I went through complete and utter hell earlier this evening, and I would not wish what I’d went through on my worst enemy. If my story sounds disjointed it’s because I’m still recovering from the events of today.
I was not having the best day. Today was a slow day at work and it didn’t help that I found out at a dentist appointment before work that I have to get my wisdom teeth pulled. Swell.
I normally take the C&O Canal to the Key Bridge to walk home from work, feeling that it’s an escape from the foot traffic and chaos of M Street. My usually peaceful walk up the canal was interrupted by a bunch of loud, obnoxious guys that were hanging out at the top of the exit I use to get off the canal and to the Key Bridge. The way they were hanging around the exit taking up space made me uncomfortable, but I ignored them and kept walking.
As I get to the bridge and start walking, I’m listening to music and am in my own world. I hadn’t realized I was in someone’s way. This average-looking, middle-aged white guy in business casual attire starts yelling at me.
“I’M TRYING TO FUCKING GET AROUND YOU!” he yelled through clenched teeth.
“Sorry!” I said. “You don’t need to curse at me. If you said ‘Excuse me’ I would’ve moved.”
This guy was so angry and unhinged that no apology would’ve calmed him down. And it shows how much I stereotype harassers…I’m so used to being harassed by grungy guys on the corner that I wasn’t expecting it from a middle class-looking guy. But as I said, this guy was so full of rage that I could’ve offered him a million dollars and he still would’ve shot hatred towards me.
“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” the guy yelled in response to my apology. He looked uptight and I was just the victim he chose to attack.
“Don’t take your bad day out on me! This is a sidewalk, not a relay race!” I snapped back.
“SHUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTH YOU FUCKING NIGGER! I’M TIRED OF FUCKING HEARING YOU TALK!” he said. I was taken aback. Nothing I’d done warranted his behavior. Not a thing
“Uptight, crazy racist bastard!” I yelled. What pissed me off is that he could easily let that hateful term roll off his tongue, bully and belittle me, then continue walking on as if nothing happened. And of course, people walked by and watched, but did nothing. No one asked if I was okay or came up to me and said “We saw what happened. Are you okay?” Nope. I’m just the black chick no one gives a shit about.
I called the police as I crossed the bridge, keeping a safe distance to trail this guy. I took a photo of him, but I was too far away to get a good shot (and behind him so I couldn’t get a shot of his face) and was just too afraid to get close enough to get a shot of his face. This guy was insane and wasn’t worth getting that perfect shot.
I lost the guy at Lynn and 19th, and was told to wait for the police there. While I waited for the police I called my mother. I was shaken up, but at that point I had an attitude of, “Can you believe the day I just had?” and I just wanted to get home. Talking to her actually made me feel worse than I did when randomly called “nigger” by some racist prick.
“See?” she said. “You’re always quick to judge people by their outside, calling them ‘ghetto’, so this nicely-dressed guy says something it just shows you can’t judge people on their outer appearance.” I felt that I was being attacked.
Also, “Maybe this guy had a bad experience with black people and you just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said. (Both my mother and I are black.)
“That doesn’t mean he needs to take it out on me like that,” I said. “No one deserves that.” (Would it make it okay for me to take my anger out on any random white person because of the racism of this idiot? Nope! Two wrongs do not make a right.)
“True,” my mother says. “And he probably wouldn’t have said anything if you were a big, black male.” (At least we agreed on something.)
“(My name), you are always having problems when you’re out and about,” she continued. “How is it that someone else can go about their day and nothing like this happens, but with you it happens every single day? You’re always having a problem and are always calling the police. The police probably has a record with all the times you’ve called with your name and number. How does that look?”
I’m standing out in public on a street corner waiting for the police, on the phone getting put down by my mother. I called her out on it and she denied that that was what she was trying to do, but that’s what it felt like. And she is too damned concerned with appearances. “You call the police all the time…how does that look?” “You react to everything on the street…how does that look?”
The police came (10 minutes after this guy was long gone) and I showed the officer the photo of the man who berated me on my phone and gave a description of him. He said he’d look around for him, but pretty much said that since he fits the description of every other middle-aged, middle-class white guy who lives in Arlington, it’d be hard to find him. So it was pretty much a lost cause.
I continue on my way home, once again on the phone with my mother, and I walk past these guys who I know are homeless (I’ve seen them in line waiting for the free meals that get handed out at Gateway Park) and who looked to be in a state of intoxication. They staggered as they walked and slurred their words. One of them got really close to me, stared at my chest and said “How ya doin’, Sweetheart?” Yuck.
“My name is not ‘Sweetheart’,” I snapped.
“What is your name then?” the loser says.
“Miss or Ma’am!” I snap.
My mother overhears this and is yelling at me on the phone to “Stop reacting to them! You are judging people by their appearance again! He could’ve been a guardian angel…” I love my mother, but at this point I was thinking, “Are you fucking kidding me?!” This wasn’t a random test where an angel was disguised as a disheveled-looking man to test human kindness—this was real life and my real life involves me getting harassed by every damn Tom, Dick and Harry all the damn time!
“This man was looking at my chest and was in my face calling me ‘Sweetheart’,” I said.
“But you’re reacting to it again, and now he’s going to react negatively like the other guy…” my mother says.
“I don’t care,” I said. “I’m past him so whatever nasty thing he has to say in response I would’ve have been able to hear.”
“Why do you continue to react to them? Do you think it’s going to make him change his behavior? Stop it!” she says.
I am glad she ended the call a minute or two later because I couldn’t take this anymore. I was so broken down that when I continued walking home I wasn’t paying attention when I crossed a street, and hadn’t noticed a light had turned green on me and an SUV was ready to run me over. A cyclist that rode by made a gesture at me implying I was stupid.
I felt stupid…and worthless, invisible, a target, a victim, and just lonely. I wish I had someone there to say, “I am so sorry that happened to you,” not to wonder what’s wrong with me to cause me to have all these issues on the street.
Being called “nigger” isn’t what hurt me, nor being ogled like a piece of meat, but having my mother discredit what I’ve gone through as me being “judgmental” and what these men do to me being a form of karma. I hate having my experiences be belittled and treated as if I’m crazy and deserving of this. But with that kind of reaction from those who are supposed to love and care about me, I’m starting to wonder if there is something wrong with me that this nonsense continuously happens to me. I think I’ve reached my harassment breaking point. I cannot take this anymore.
Commenters, please don’t put down my mother. I definitely don’t agree with her take on this and feel that she honestly doesn’t know how to react to it since she doesn’t go through it herself, but she is my mother regardless. I just wish one day she will finally understand what I go through and realize that I’m not the problem and that I don’t have to change…the men on the street who do this do.
I just wish I had someone I could talk to about all the drama I go through on the streets. My mother is obviously not that someone and I need to stop telling her everything I go through. I wish I had a support group of people who get harassed as frequently as I do.
– “Tired of Being Harassed”
Location: Arlington, VA
Racist harasser: Key Bridge
Leering harasser: Pedestrian Bridge next to the Contintental Restaurant