Unsafe In Seattle

By Guest Contributor Sonita Moss

I don’t feel safe in Seattle.

Specifically, I don’t feel safe in public.

I love this city. Its many neighborhoods, the “little” big city vibe with a more laid-back pace of life. The expansive mountain ranges and views of ocean waters. Housing so dense it is seemingly stacked on hill after hill of pavement and grass. The skyline at dusk and twilight, travelling both north and south on the I-5. It is unrushed and easy, yet there is some nameless vibrance to this place.

Of course, I’ve been here just shy of 8 weeks.

I’m still a rookie, but I am a maverick of emotion. I don’t feel safe here.

The dueling intersections of my social identities: race, class, gender & age have forged a path of extremely unpleasant, unwelcome events at a rate that I have never experienced in my entire life. Here are the facts, the need-to-know-to-get-it information:

I am black. I am a young woman in my early 20s, but I am frequently presumed to be younger. This is important. I am living below the poverty line.

That is a recipe for disaster.

In the past, I discussed my experiences regarding the language of race while living in Europe. I had just come home, a recent college graduate, and I wanted to enact social justice work on a larger scale: I applied for AmeriCorps. My AmeriCorps experience thus far has been amazing, but we are not paid well. In fact, our pay is not technically a salary; it is reported as a “living wage” because it is so low. So living in Seattle, I am poor. Looking for housing on a minuscule budget is difficult, thus I ended up in the deepest south neighborhood, Rainier Beach. Housing is significantly cheaper here and unsurprisingly, there is a very high concentration of black residents.

This is how the story begins.

My job is in the center of the city, an hour away by bus. The bus stop was a 10-minute walk from my house. Less than half a mile. I lived in Rainier Beach for 4 weeks. From the moment I stepped foot outside my door I became prey to the men, specifically black men, of the neighborhood. Whistles, shouts, catcalls, offers for rides twice [once while I was on the phone] occurred every single day. It was so mind-boggling that I started keeping a sexual harassment diary; it was cathartic to examine the harassment and muse on how it reflected larger cultural values of power relations and young black women marginalization. We are the 1%.

All those womanist musings I read about my objectification and debasement, suddenly I was egregiously living them week to week.

Being a black woman, my body is not my own, I am inviting attention by casual dress, I should be grateful for positive attention to my appearance, I am self-righteous [i.e., a bitch] to condemn “natural” male reaction to feminine wiles.

These things are true; they can be placed in a cultural context and analyzed every which way sociologically. It is difficult to be cerebral about experiences that are not abstract. And so I attempted to remedy the situation. I literally began policing my dress: the baggier pea coat instead of the funky, plaid, slim-fitting blue one, the loose-fitting cords instead of the slightly tighter business casual pants, the converse sneakers instead of the riding boots that “clicked” when I walked.

To no avail, it did not abate. I wryly noted that these men were especially verbal with their unwanted commentary: “you are looking gorgeous today, sweet thing!,” “when you know you are working it you know you are working it – I know you know!,” and my personal favorite, shouted out a frantically unrolled window: “you don’t have to walk in the rain!”

As soon as my hour-long ride ended and I entered the campus of the high school where I work, my role as open-invitation free-for-all do street wench ended. I was viewed through a different lens: for those who knew me, the idealistic young newcomer and for the majority unfamiliar staff, a student. Without makeup [and sometimes even with] I was mistaken for a student very frequently. I was asked for a hall pass or questioned why I was in the photocopy room.

This abrupt shift threw me for a mental loop: I am a young woman, a teen to many inside of the school, yet out there [public spaces] so many older black men view me as a sexual conquest. I work with young men and women of color and it sickens me to imagine what the girls are subjected to walking down the street – and similarly, what our boys are being taught.

And still, I feel unsafe. The incidents escalated today.

Walking the 10-minute trek to the bus stop, I hurriedly put in my iPod buds, often a welcome refuge to hearing the absurd and searing comments of men. Not soon enough. I heard a yell, and against my better judgment I looked up and saw there was a car stopped on the road across the street and the window was down: “do you need a ride, baby?” a young black man, perhaps around my own age, called.

I did what women have long been taught to do: I turned my head and ignored him.

And then I felt extremely unsafe. He abruptly swerved across the road, seemingly right toward me, changed directions, and drove off at top speed. My heart was beating out of my chest, every hair on end.

I felt so unsafe. I anxiously cowered in the bus stop shelter, waiting for my ride.

Fast forward to a few hours later, I am with a young white male friend leaving Target. We are casually chatting, laden down with our purchases. At the cross walk a bedraggled black man appears from nowhere and says, “Damn how is it that all the fine black women are with white boys?” We are both stunned. My friend says “What?” in a terse tone and I begin laughing – half out of nervousness and half because I want him to know that he will not incite my anger. “Yeah how is it that white boys are getting all our fine black women – and who are you? And you think it’s funny, huh?’

