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The Misogynoir and Silencing Against Black Women Who Speak Out On Street Harassment

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As I mentioned in an announcement post for #YouOkSis and a recent anti-street harassment post #NotJustHello, #YouOkSis (started by Black feminist thinker, writer and social worker @FeministaJones) is a dialogue for Black women to speak openly and freely about the reality of violence in our lives, particular to street harassment for this conversation. I have experienced street harassment since age 12, now over 22 years, much of which I’ve written about in the last two years which my post Street Harassment Is Violence (Essay Compilation) reflects.

Unfortunately, Black women are not strangers to experiencing violence and much (not all) gendered violence is intraracial for most races of people in the U.S. In my past essay Black Men’s Abuse of Black Women and A Call For Radical Love (Or At Least A Truce), I mentioned the unconscionable following:

60% of Black girls are sexually assaulted by Black men that they usually know before their 18th birthday. 93% of Black women who are murdered are murdered by Black men. 15x as many Black women are murdered by Black men that they know versus strangers they don’t. Black women are murdered at 2.5x the rate of White women. 20-something Black women are 11x more likely to be murdered while pregnant or in the year after giving birth than White women are. Domestic violence is a severe problem in Black women’s lives where active efforts to silence Black women is a problem. Black women are only 8% of the population but represent 29% of all women who are victims of intimate partner homicide. 30% of Black women report at least one instance of intimate partner violence. While not all instances of domestic violence end in homicide, it is startling how many do, and firearms also play a large role; 51% involve a gun.

Street harassment simply adds to the picture of violence as experienced by Black women intraracially. Over the last almost two weeks now via the hashtag #YouOkSis, Black women have opened up about experiencing street harassment both intraracially and interracially (i.e. I definitely talked about street harassment from White men, especially cops, for example), and from the perspective of Black women with different appearances, ages, class statuses, educational attainment, locations and sexual orientations. I’ve talked to cis Black women of every sexual orientation, Black trans women of several sexual orientations, a few non-binary gender Black people and a few other women of colour about this experience. The dialogue was started by a Black woman since we are regularly excluded from street harassment conversation that centers on White women, and since other marginalized people can and should start dialogues of their own, as all of these dialogues matter. I gathered some tweets from many people in this dialogue (which includes support from some Black men) in a Storify (#YouOkSis: Black Women Speak Up About The Violence of Street Harassment and Solutions). I also gathered my own tweets (#YouOkSis) since I speak out about street harassment quite a bit, as it is active and ongoing violence in my life. In addition to these two links, I shared tweets on what a full day of harassment—not even just street harassment, but a variety of types of harassment—looks like in my life (A Day In The Life…). 

Black women online who tweeted on the tag #YouOkSis faced (and some are still facing) a great deal of insults, violent trolling, demands for silence, and other abuse from some Black men (and a few Black women) who want this conversation silenced. The violent irony of trying to abuse us into silence so that they can assert that this abuse doesn’t exist was lost on them. Since I’ve already addressed why they would do this, in detail—in general in my essay compilation Black Men and Patriarchy, Intraracial Sexism and Misogynoir, and specifically in Why Some Black People Don’t Want Me To Discuss Street Harassment—I won’t readdress that here. I even addressed some of their common defenses provided to justify this violence against Black women in my previously tweeted and shared Street Harassment and Street Harassment & Misogynoir BINGO card. The top is about street harassment in general; the bottom speaks to specific intersecting oppressions that Black women experience and defenses that specifically Black men rebuttal with, so no need to rehash this aspect either.

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Finally, in a series of tweets ("Divide and Conquer") I already addressed the heterosexist and misogynoiristic assertion that any Black woman who won’t be silent about Black men’s violence on Black women is “dividing” Black women from Black men and thereby allowing White supremacy to “conquer,” as if we aren’t already oppressed via White supremacy (and suggesting that this is Black women’s fault is violent victim blaming), as if there is “unity” in violence, as if this unity isn’t more about respectability politics and performing for the White Gaze (and a performance that cannot end racism anyway), and as if it matters more than Black women’s safety and well-being. It is important however, to newly address two strategic, structurally violent acts of coordinated derailment and gaslighting against Black women who speak out on street harassment.

