is not the right way to go. These alleged “good guys” will go around saying to people “I’m a good brotha,” but actions speak a lot louder than words.

  4. The Star Blazer says:

    Hey Golden,

    do not waste your breath waiting for those “good black men” to put a stop to black male street harrassment of black women. Those cowards are enablers of that, and they just don’t care!

  5. Nia says:

    Some black men are scared of the reaction too if they intervene, so they do nothing.

    I’m black and am tired of the street harassment and especially the “fuck you then, bitch” comments that follow me ignoring them. I’m not a hooker. I don’t respond to horns honking and I’m not going to walk over to your car. I’m not going to yell back across streets to respond to you. I honestly hated black men in my early 20’s because I was sick of the daily blatant disrespect.

    It’s a shame women feel compelled to respond out of fear. We aren’t allowed to have a bad day or anything.

  6. Selena says:

    This year my daughters and I were literally chased down by a group of so-called “brothas” while we were in Myrtle Beach during the Memorial Day weekend. They honked and waved and swerved in and out of traffic trying to “holla” at us. Keep in mind I have a 9 year old and 16 year daughter. My 9 year old was literally petrified! I actually slowed down and managed to manuever my truck behind them in order to stop them from riding beside us screaming and acting like caged animals. However this only added to their amusement in which they immediately slowed their truck down to about 10 m.p.h. The only thing that caused these idiots to stop following us, is me making a sudden left turn at the next available corner.

    Whenever I’m out and about I refuse to even give them eye contact. Even then I sense from the corner of my eye that they’re looking at me as though I slapped their mama LOL. Its as though they’re saying to themselves “How dare she not look at me and speak.”

  7. @ Nia – I believe you hit the nail on the head: it’s about respect, or lack thereof. I agree with you on this one. I’m not a whore so I don’t expect to be approached like one.

    I’ve also been harassed while walking down the street. Not just by black men mind you, but I do notice that the harassment I receive from black men takes on a completely different dimension. If I refuse to respond to their advances, it’s taken as a personal insult. The switch from trying to “holla” at me to calling me an “uppity bitch” is frighteningly quick. I agree with Nia.

    I watched the documentary Black Woman Walking and I agree with some of the women featured in the video: I think the same race harassment (by some black males of black women) is definitely more of a class issue. I have yet to be harassed on the street by a well dressed, educated (for ex. in a university environment) black man, but I have experience harassment on numerous occasions just walking down the street of an urban area.

    I don’t want this to turn into a black male bashing session, as I’ve had a positive experience from most black males I’ve encountered. But there’s something about a certain subset of the black male population that reacts irrationally to being rejected by black females.

    To the admin: thanks for posting this and trying to get an understanding of this issue. A very interesting read indeed!

  8. black woman says:

    I remember when I was about 17 me and my girlfriends were walking home. These guys were in the schoolyard playing ball. One of the guys tried talking to us. We were not interested and kept walking. Well we got called all kinds of bitches and hoe’s. We just kept walking. Well we get to our street. We get in front of our building and a car with about three guys pulled up and starting talking to my friend Kim. She wasn’t interested so the guy started talking to me, I wasn’t interested, so he tried our other friend and she went off on him about how disrespectful it was to try talking to all of us. He and his friends called us all kind of bitches. This happened on the same day less than ten minutes apart. It was and still is so commonplace for black men to disrespect the hell out of black women. I know not all black men do this, but I never want to be with another black man romantically. EVER.

  9. Golden Silence says:

    It’s a shame women feel compelled to respond out of fear. We aren’t allowed to have a bad day or anything.

    You are damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you respond in a way they don’t like they get aggressive, and if you flat out ignore them they still get aggressive. It’s like we women can’t win when dealing with these punks! I have never been intimidated to the point of giving out a number to or accepting a number from one of these cretins, nor have I been intimidated enough to accept one of their crude offers for a “date” (if one can call it that). I feel for the women that are so fearful that they’d do that. I wouldn’t be surprised if half of the men hanging out on the corner are criminals, and I am not giving my private number to a criminal! The only number they’ll be hearing from is 911—when I call that and have their physically threatening butts arrested!