His eyes are so cold. His voice rings volumes of rage and genuine bewilderment. He is shaking his head.

Suddenly the white hand is flashing and we cross the street. Our harbinger is angrily walking the other direction, grumbling. My friend is shaken – race is rarely visible to him and perhaps on another level, he felt unsafe too.

We immediately begin rehashing and I stare across the street – the man is looking at me and waves – fuck you I murmur under my breath and gaily wave back, smiling.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

As a black woman, it seems that my primary romantic responsibility is the preservation of black relationships. Never mind that the majority of black women do not date outside of their race, far fewer than black men. I am first and foremost to be evaluated on my appearance. I cannot break racial and gender mores by walking down the street with a white male friend.

Until now, I have seldom walked public spaces alone, so frequently. I have never ridden the bus so frequently. I have never lived on such little pay. I have never felt so unsafe.

Seattle has earned a reputation for being a progressive city, although the history of this city belies such a notion. In a 2005 nationwide study, Seattle was ranked the 17th most Liberal city in America. There is inexorable evidence of Seattle’s commitment to maintaining its liberal reputation: the most happening neighborhood in the city, Capitol Hill, is also the mecca of the gay community, it is majorly promoting an electric car initiative, and people wear flannel and those foot-shoes everywhere.

In actuality, Seattle is no more or less racially progressive than any other town I have lived in. Again, my social identities greatly impact my perspective. I grew up in a half-black half-white forgettable city in Michigan. It was very segregated by neighborhood and is currently undergoing gentrification. I went to college in Ann Arbor which hosts an annual event called Hash Bash, very liberal, and very college town-y. I received much less sexual harassment walking around campus but this may be because there were students literally everywhere, and not many seemingly feckless men sitting around, leering at young women.

Even if it is merited, do not mistake this article as an attack on [black] men who think it is okay to harass women, or young girls who looks like easy targets. I often wondered angrily “don’t they have something to do?” as I walked past Walgreens toward school, through the Central District. It is no longer the “ghetto” that locals claim it once was. It, like Rainier Beach, is undergoing extensive gentrification. Amidst the pastel-colored condominiums and new Quizno’s eateries, there are so many unemployed, almost 9 percent throughout the city. Since joblessness historically affects black males double the rate, probably around 18% of black men are without substantial employment. There is something demoralizing about the oppression of being without work when you have the motivation – I wonder how this transforms into demoralizing young women? I mean honestly, do they think that we enjoy it?

Even though they have terrified me, alienated me, marginalized me, I cannot hate them. To place it in context engenders empathy where resentment does not easily fester. Instead, I can acknowledge this pain without devaluing the pain of such pernicious attacks. This is an essay about a far too often ignored topic: street harassment.

This post is for the young, black women who have experienced far worse for far longer. This is the validation of an experience, sexual harassment, that is belittled and normalized to the point it is necessary to explain in great detail why and how it is so harmful [for my friend on the car ride home]. This post is not an attack on black men. It is important to place identities into context: the fact that I am a young black women being harassed by solely black men since my arrival, especially middle-aged black men, is significant. It is troubling, but necessary to acknowledge.

Since I have moved these incidents have reduced dramatically; my new neighborhood is predominantly upwardly mobile Asian families. The ride is 15 minutes. As of today, I am decidedly focused on new responses to sexual harassment – not simply ignoring it.

I want to invite young women of color to share their own stories of sexual harassment by strangers. My first memory of this is the 7th grade, I was 11 years old. He was a boy who ‘liked me’ and he touched my butt as I walked past him in the halls. There is no doubt that stories likes are rarely told: perhaps indignantly told to a friend, only to be dismissed or blame-shifted.

How does this affect your relationship to public spaces and what responses have you developed? Not necessarily in the moment either, but perhaps afterward. What is your coping mechanism?

There are initiatives designed to that uplift and redefine young’s ideas of masculinity, programs that decry harmful treatment of women. Still, we live our lives unprotected from sexual harassment every day. If Seattle is truly one of the “Best Cities for the Next Decade”, I’d like to feel safe standing next to a bus stop.

It is literally my job to empower and encourage black youth. At work, I feel positive and useful, I am making amazing emotional connections and learning from the kids I am meant to mentor. I feel strong. But the moment I step outside of the school, I feel unsafe. I have much to learn and a year-long contract. This is my first step toward security.

  • Kari

    As soon as I read that you live in Rainier Beach I completely understood. I definitely agree it is not safe to be walking around alone there because the harassment is bad there.

  • Anonymous

    I am starting to think I am the only woman who has never been cat called.

    • Winter Links

      I was picking up that vibe as well until I saw your comment.

  • downstream

    I read this post and the comments yesterday and it has set heavy on my mind. I remember junior high school and high school as having a very sexualized environment. My home was also sexually oppressive since my dad was abusive. But out in the street not so much. I am in my forties. It is hard for me to say if things have gotten worse since I only have my experience to go on, but I think it is possible. I have not heard anyone mention internet porn and its impact on men. A lot of it is horrible stuff. If it has in fact gotten worse I would think that porn has had some role in it.

