Few of us can forget the Hollaback video that circulated on the Internet in 2014. It showed us a white woman, in jeans and a T-shirt, walking the streets of New York for ten hours, enduring over 100 cat-calls, wolf-whistles, unsolicited comments, and unwanted attention. When we first viewed the video, I’m sure many women like me could relate because we have experienced the very same thing.
Unfortunately, the video was not a correct depiction of street harassment because, in the editing process, many of the scenarios involving white men were cut, while those of black and Latino men remained. I have to ask myself, Why such a deliberate move?
Simply removing the white men from the video is part of racism. Suggesting that black and Latino men are the ones who do the cat calling is not only a defamation of character but also a dishonest view of street harassment. Latino and black men are not the only men who participate in it. All types of men, whether black, Latino, white, Asian, or otherwise, participate in street harassment.
Plus, it should go without saying that white women are not the only women who are targeted. Five years prior to the Hollaback video, a group of women of color from Girls for Gender Equity released their own video about street harassment. The Hollaback video has received over 40 million views. The Girls for Gender Equity video has received less than 31,000. Why such a huge difference? Might it be because the Hollaback video showed a white woman as opposed to a black woman? Might it be because the Girls for Gender Equity video was a more accurate depiction of street harassment with white, black and Latino men?
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Why such varying views on who is victimized and who does the victimizing? Street harassment has to do with the objectification, but people can — and do — use racial slurs and stereotypes in order to objectify. Slurs and stereotypes such as Give me some of that chocolate and I can eat that taco are racial in content, but they are outside the experience of most women who identify as white.
Another aspect of street harassment has to do with power and control. Street harassment is not only gender based, but can also happen against homeless people, youth, and men of color. Time and time again we have seen black men and black youth — Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Erik Garner, and Freddie Gray — profiled and harassed by a person with power, whether police, neighborhood watch, or transit security. These events, in my opinion, are part of street harassment. The victims were minding their own business and, because they were black, they were harassed by people in authority.
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I’m sure many of us have witnessed harassment of homeless people. Some cities think that, by gating the viaducts where homeless people live, they are going to combat homelessness. Instead, homeless people are being harassed by cops to break down the shelters they have created and are even taken to jail — only because they have nowhere else to go.
Street harassment has many layers. In order to untangle racism in each of these scenarios, we have to look at each situation individually, but we cannot ignore the bigger picture. Being a person of color places you at risk of experiencing some type of harassment in your lifetime. Yes, white women have been cat called. Yes, white males have died because of gunfire. Yes, white people are also homeless. But when you are a person of color you are two to three three times more likely to experience harassment, and that is part of untangling the ugly web of racism in this country.
I can’t help but feel angry when I see one more black or brown person being killed by gunfire at the hands of police. I can’t help but feel angry when I see women being harassed by men who continue to objectify us as though we have no value. I can’t help but feel angry when I continue to see the struggles of homeless people. We ALL must speak up and fight. Those who have perpetuated these situations must listen to the pain of those who are affected in order for change to happen.[Headline image: The photograph features a crowded crosswalk as people quickly walk across.]