One is the lie that White women invented street harassment and that Black women are “jealous” of White women getting attention in other spheres, so we created this myth to have parity with them. I deconstructed this terrible and disgusting amalgam of misogyny (asserting that women crave assault) and misogynoir (asserting that Black women would “envy” White women over experiencing violence when we already experience more violence than them on average) in a series of tweets (Fuck Street Harassment). This lie ignores the reality that Black women experience all types of violence both intraracially and interracially. It ignores the fact that Black women spoke out about street harassment and experienced it long before many White-owned media-centered street harassment organizations popped up, some of which plagiarize me while centering White women as the “only” victims of street harassment and Black men as the “only” perpetrators of street harassment. This mainstream feminist and mainstream media framing is in fact racist. I discussed this before in Race IS Relevant In Street Harassment. But Not In The Racist Way Regularly Assumed.

However, that racism does not erase or replace the reality that Black women do experience street harassment and that Black men do commit street harassment. In fact, this particular racist narrative is used by both White women and Black men to silence Black women for the same reasons. When #YouOkSis itself is African American Vernacular English (the way that phrase flows), created by a Black woman to tell our truths, refers to the history of Black fictive kinship (i.e. saying “sis” short for sister) and speaks to Black women experiencing street harassment, experiences that occured long before some of us had ever interacted with a White person, it is about our experience. Black men who seek to erase this by willful ahistorical analysis are engaging in further violence against Black women, that ironically works to support the same racist stereotype that all Black people hate, where “only” White women can be harmed and “only” Black men can harm. This is why it is critical for Black men to study intersectionality

The second is the lie that Black women crave carceral (or police/State sponsored violence and imprisonment that disproportionally targets Black people) solutions to street harassment from Black men and thereby are complicit in White supremacy. I mean, Black men specifically attacked me on this topic and I provided actual links where I stated that I am not interested in carceral answers; they continued to attack me and refuse to listen, engaging in willful ignorance to protect male privilege, not to challenge racism. Some even equated engaging in street harassment with being a Black man, as if me not wanting violence means I want to “erase” them. While they are busy suggesting that Black women are complicit in White supremacy for not wanting to experience violence from Black men, they fail to see how defining themselves through violence is in fact White supremacy. Anti-Black and White supremacist constructions of Black manhood makes gender expression and masculinity highly policed and narrow for Black men, often requiring violence to express it and violent stereotypes to control and minimize it.

But instead of complicating their views on masculinity, many stick by the idea that harming Black women is how they can prove that they are men. Worse, many ignore how some Black women never report Black men who beat/rape us, some barely spoke out about street harassment for years and suffer in silence and many Black women would never even think to call the police, not just because there is very little legislation that does anything in regards to street harassment but that the police are not friends of Black women either. When Black women are beaten in the same manner that Black men are, most Black women know the police are not a resource, whether it was a homeless woman in California (Marlene Pinnock) or a professor in Arizona (Dr. Ersula Ore). When Black women like Rekia Boyd faced a fate like Oscar Grant and Renisha McBride faced a fate like Trayvon Martin, a death sentence, Black women know we cannot count on the police or men empowered by White supremacy to protect Black women. Further, most Black women are reared to “protect” Black men from Prison Industrial Complex, even when these men are violent towards us. This protection is a one-way street though, clearly. Thus, even as some Black women have repeatedly said that we desire community not carceral solutions to street harassment and anti-patriarchal approaches to social interactions (latter if desired; some Black women, like me, do not desire public interactions with strangers whatsoever), some Black men continued to bold face lie and suggest that we crave their harm and derail by suggesting that the police would treat their harassment of Black women as they do Stop and Frisk. This is preposterous and a dog whistle phrase meant to recenter them as victims and remove culpability for how they harm Black women. Black women regularly support Black men being free from Stop and Frisk and police brutality. Black men do not regularly support Black women being free from street harassment and other gendered and/or State violence. As I mentioned on Twitter:

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Black women have never been collectively interested in getting Black men getting locked up. I mean, I saw a Black man once state that White women are more “supportive” in this realm. Which ones? The ones involved at the root of many lynchings of Black men for decades? The ones on George Zimmerman’s jury who found him “not guilty?” Or the ones who don’t fill jail and prison waiting rooms to visit Black men the way Black women do? I have a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice, studied Mental Health Counseling at the graduate level and I have done a lot of work in this field in the past, though because of the nature of experiencing PTSD, partially because of street harassment (which I discussed in Street Harassment and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) I want distance from this field. But, one thing that remains in my mind and will forever is the sheer number of Black women sitting in juvenile courts, adult courts, jail waiting rooms, prison waiting rooms and at post offices making care packages all in the service of Black men. It is not unreasonable or cruel to simply not want to be harmed on the streets by Black men. It is the very least that they can do. 