  • Golden Silence

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. You definitely have a way with words.

    I saw this linked to other pages and some responses were “Black men aren’t the only harassers.” WE KNOW THIS. I hate that whenever a woman of color shares her story, those who aren’t women and/or aren’t of color feel this strange need to detract from what’s being said. They need to learn to let us share our stories in peace.

  • Golden Silence

    “I whip out one of my amusing secret weapon responses to street
    harassment that work pretty much every time, in every city.#1: Stop
    walking, face the guy directly, and earnestly ask him, “Sir, are you
    saved by our Good Lord Jesus Christ?” Pretty much immediately, this
    ruins his fun and also makes him want to leave the conversation.”

    I’m going to try this one in the future. This cracked me up. I can easily see this technique stopping harassers dead in their tracks as well as befuddling them.

  • Anonymous

    Growing up in NYC I dealt with this on a daily basis from about the age of 12 on. By my 20s, I took to wearing sunglasses –so dark no one could see my eyes — out in the streets and even wore them down in the subway. This way men could not make any intimidating eye contact with me and I felt much safer that way. The glasses and a poker face probably made me look meaner too. I used to think of those dark glasses as my “urban armor.” 

  • Big Man

    I think some of these behaviors are obviously ridiculous and the men doing them should know better. I think others are ridiculous to WOMEN, but may seem perfectly reasonable to men.
    Before I started coming here years ago, I had no idea of all the precautions women take when going outside, or they way their minds work on the streets. While I thought certain street harassment was ridiculous, I thought that talking to a woman, or complimenting her in a fairly respectful way was desirable. It wasn’t until I saw how bothered women are by it, that I realized that I, and most of my male friends, have a totally erroneous view on how women see the world.
    Unfortunately, that means we’re at an impasse. Very few men read this blog. And while those who do hopefully have their viewpoints challenged, many who don’t read wouldn’t give this problem much attention anyway. Men often see sexual conquest as their natural right, and see this sort of behavior as an extension of that right. I’m curious about what can be done about this since I’ve seen numerous posts detailing how many women have problems with it

    • Anonymous

      I think that if the only attention women ever got on the street was respectful — like a hello or a smile, left at that — then we women might have a more neutral reaction to it. But because so much of it seems threatening and/or disrespectful and crude, all of it becomes unwelcome. 

    • Anonymous

      I think that if the only attention women ever got on the street was respectful — like a hello or a smile, left at that — then we women might have a more neutral reaction to it. But because so much of it seems threatening and/or disrespectful and crude, all of it becomes unwelcome. 

  • Soulsentwined

    you have every right to defend yourself, verbally or physical

  • Soulsentwined

    you have every right to defend yourself, verbally or physical

  • fauxgressive

    I think having your ipod on while you walk is a good idea, since when your have the ear buds in you can pretend that you can’t hear someone.  I think people are less likely to get angry if they really believe that you can’t hear them. 

    However, I would keep the volume low (or off in one ear) while out walking.  While it might be nice to not hear all of the offensive catcalls, the best way to be safe is to be aware of your surroundings.  You need to be able to hear it if someone is coming up behind you  or if anyone is yelling at you to warn you about something. 

    This applies even in “safe” neighborhoods, but especially in places where there does seem to be more crime, I think it would be dangerous to impede your sense of hearing.  I’ve also heard of people who have been hit by cars or bikes because they couldn’t hear them, either because of ipods or because they were on the phone.

    A woman I know lost a friend this way when they were vacationing at the beach.  They were both about to walk across the street.  My friend heard a car engine and saw that a car had just turned onto the street.  Her friend didn’t hear it because she was talking on her phone.  She stepped off the curb and was killed.

    • sls

      Thank you for honing on on this theme.  Honestly, folks – I think the iPod is a TERRIBLE coping mechanism.  None of us want to hear the content of these verbal attacks, but in wearing headphones you are not only cutting off one of your most important senses in a situation that already makes you feel unsafe, but you are putting up two little white flags that tell others “I’m not paying attention to what’s going on around me!”

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  • Farmer

    Harassment used to bother me much more when I was younger. I feel much more self-assured now, and I’m ready witha response to much of what’s said. I also find that men try BS. with me much less often now that I’m in my 30s. I have two theories for this, one is they don’t find a “old” (32 year old) attractive, but mostly I’m just not as vulnerable looking anymore. I’m not sacred I don’t looked scared, and they know it won’t work.

    What this means is that this problem is very serious, indeed because those least able to deal with adult, sexual attention and outright harassment are those who get it most often, and it’s by design.

