“What I do with my facial expression is my business. Worry about your own facial expression.”

This is why I prefer the window seat. (I do mention race here because I feel it’s important.)

The ride on the 38B (no. 2717) towards Ballston this evening (after 6) was the worst experience of my life. The window seats ran out so I grabbed a seat in the back aisle. I was tired, nodding in and out of sleep while the bus slowly lurched across the Key Bridge. I wasn’t feeling well and just wanted to get to the store, buy what I needed and go home.

At Rosslyn, this black guy boards the bus and he’s all, “How’s everyone doin‘ this evening?” but of course with me, he says, “Smile! Things aren’t that bad. Things will be brighter if you smile.” Whatever somnolent state I was in disappeared when I heard those words. I was pissed beyond hell.

“Don’t tell me to smile,” I said. “What I do with my facial expression is my business. Worry about your own facial expression.” The white guy and girl sitting across from me look at me and smile nervously.

At the same stop, another black guy who’s heavyset and a white woman board. They seem to know the smile guy.

“I’m happy with my facial expression,” the guy says. “Good for you!” I snap back sarcastically.

This guy then calls me names and directs his attention to the white guy and girl sitting across from me.

“How are you doing this evening?” he asks the girl. The girl, in the most smug, sanctimonious way looks at me, bats her eyes, then responds to the guy, “Why, I’m doing fine, thank you!” I’ve never felt so patronized in my life.

“See, that’s the answer I wanted,” the guy said. “You’ve got wingnuts like her [he points at me] acting all crazy.”

Great, I felt as if they were painting me as the crazy, argumentative black chick, justifying this guy’s warped views on black women, while this girl on the bus fits the stereotype of the polite beyond words white girl who’s docile and wouldn’t hurt a fly. I’m not like those uncouth black women, her demeanor read to me. This whole exchange sickened me. And after reading Sister Toldja’s blog today about black men acting like black women are obligated to walk around and smile for them (http://thebeautifulstruggler.com/2011/01/too-hot-to-handle-too-cold-to-smile.html), having this mess happen to me today added to my frustration.

Tired of being insulted by this weirdo, I got up and moved to a seat near a middle-aged black woman. She was very kind towards me and unlike the girl and the guy near my former seat, didn’t belittle my experience.

“Times like this you’ve gotta put on your iPod and ignore these bums!” she said.

“I hear that,” I said. Meanwhile, this buffoon wasn’t letting up.

“She moving because she’s scared of black people,” he said. Of course, the white guy and girl who I was sitting across from before I moved smile at this assumption. I’m afraid of black people?! So am I afraid of my own reflection? Damn.

It wasn’t over. Crazy smile guy goes on and on about how he’s minding his own business, and how I ruined his day.

“You were minding your own business?!” I replied. “I WAS MINDING MY BUSINESS! You didn’t have to say shit to me! I’m sick of sorry-ass negroes sitting at the back of the bus bothering people like me! I did not ask for you to say shit to me!” It got quiet for a moment there.

Then from the heavyset black guy who boarded comes out a “N***a, shut the fuck up!” He was talking to the crazy smile guy. “You always do this…gonna get us kicked off the bus. Shut da fuck up!”

Now one would think these clowns arguing with each other would make me happy, but it didn’t. It was embarrassing. I wanted to crawl somewhere and hide. I wanted an escape from the noise and chaos. “Oh, god,” I said, putting my head in my hands and moaning.

“They’ll be off soon…real soon,” the woman next to me said. I thank her for trying to calm me down.

The smug girl got off a few stops after the incident started, but the condescension of her behavior still lingers. I can’t get over that.

The crazy guy and his friends seemed to divert their attention off me and to each other about other things, but all they did was argue and curse at each other the whole time.

Gettin‘ on my nerves,” the woman next to me said. “They need to stop.” It was so bad that people at the front of the bus were turning around to see what was happening. I wonder why the driver didn’t tell them to knock it off or get off the bus.

The heavy guy and his lady friend got off at Courthouse, but not without one last “Shut the fuck up!” from him and some comment about “I ain’t riding the bus all the way to Ballston for some Harris Titter [sic]…n***a please.”

I got off at the stop near Whole Foods a few stops down, thanking the woman I sat next to and wishing her a good night. I thank her for not putting me in the “crazy” box because some demented nut thought it was my obligation to smile for him.

The incident worked my nerves. I get to Whole Foods and had forgotten why I was there because I was so frustrated and tired (physically, mentally). And when I remembered, I was just so out of it and felt like I was in everyone’s way. I kept my head down. I wanted to do what I needed to do and get out.

While at the checkout line, I saw a stand of different pocket Buddhas at the counter. I’m not Buddhist, but I do like carrying lucky charms. I saw a Buddha for protection, and added that to my purchases. I know I’ll need it for protection from being harassed, and protection from losing my sanity from being constantly harassed.