I will not take any claim for “unity” seriously when such claims deny the fact that Black women regularly approach the topic of violence intersectionally. (I mean, I had Black men assert that I “never” discuss White supremacy. Really?) However, doing so does not mean accepting their mentions of White male/non-Black male violence on Black women only as a silencing tactic for whenever we speak about intraracial violence. Violence at home and within our communities needs just as much eradication as structural violence via racism, White supremacy and anti-Blackness and capitalistic industrial complexes; these are intrinsically tied as the former is not arbitrary or only within Blackness. If Black women cannot simply go to the store, run errands or read in public without being accosted by a variety of men, and yes, including Black men, while we are simultaneously expected to be “mules of da world,” then Black men are complicit in our dehumanization. And this complicity is antithetical to unity and is nowhere near humanity or love. 

I will continue to ask "you ok sis?" and want the best for Black women in terms of safety and well-being. Hopefully more Black men will do and desire the same. And this chat was not lost. While some Black men admitted that they were trying to shut the hashtag down (um…you cannot keep using a hashtag but expect it not to trend; both negative and positive tweets with the hashtag will make it trend) and some wanted to harm Black women specifically, a few Black men were supportive. A few told me that they actually learned something. And so many Black women were heard and affirmed by other Black women. So many never spoke their truth before like I have been writing about for a few years. For some it was the first time. I felt of course very pained and triggered by discussing street harassment and being trolled by those who wanted me harmed and silenced, but I also felt overwhelming love and support from fellow Black women. I felt heard. If any mental residue existed where gaslighting got to me enough to question the validity of my own experience, it has evaporated. 

I know that I am not responsible for the racism that Black men experience nor will I allow them to hold me accountable for a racist system that demands I keep silent about the violence that I experience in order to “protect” Black men. Imperialist White supremacist capitalist cisheteropatrarchy and its manifestations via the State and Prison Industrial Complex are responsible for the racism that Black men experience, not me. Further, Black men—cishet Black men in particular (though non-cishet Black men also street harass and experience street harassment, and latter is why they should not be used as a teaching tool for cishet Black men via "what if gay men did this to you")—are not the only Black people who experience racism, contrary to common belief. As long as Black men want to hold my safety, well-being and my very life hostage by asserting that they have a right to harm me and I am obliged to silence because a racist system (that targets both of us) will harm them (and me), then those Black men are not “brothers” to me. There is no unity in violence. There is no “both sides” when one side is dehumanization and the other side is survival. I want Black men to live happily and thrive; I simply wish that they wanted the same for me.

I want street harassment in our communities and interracially to end. I want this violence, that particularly harms the most vulnerable and unprotected (girls and) women—which is regularly Black (girls and) women— to end. I am a believer in the radical notion that Black women are human and deserve respect and safety. I want every sis to be okay.

Filed under street harassment misogynoir youoksis gender sexism race racism intersectionality male privilege twitter social media patriarchal masculinity patriarchy prison industrial complex police brutality rape domestic violence mental health essay secant

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But this cowardice, this necessity of justifying a totally false identity and of justifying what must be called a genocidal history, has placed everyone now living into the hands of the most ignorant and powerful people the world has even known. An how did they get that way? By deciding that they were white. By opting for safety instead of life. By persuading themselves that a black child’s life meant nothing compared with a white child’s life. By abandoning their children to the things that white people could buy. By informing their children that black people had no human integrity that those who call themselves white were bound to respect. And in this debasement and definition of black people, they debased and defined themselves.
James Baldwin, “On Being White…And Other Lies”

(Source: sonofbaldwin)

Filed under James Baldwin On Being White...And Other Lies essay