    I spent my tender years *teens and early 20s in very sheltered environments (from poverty) they were not sheltered from racism. Until I moved to Harlem in 2001 I had only ever been harassed by white dudes, black men I could count on to see that I was a ‘lady’ an treat me as such. That vanished when I moved to Harlem. I was taken advantage of in many ways and hurt very badly, when I’m running I often think about what I do if anyone tried anything like that again. (not healthy I know, but it’s a hard thought to shake)

    Harassment has frankly left some big dents in my life. One incident that began witha comment about my plumpness put me on a almost deadly crash diet. I always assumed the unwanted attention was my fault and if I was a better person it would not happen to me.

    I know white women who are in a similar condition from abuse mostly at the hands of white men. There isn’t anything exceptional about black male sexism, it’s sexism, just our sexism.

    I tried to take the advice of all the people who told me not to take it seriously and that was a mistake. 

    And if I ever see those four men again I wish the WOULD try to say something to me. I really wish they would.What I went through went beyond harassment, but it started with heckling, and I was hurt because I tried to be polite, not the “bitch” would would not smile. When they saw that they took everything that I had.

  • Becca

    Oh man. I never comment on blogs but this hit home hard. I spent my teenage years in Southern California, specifically in East L.A. which was predominantly Latino. I’m half Mexican but I look white. I speak Spanish so I understood all the comments grown men would make to me when I was 11 years old, walking down the street with my mother. My mother!! It was just something to deal with and I dealt with it. But as a college student I went to Mexico on an exchange. The professor addressed the concerns of some of the white female students about the street harassment with a lecture on the culture of “piropos” or “flowery compliments”. I was suddenly enraged and I said “No way. Maybe seranading your sweetheart under her window is a compliment. Shouting out “Hey baby, you fine!” is not a compliment.” And what makes a man think he has the right to shout out to a stranger on the street anyway? I don’t care what country I’m in, it’s wrong. I, too, have clawed my way into the middle class in part to escape having to be subjected to exactly this type of harassment. Where is the education for males on this issue? 

  • Brandon

    All of your questions are important.  But the problem with these questions is that it puts all the responsibility for preventing street harassment on women.

    Men are the ones doing it.  We have to take responsibility for this behavior, even if we aren’t the ones doing it.  Men need to speak out against street harassment in general, and especially when we see it happening.

    • Julia

      Right. Us ladies could spend forever trying to find a way to avoid/dodge/react to harassment, and we’ll never find an answer. Of course–the answer to this problem, the change has to come from the men who are doing it. But it’s hard to wait on men to get interested in this stuff.

      My self-defense teacher taught us to do this when we’re harassed on the street: Look into the man’s eyes with a steely stare that says ‘leave me alone’–this will help them see you as a real person, and will hopefully awaken them to the fact that you have feelings. And it might freak them out and make them stop. And if they’re really in your space or or keep talking to you, we were taught to say, “Don’t talk to me” in a calm commanding voice. Then, like clock-work, he’ll call you a bitch. Right?

      I wish I could yell all kinds of crazy insults at men when they harass me on the street, but I’m so afraid that things will escalate and become violent, so I don’t. I even have a hard time looking men in the face, because that’s an intense thing to do when that man is wanting me to feel shame and may want to harm me.

      But I guess either way, harassment is going to shake up my day, and I’ll feel better about it if I respond in some small way that lets him know that it’s not ok.

      • http://twitter.com/eemaanee imani ♔

        Thank you, Julia and point taken, Brandon. I wasn’t trying to put all the responsibility on women and I apologize for stating the questions in such a manner. I just hoped that maybe I could get an idea of how to compose myself in that type of situation because although it isn’t my fault or any woman’s fault it happens all the time. I think Julia’s suggestion is perfect. Thanks to you both!

      • http://twitter.com/eemaanee imani ♔

        Thank you, Julia and point taken, Brandon. I wasn’t trying to put all the responsibility on women and I apologize for stating the questions in such a manner. I just hoped that maybe I could get an idea of how to compose myself in that type of situation because although it isn’t my fault or any woman’s fault it happens all the time. I think Julia’s suggestion is perfect. Thanks to you both!

  • K*

    You must be a man to spout off this bullshit. As a woman, I have had vastly different experiences dealing with classmates or men on my college campuses than with men on the street, and yes, absolutely, they are typically of different classes. I have only been approached respectfully on campuses; there was absolutely none of the f’ing creepy shit that men on the street have done. I haven’t had a man on my campus ever follow me and then call me a bitch because I wouldn’t look at him. No one on my campus has EVER yelled “nice tits”, “shake that ass” or called me “sweet thang”. I’ve had creepy old men offer me rides while waiting for public transit or walking.

  • Amy

    Sonita, thanks so much for writing this. As an anti-racist organizer/white woman living in the Central District in Seattle, I’ve done a lot of thinking around the racial dynamics of this area and the various neighborhoods in Seattle. Some people, like my family, have expressed concern about me living and walking around in the historically black area of Seattle (although rapidly gentrifying), which they consider to be unsafe. But I feel safer walking around here than I ever did walking around at night through the U District, Fremont, or Ballard. I think that the way street/sexual harassment operates within and outside of a racial context is really interesting–I would get harassed endlessly by all the college bros in the north end, but I regularly walk alone by groups of young black men in my neighborhood and they’re generally really polite to me. 

