The usual comment to anyone who complains about dealing with stuff in the city is to “move to the suburbs.” Well I’ve moved to the suburbs and still deal with street harassment! What infuriates me even more is that I, a Black woman, was once again harassed by Black men who want to keep me in my place.
I have walked down this path numerous times without problems so for this to happen to me just shocked me back into reality. I was walking to the bus stop this morning, and I walked past Key Elementary School. Normally the school’s in session, cars and buses are in the lot and parents are walking their kids to school. Today the parking lot was empty and the school seemed to be closed, which I assume is in preparation for this so-called “Snowpocalypse.”
I noticed a group of four Black men who I’ve never seen in the neighborhood, and I was getting close to passing by them. My instinct told me that they were going to say something to me and that I should cross to the other side of the street to avoid them, but I thought “Let me not stereotype these men.” I continued to walk and looked them in the eye. I didn’t want to look down at the ground. I wanted to go about my day as normal.
But my instinct was right, they did say something to me.
“Smile, Baby,” the leader of their group said in a voice so harsh it sounded like he was barking at me. “You ain’t got to look so mean.” The other guys laughed. I felt so low and humiliated. All I wanted to do was get to the bus stop. Having to smile for men I didn’t know was not on my agenda this morning!
Had Key Elementary been open, this incident wouldn’t have happened because there are too many parents and concerned citizens around for that to have happened. Had I crossed the street like my gut told me to this wouldn’t have happened. Had I been any other race than Black this wouldn’t have happened, because guys like this are only concerned about what us “sisters” do. We have to smile and please “our” Black men. I was upset.
I told this guy “Can you please not call me ‘Baby’? I don’t know you like that for you to call me ‘Baby’. Call me ‘Miss’ or ‘Ma’am’.”
“Okay, I won’t call you ‘Baby’,” the guy said. I thought, “Cool, he gets it,” but then he responds with “I’ll call you ASSHOLE instead!” he snapped. His buddies laughed.
Nothing I did or said warranted that response. I didn’t curse, I didn’t yell or anything. I simply requested to be respected.
“You are strangers to me, and you don’t have the right to call me ‘Baby’,” I said.
“Sorry Ma’am, I won’t do it again,” the guy said. “Have a nice day.”
“Thanks, you too,” I said. But then the guy had to make a smart-aleck comment again.
“Have a nice day…you crazy bitch!” he yelled. Once again, his peanut gallery of friends laughed.
I tried to take photos of this guy with my phone camera, but he was too fast for my slow camera. He realized I was taking photos and jumped into his car with his friends.
“That was so unnecessary,” I said to myself. This car got to drive off and these guys got to share a laugh amongst each other, and I had to feel the rage, humiliation and anger of being a Black woman being put in her place by Black men. I hate that certain Black men feel that they can refer to me as whatever they want because they see me as their property, not as an individual who lives for herself.
I got a clear shot of the car’s license plate in one photo and I could’ve called the police, but with as many stories I’ve reported to the police about harassment, I know they would’ve dismissed me and said “So they called you names? So?” The police don’t care. And also, since we’re both Black, the police probably would’ve assume the harassing group and I knew each other, and that that’s how Black people act around another. That’s not true and that’s not fair.
Even as I type this I’m still shaking and tense with anger. I hate that these men got to me like that, and I hate that they ruined my morning.
Location: On the Adams St. side of Key Elementary, Arlington, VA