I wish I’d gotten that window seat. I could’ve looked out the window, got lost in space, and potentially not have gotten harassed by this cretin. I just want to be left alone.

– Tired of Being Harassed

Location: 38B Bus on the way to Ballston, Virginia

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Find suggestions for what YOU can do about this human rights issue.

14 Responses to “What I do with my facial expression is my business. Worry about your own facial expression.”

  1. Golden Silence says:

    I wonder why the driver didn’t tell them to knock it off or get off the bus.

    Inquiring minds want to know. You hear an argument going on on the bus, what do you do? Keep driving. Sigh. Typical WMATA.

  2. Clarice says:

    Im so sorry that you had to go through this. What a situation to be in! That clown should be banned from using public transport if he’s going to behave like that! And im very disappoint with that white girl. You’d think that being a woman herself, she’d understand the discomfort this type of harassment can create. But thats some people for you, down right rude and ignorant! I hope that idiot embarasses himself one day. Then maybe it would make him realise what a loon he is!

  3. Jennifer Rice says:

    I’m glad to hear a black woman’s perspective on this, because I find that if I don’t do the simpering little smile, then as a white woman I get the whole ‘you think you’re too good to talk to me,’ and then followed by some racial slur against whites, or more usually, the combination racial/sexist slur of ‘white b*tch.’ Seems like no matter what your race, your reaction will get you called a b*tch for sure, and then whatever racial slur applies. And it seems another theme is the faux defensiveness you get from these guys, e.g., ‘I was having a good day/I was being nice and for no reason at all this evil woman is out to get me and treat me bad.’ Can’t win with guys like this!

  4. Golden Silence says:

    That clown should be banned from using public transport if he’s going to behave like that!

    His homeboy said that the harasser does this all the time, and if that’s true he should be banned.

    And im very disappoint with that white girl. You’d think that being a woman herself, she’d understand the discomfort this type of harassment can create.

    Maybe she understands what it feels like to be harassed as a woman, but with her white privilege she didn’t understand what it was like to be intra-racially harassed by a black man. Maybe her being white caused her to not see the harassed woman as an equal or worth her time. I agree that she could’ve used the opportunity to be the better person and stand up for this woman, but she chose another tactic. Sad.

  5. Aw, hon. Just yesterday I walked into my gym and there’s two guys working the desk, and one of them, a very attractive black guy, says, “Now, I need you to smile.” I said, “I really hate when men do that. I really do.” And I walked off without a word, uncomfortable with my whole work out. To be honest, I didn’t even notice that he was attractive until now, when I’m able to somewhat honestly appraise him. If he would have been like, “Hey, nice to see you, enjoy your workout,” I might have even smiled. I hate that crap! Ugh! Ugh! I’m so glad to hear that others are talking about this and sharing with each other. I really appreciate your story, sis. And I can imagine what you felt. I have even seen something similar in Brooklyn, a girl being harassed by a gang of teen boys, and she yelled “see, I’m sick of black people acting like this, making me ashamed to be black!” And she ran/stormed off. I’m Jewish-American and I noticed I get 99% of my harassment here in NYC from black and hispanic men. White men are creepy too but they don’t yell it all in ur face most of the time. Uffff, I honestly feel like when I was in Romania where my fiance’s from, and the men grab ur ass on the street, I prefer that to being told to fucking smile. Ugh!!!!!!!!! Ugh!!!!!!

  6. Kat says:

    The attitude that the man had, of women should smile, and be bossed around on top of it, is one of the hidden psychological truths of our day and age between men and women. Men, especially a large portion of powerful men, (which this one did not sound like), see women as objects. These objects are supposed to smile, and conjole men, to compliment them and boost their fragile ego, to make the man feel that he is wonderful and handsome. If the objects don’t do this, then they are considered bitches. Now many men do not realize that this is such a common theme in society. The ones who feel this way many of them would not even realize the truth of their feelings. It is subconscious. It is a psychological reality of men believing women to be less then them and their for their own pleasure, objectification. Until the mass realizes that 85% of the male population have this hiding in their psyche, and do something to change it, it will go on. Your experience was with a baffoon, who somehow embodied this attitude, this belief system. Usually the only way to handle these types is if they attack you, push hard, and run. Being attacked by words however, I don’t have the answer for. You could be blantantly honest and tell him the exact truth of his actions in such a way that is not nice. It might slow him down. But it also might make him escalate from words to physical violence. You did the right thing by moving. But until something is done about the prevalence of objectifying women in society being allowed to be a mass part of the male psyche, this will go on, and more. It was not a personal attack. He was using you to voice his own violent attitude. He wanted power over you. He wanted to assert his domination. You should bring pepper spray with you in case anyone takes it to the next level.