    I’m glad that you made the decision to move somewhere that you feel safer and that your experience is improving. Seattle is a really tricky place racially–progressive in some ways, but so so so so privileged and really effing white. I wish you lots of luck. 

  • Jay

    Those who commented that (at least in some places) it may be more common for men to harass women of their own race, have reminded me of an experience a friend of mine shared with me. She is white, and though she more commonly got harassed by white men (this was in NYC), there was one incident where an older black man grabbed her ass while she was walking. Without thinking, she turned around and told him to get his hands off her in a way that she described as “haughty, as though he was a piece of garbage”. She said that he “crumpled” and “slunk away”. Later when she was telling me and another friend this, she said she felt that she had used her racial privilege against this man — that her response to him was racially charged and implied “how dare you touch me, a white woman?” This was her own assessment of what happened.

    Our other friend, also a white woman, rejected her assessment of it as racially charged, and said “if a man harasses you, you have every right to say anything you need to say to him to get him away from you”.

    But I don’t think my friend who was harassed was saying she didn’t have the right to get him away from her. Rather she was commenting on the racial dynamics of how it had played out. She felt that if the man had been white she would have reacted differently and maybe just walked/run away.

    • K*

      The man should have crumpled and slunk away; he violated her! and was getting called out on it. He’s lucky that it was her and not me that he infringed upon. I would have probably turned around and punched or checked him, as I have done in the past to strange men who have touched me without an invitation.

      This is an interesting interplay between racial/sex dynamics; women are conditioned to be nice, and agreeable, which is probably why she felt guilty.

  • Nonya

    You’re the one whose response reeks of bullshit.  It is what it is: Her campus is a safe zone and not her neighborhood (which in this case is mainly black) because those *are* the facts.  What, you want her to change her story just to satisfy you?  I don’t live in Seattle, but like her, I’ve also not experienced the harassment described on any of the 3 campuses I attended for school.

    Attention from any unwanted quarters is unwanted, regardless of whom is giving it.  Attacking the storyteller instead of focusing on the facts of what happened is unconstructive.

  • Nonya

    You’re the one whose response reeks of bullshit.  It is what it is: Her campus is a safe zone and not her neighborhood (which in this case is mainly black) because those *are* the facts.  What, you want her to change her story just to satisfy you?  I don’t live in Seattle, but like her, I’ve also not experienced the harassment described on any of the 3 campuses I attended for school.

    Attention from any unwanted quarters is unwanted, regardless of whom is giving it.  Attacking the storyteller instead of focusing on the facts of what happened is unconstructive.

  • Nonya

    You’re the one whose response reeks of bullshit.  It is what it is: Her campus is a safe zone and not her neighborhood (which in this case is mainly black) because those *are* the facts.  What, you want her to change her story just to satisfy you?  I don’t live in Seattle, but like her, I’ve also not experienced the harassment described on any of the 3 campuses I attended for school.

    Attention from any unwanted quarters is unwanted, regardless of whom is giving it.  Attacking the storyteller instead of focusing on the facts of what happened is unconstructive.

  • rochelle

    I thought this article was incredibly brave.

    Like a lot of you all, I’ve received verbal street harassment, with some physical attacks, since I was 15 or so. Some in Columbus where I grew up and a bunch in Chicago where I used to live (south side). Some are humorous – “You forgot your umbrella? Y’know sugar melts when it gets wet!”. Some are very threatening  - “get in my car”. Some are just plain weird – “You look Jewish! Do you have a boyfriend?” But it never ceases to amaze me how our culture generally lets this shit slide. As women, we’re told to ignore it – safer to just let it go and not ‘provoke’ anything. But on some days, the hurt and impact is just immense, and I would rather just not go outside. I wish I knew how to handle it better.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1144154744 Taylor Swaggasaurus-Rex Simmon

    I’m 16 year old Black girl from East Oakland & I can really resonate with what the author wrote .

    I get sexually harassed almost every day of my young life . Recently, by other girls who continuously feel the need to comment on my body .

    I’m considered light, though I see myself brown, with freckles & have been dubbed “thick” since as young as SIX years old .  Friends, family members, men & women I don’t even know objectify me on a daily basis .

    In elementary school to now, my ass has been ogled & fondled without my permission by girls & boys . It frustrates me to no end !

    Even though I fight back, people still do it, & it’s like wtf ?

    One man even told me I deserved it .

    Just because I’m a Black girl with a shape .

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1144154744 Taylor Swaggasaurus-Rex Simmon

    I’m 16 year old Black girl from East Oakland & I can really resonate with what the author wrote .

    I get sexually harassed almost every day of my young life . Recently, by other girls who continuously feel the need to comment on my body .