  10. I really appreciate everyone’s comments! But it’s also disheartening to hear the horrible harassment stories. It’s a problem that touches so many girls’ and women’s lives and yet we’re expected to live with it. And it’s true, so much of it is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” experience because you can ignore them and it can escalate into violent speech or acts, you can talk back to them/stand up for yourself and it can escalate into violent speech or acts, or you can be polite and they take it as an invitation to keep on hollaring and being persistent.

    Hawley Fogg-Davis really hits on it when she calls street harassment a form of sexual terrorism: we don’t know when it will happen, what will happen, or how far they will take it and it can remind us as women that we’re vulnerable to violent assault – and at the very least, being disrespected.

    I didn’t intend for this post or thread to be a place for black man-hating – i don’t think it did – but i did want to acknowledge the different layers going on in same race harassment, so thank you all for your insight into what it means to you/what your experiences have been.

    May our voices and actions help end street harassment so we and our female loved ones, friends and allies can be safe in public spaces!

  11. Golden Silence says:

    Speak of the devil:

    Like a Black woman should automatically respond to a Black man’s beck and call. Lord forbid if she just wants to be left alone.

  12. Veronica says:

    Hi there!

    I’m late commenting on this post, but I wanted to share a story.

    I’m a black women who attended a historically black college for undergrad. One evening, I was at a fast food restaurant near campus with a friend, a black man who was also a fellow student. We were standing in line when one of the “locals” (read: black guys from the neighborhood) approached me trying to “spit game.” When I rejected his advances, he became loud and rude. My friend stepped in said, VERY RESPECTFULLY, “Leave her alone, man. She doesn’t want to be bothered.”

    At this point, the local went beligerent, and turned his rage toward my friend.

    “F*** you! What, you gay, n*gga?! F*** you f*gg*t n*gga! You MUST be gay!”

    I will never forget the look on my friend’s face — he was raised to show restraint, not to be easily provoked. But I could see that it pained him to have to make the decision between reacting with anger or keeping the peace. On one hand, his pride was bruised and he was insulted, but on the other hand, reacting to the thug would have made the situation even worse.

    Even for men, it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    That was years ago, and I have never forgotten that. I’m glad I had a friend like that, but the whole scene still breaks my heart when I think about it today.

  13. Bama says:

    WTF was that, i doubt a blk woman even made this video and not just how it was put together but i mean read the words in it, it really does sound like a self hater or a white person. I havn’t been around something like that in awhile and im sure white women can say the same in trailer parks or places like Jersey Shore. And blk men never owed blk women. we couldnt even have you for a moment bcause the white men were to busy raping you. Or was that us too?

  14. Golden Silence says:

    WTF was that, i doubt a blk woman even made this video and not just how it was put together but i mean read the words in it, it really does sound like a self hater or a white person.

    Tell me how is a Black woman supposed to talk? And what makes a Black woman a “self-hater”?

    I hate how Black men (yes, I know you’re Black, Bama) love to throw the “self-hater” card whenever Black women disagree with them or speak out against mistreatment by Black men.

  15. jubilee says:

    It looks like sistas need to get ‘victorian’ and get an ‘escort’ to cross the street with (escort meaning a brother, uncle, etc) it’s sad

  16. Golden Silence says:

    I just don’t get the hatred these “men” throw our way. I don’t get it at all.

  17. lauren says:

    i lived in new orleans my whole life so i assumed that maybe this was just a deep south thing until i moved to new york city, it was just the same but worst because i walk wherever i go.. and it is scary, usually i say hey i have a boyfriend to avoid being called bitch,hoe,slut but sometimes that doesn’t work! i have been grabbed at in places (like the fashion district in manhattan where i think it wont happen) and its so damn IRRITATING, i kinda of get mad that other girls can walk the street with out being harassed. it got so bad that i bought fake glasses(that make me look less attractive) to stop them..and fortunately it almost works, until i forget to put on the glasses..then its back to bitch,slut,hoe, grab grab

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