  7. Except for one time when I was sitting on a bench and a Hasidic Jewish man comes by with a camcorder and films my LEGS – lmao – nothing like being the unwitting star of homemade leg porn to make ur day lol … And ps I don’t mean to say u said ur ashamed to be black…u didn’t…just wanted to share that incident I saw of the hooligan kids and the cool-looking black gurl…and how she just looked so harrassed…and her reaction was so honest…ugh ugh ugh

  8. Marie says:

    I live in Seattle and my job requires me to be going between our downtown offices multiple times a week. I either walk or catch the bus. When I first moved here 6yrs ago I used to make eye contact with the majority of the people I passed on the sidewalk. It resulted in random comments such as “hey beautiful” and “smile sweetheart,” or men would try to stop me and engage in a conversation. I have long since stopped making eye contact, keep my head up and eyes forward, with a blank expression. I also choose to sit at the back of the bus where people are less social. I still, on a weekly basis, get comments from men (all races) on my appearance, telling me to smile, or referring to me by patronizing names such as “sugar.” Some days I just ignore it, other times I’ll glare at them, and sometimes I’ll even stop and tell them it’s inappropriate. I really just want to be left alone to go about my work. It would also be nice to be able to articulate I don’t appreciate such comments without being called a “bitch” or inciting more sexist comments. I can relate to this story.

  9. Golden Silence says:

    I also choose to sit at the back of the bus where people are less social.

    That may work for you, but that didn’t seem to work in this story! Too bad there’s no real 100% effective way that stops harassment.

  10. Tired of Being Harassed says:

    “You should bring pepper spray with you in case anyone takes it to the next level.”

    I was in no way afraid of this guy. He looked to be about 5’4” and skinny, and would probably be knocked over easily with a gust of wind. He annoyed me but he in no way intimidated me. Part of me wished I’d picked him up and thrown him off the bus myself!

  11. Gabrielle says:

    I understand this completely. I too am a black woman who has been repeatedly told by black men to smile. Why should I smile for them? Why should I have to appear “approachable” and “open” for them? Why should they be able to think that I’m available and they could stand a chance with me? It sickens me.
    It’s always annoying because they can’t tell the difference between a normal blank expression and a frown. Who walks around smiling like a maniac? If I’m walking home from work or going to the store, I just have a plain expressionless face on. I was trapped in an elevator with a guy who told me that I “looked like I was about to kill someone”. Irritated I told him that he needs to learn what a blank expression is, and that I’d had a fantastic day, thank you very much.
    Just remember when this happens that none of these fools stand a chance with you. Remember that at the end of the day you’re doing so much better than they ever will.

  12. Nigerian Sista says:

    I really like the way the blogger stood up for herself. I a 26year old woman and it is only in the past gew years that I would actually stand up for myself. I guess part of remaining silent in the past was a fear thing. What changed is that I’ve been in so many different harassment situations with black males that I no longer am afraid. I was even harassed by a plainclothes officer once who was carrying a gun (but that’s another story for another day…smh) Males who do this are very much working on a domination thing..it took me a bit of growing up to realize. A major reason I don’t tolerate this foolishness anymore is because if a male (specifically black..because that’s the group that harasses me) doesn’t want to talk…HE WON’T. He will not entertain a woman unless HE FEELS like entertaining a woman. And he won’t give a DAMN about her ego or whthe he hurt her feelings or not. In fact a portion of them seem to take pride in hurting womens feeling. Once I figured this out…I said to hell with worrying about how a guy interpets my disinterest…if I don’t WANT to talk, I’m not going to talk and they half to DEAL with. And if he tries to act stupid, I have my pepper spray and 911 on speedial. He’ll be sprayed and have the cops called on him at the same time…

  13. Golden Silence says:

    A major reason I don’t tolerate this foolishness anymore is because if a male (specifically black..because that’s the group that harasses me) doesn’t want to talk…HE WON’T. He will not entertain a woman unless HE FEELS like entertaining a woman. And he won’t give a DAMN about her ego or whthe he hurt her feelings or not. In fact a portion of them seem to take pride in hurting womens feeling.

    You’re exactly right. Though I know most harassment isn’t about sexual attraction (it’s more about power), I know most of these men wouldn’t give the time of day to a woman they’re not attracted to (unless they want to hurl crude insults her way) nor would they pay any attention to other men. I do find when dealing with being the recipient of black-on-black harassment, my harassers are all about keeping me in my place. They would never act the way they do towards other men, and they surely aren’t concerned with what women of other races do half the time.

  14. Nigerian Sista says:

    I know most of these men wouldn’t give the time of day to a woman they’re not attracted to (unless they want to hurl crude insults her way) nor would they pay any attention to other men. I do find when dealing with being the recipient of black-on-black harassment, my harassers are all about keeping me in my place. They would never act the way they do towards other men, and they surely aren’t concerned with what women of other races do half the time.
    Amen!

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