    I’m considered light, though I see myself brown, with freckles & have been dubbed “thick” since as young as SIX years old .  Friends, family members, men & women I don’t even know objectify me on a daily basis .

    In elementary school to now, my ass has been ogled & fondled without my permission by girls & boys . It frustrates me to no end !

    Even though I fight back, people still do it, & it’s like wtf ?

    One man even told me I deserved it .

    Just because I’m a Black girl with a shape .

    • Jasmin

      East Oakland holla! :-)

      On a serious note, I teach in a very rough part of East Oakland, and every day I drive to work I see young (I mean, maybe some are 18, but I doubt it) Black female prostitutes. Every day. So much so that there’s a billboard advertisement that says stop picking up underage girls. This morning I drove past a girl with shorts tattered so that her butt was visible–think of horizontal stripes, with the bigger stripes being her exposed behind. :-(

      You have a good head on your shoulders, and it’s great you know your worth and are fighting back. Stay safe!

  • Autumnphair

    Yeah, Seattle can be a tough intense environment for a young black female, which is me! I’ve lived here all my life and sometimes its a struggle and can be paranoia…I don’t know.

  • Eloie

    I can appreciate the author’s story and perspective. I will add my own.
    I  am a black woman who has lived in Chicago, New York, and Boston. Perhaps Seattle is markedly different than these cities on such matters. I have found street harassment to be very rare, and when it was perpetrated, the actors were almost always white men (who appeared to be drunk).  I’ve worked at safety net hospitals in each of these cities,  interacting with low income people of color within and near the hospitals daily. I was never harassed. I rode the trains and buses to and through the communities, without notable incident.  Lots of “hey beautiful” “smile honey” etc., which can be annoying, but I rarely felt threatened.
    The most notable incident of harassment I ever experienced was from a white man, in harvard square. Seemingly a Harvard undergrad who stumbled out of a bar and decided to cat call me and try to touch me. His friend joined in. Some black guys who often hung out in the train station and asked for spare change were sitting nearby and RAN to my aid. They put those harassers in check with a few loud sentences. “Get off her.” “Why you putting your hands on her?”
    Everyone’s experiences on this will be different, but I just wanted to add my perspective. Male harrassment has not been a problem for me in any city where I have lived. And black males, and low income males have not been any more problematic-in fact, less so.

  • Kaydee-P

    This is on point. There are some people who will definitely see this as “yet another attack on black men,” and to that I say this:

    As a black woman, black men feel comfortable around me; occasionally this expands to other marginalized group of color as well. It’s a white world out there, the one we often see and are told that is ideal. So when I see you, and you see me, we see safety.  

    Initially. 

    Somewhere along the line, kindness is mistaken for weakness, and safety turns into fear. We may be safe from the usual racism that exists with daily life, but fear that space that is created when men feel they can overstep their boundaries with women, and particularly because:

    media and often real life tell them black women ain’t shit anyway,
    most people who mean to do harm rely on trust to weaken the defenses of their prey,
    media and often real life tell them that manhood trumps all.

    This doesn’t mean every black man, or man in general. But don’t act like it doesn’t exist. Because I grew up in the same hood as you, or share the same skin tone as you, share some of the same experiences, men feel it’s carte blanche to disrespect women, particularly of their race, because they can. Because they feel that we are supposed to put aside civility simply as a result of being in the same boat. That idea that as members of the same group we must hold each other down no matter what makes men believe they have license to do whatever because at the end of the day women will have to support them anyway.

  • Kaydee-P

    This is on point. There are some people who will definitely see this as “yet another attack on black men,” and to that I say this:

    As a black woman, black men feel comfortable around me; occasionally this expands to other marginalized group of color as well. It’s a white world out there, the one we often see and are told that is ideal. So when I see you, and you see me, we see safety.  

    Initially. 

    Somewhere along the line, kindness is mistaken for weakness, and safety turns into fear. We may be safe from the usual racism that exists with daily life, but fear that space that is created when men feel they can overstep their boundaries with women, and particularly because:

    media and often real life tell them black women ain’t shit anyway,
    most people who mean to do harm rely on trust to weaken the defenses of their prey,
    media and often real life tell them that manhood trumps all.

    This doesn’t mean every black man, or man in general. But don’t act like it doesn’t exist. Because I grew up in the same hood as you, or share the same skin tone as you, share some of the same experiences, men feel it’s carte blanche to disrespect women, particularly of their race, because they can. Because they feel that we are supposed to put aside civility simply as a result of being in the same boat. That idea that as members of the same group we must hold each other down no matter what makes men believe they have license to do whatever because at the end of the day women will have to support them anyway.

  • Kaydee-P

    This is on point. There are some people who will definitely see this as “yet another attack on black men,” and to that I say this:

    As a black woman, black men feel comfortable around me; occasionally this expands to other marginalized group of color as well. It’s a white world out there, the one we often see and are told that is ideal. So when I see you, and you see me, we see safety.  

    Initially. 

    Somewhere along the line, kindness is mistaken for weakness, and safety turns into fear. We may be safe from the usual racism that exists with daily life, but fear that space that is created when men feel they can overstep their boundaries with women, and particularly because:

    media and often real life tell them black women ain’t shit anyway,
    most people who mean to do harm rely on trust to weaken the defenses of their prey,
    media and often real life tell them that manhood trumps all.

    This doesn’t mean every black man, or man in general. But don’t act like it doesn’t exist. Because I grew up in the same hood as you, or share the same skin tone as you, share some of the same experiences, men feel it’s carte blanche to disrespect women, particularly of their race, because they can. Because they feel that we are supposed to put aside civility simply as a result of being in the same boat. That idea that as members of the same group we must hold each other down no matter what makes men believe they have license to do whatever because at the end of the day women will have to support them anyway.

  • http://twitter.com/melodyhhanson Melody H. Hanson

    I am so sorry for what you have experienced.  Thank you for sharing your experiences with others.  You are a beautiful writer. 

  • http://twitter.com/melodyhhanson Melody H. Hanson

    I am so sorry for what you have experienced.  Thank you for sharing your experiences with others.  You are a beautiful writer. 

  • http://twitter.com/melodyhhanson Melody H. Hanson

    I am so sorry for what you have experienced.  Thank you for sharing your experiences with others.  You are a beautiful writer. 

  • Morenaclara

    I’m a Mexican -American woman and have
    I noticed the increase of catcalls. When I was younger( 16,17) I
    would often dress in a Gothic Lolita to sort of desexualize myself
    but once in college I changed my style( clothing and physical
    appearance). Lucky, I have a mean mouth so I have a catty comment. I
    was once catcalled by a FIVE YEAR OLD so I have ZERO tolerance of
    catcalling. It’s about power and people who do that want to assert
    their male privilege and know that YOU are at a disadvantage. In my
    mother hometown, I was walking alone and I got catcalled by two men
    mind you they wouldn’t even talk to me in that manner if I was with
    my grandfather or another relative. My body is not FUCKING public
    property. Thank you for posting this.

  • Morenaclara

    I’m a Mexican -American woman and have
    I noticed the increase of catcalls. When I was younger( 16,17) I
    would often dress in a Gothic Lolita to sort of desexualize myself
    but once in college I changed my style( clothing and physical
    appearance). Lucky, I have a mean mouth so I have a catty comment. I
    was once catcalled by a FIVE YEAR OLD so I have ZERO tolerance of
    catcalling. It’s about power and people who do that want to assert
    their male privilege and know that YOU are at a disadvantage. In my
    mother hometown, I was walking alone and I got catcalled by two men
    mind you they wouldn’t even talk to me in that manner if I was with
    my grandfather or another relative. My body is not FUCKING public
    property. Thank you for posting this.

  • Morenaclara

    I’m a Mexican -American woman and have
    I noticed the increase of catcalls. When I was younger( 16,17) I
    would often dress in a Gothic Lolita to sort of desexualize myself
    but once in college I changed my style( clothing and physical
    appearance). Lucky, I have a mean mouth so I have a catty comment. I
    was once catcalled by a FIVE YEAR OLD so I have ZERO tolerance of
    catcalling. It’s about power and people who do that want to assert
    their male privilege and know that YOU are at a disadvantage. In my
    mother hometown, I was walking alone and I got catcalled by two men
    mind you they wouldn’t even talk to me in that manner if I was with
    my grandfather or another relative. My body is not FUCKING public
    property. Thank you for posting this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1164481042 Mieko Gavia

    I remember something like that happened to me in 5th grade, I think.  A boy in class who I guessed “liked me” grabbed my butt during circle time in class.  I was very confused, and a little upset that he did it–but I had no idea what it meant, and I couldn’t figure out the words to describe it-so my indignant story to my friends at lunch later that day was brushed off. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1164481042 Mieko Gavia

    I remember something like that happened to me in 5th grade, I think.  A boy in class who I guessed “liked me” grabbed my butt during circle time in class.  I was very confused, and a little upset that he did it–but I had no idea what it meant, and I couldn’t figure out the words to describe it-so my indignant story to my friends at lunch later that day was brushed off. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1164481042 Mieko Gavia

    I remember something like that happened to me in 5th grade, I think.  A boy in class who I guessed “liked me” grabbed my butt during circle time in class.  I was very confused, and a little upset that he did it–but I had no idea what it meant, and I couldn’t figure out the words to describe it-so my indignant story to my friends at lunch later that day was brushed off. 

  • Nikkiwallschlaeger

    I enjoyed your story because it’s my story, too.  I am married to a white male. We’ve been screamed at by black men across the street when we go to New Orleans. We get disapproving looks from women, too. It used to bother me, but it doesn’t anymore. As far as feeling safe, I started feeling safer when I stopped thinking so much about how others view me. I’m still careful , don’t get me wrong, my street smarts are intact– but I can’t assume that people are going to have the same values as me, regardless of how wrong they are in my world. It’s sad, but it’s the truth. I also feel, for myself, that I had class prejudices and bias against black men. Once I realized that about myself, I noticed, at least where I live, that I get hit on a lot less. I think black men can definitely sense that, if you’re already on the defensive and they haven’t even said anything to you. This is just my experience. I’m not trying to accuse you of anything. This is just some thoughts I have on myself. 

  • Nikkiwallschlaeger

    I enjoyed your story because it’s my story, too.  I am married to a white male. We’ve been screamed at by black men across the street when we go to New Orleans. We get disapproving looks from women, too. It used to bother me, but it doesn’t anymore. As far as feeling safe, I started feeling safer when I stopped thinking so much about how others view me. I’m still careful , don’t get me wrong, my street smarts are intact– but I can’t assume that people are going to have the same values as me, regardless of how wrong they are in my world. It’s sad, but it’s the truth. I also feel, for myself, that I had class prejudices and bias against black men. Once I realized that about myself, I noticed, at least where I live, that I get hit on a lot less. I think black men can definitely sense that, if you’re already on the defensive and they haven’t even said anything to you. This is just my experience. I’m not trying to accuse you of anything. This is just some thoughts I have on myself. 

  • Nikkiwallschlaeger

    I enjoyed your story because it’s my story, too.  I am married to a white male. We’ve been screamed at by black men across the street when we go to New Orleans. We get disapproving looks from women, too. It used to bother me, but it doesn’t anymore. As far as feeling safe, I started feeling safer when I stopped thinking so much about how others view me. I’m still careful , don’t get me wrong, my street smarts are intact– but I can’t assume that people are going to have the same values as me, regardless of how wrong they are in my world. It’s sad, but it’s the truth. I also feel, for myself, that I had class prejudices and bias against black men. Once I realized that about myself, I noticed, at least where I live, that I get hit on a lot less. I think black men can definitely sense that, if you’re already on the defensive and they haven’t even said anything to you. This is just my experience. I’m not trying to accuse you of anything. This is just some thoughts I have on myself. 

  • CCOPE

    As a “black” (I identify more with my Jamaican and creole heritage because that is who I actually am) woman I have to live with blinders on whilst focusing on everything that is going on in order to be safe walking alone. Recently after leaving my mothers apartment to help her take out trash the maintenance man…a much…much…older man took it upon himself to lean out of his fence and leer at me as I picked up my dogs toy that she had dropped off the balcony. As I stood up he proceed to question me about marriage and when I politely answered that I had no interest and did not desire a husband I chose to do what I cam to do and walk off, which I assume he felt was disrespectful since I was not allowing him to continue to harass me and leer at me and that he has not “dismissed” me yet, he yelled at the top of his lungs at me which just fueled me to keep walking more. I can say that most of the people who live there are always polite, since I look like I can be anywhere from the age that I actually am to almost 30 people usually do not bother being lecherous. But in my life it usually is older men who have always been more harassing to me, and men my actual age are polite but still ogle. My mom was furious but I tend to be cautious since she can pass for white and has always been rather negative about the male populace in general. Thanks to having a older bother I grew up knowing not every black(old) man was a lecherous ass but for some reason in NOLA where I grew u it is very common place for older men to harass young black women.

  • CCOPE

    As a “black” (I identify more with my Jamaican and creole heritage because that is who I actually am) woman I have to live with blinders on whilst focusing on everything that is going on in order to be safe walking alone. Recently after leaving my mothers apartment to help her take out trash the maintenance man…a much…much…older man took it upon himself to lean out of his fence and leer at me as I picked up my dogs toy that she had dropped off the balcony. As I stood up he proceed to question me about marriage and when I politely answered that I had no interest and did not desire a husband I chose to do what I cam to do and walk off, which I assume he felt was disrespectful since I was not allowing him to continue to harass me and leer at me and that he has not “dismissed” me yet, he yelled at the top of his lungs at me which just fueled me to keep walking more. I can say that most of the people who live there are always polite, since I look like I can be anywhere from the age that I actually am to almost 30 people usually do not bother being lecherous. But in my life it usually is older men who have always been more harassing to me, and men my actual age are polite but still ogle. My mom was furious but I tend to be cautious since she can pass for white and has always been rather negative about the male populace in general. Thanks to having a older bother I grew up knowing not every black(old) man was a lecherous ass but for some reason in NOLA where I grew u it is very common place for older men to harass young black women.

  • CCOPE

    As a “black” (I identify more with my Jamaican and creole heritage because that is who I actually am) woman I have to live with blinders on whilst focusing on everything that is going on in order to be safe walking alone. Recently after leaving my mothers apartment to help her take out trash the maintenance man…a much…much…older man took it upon himself to lean out of his fence and leer at me as I picked up my dogs toy that she had dropped off the balcony. As I stood up he proceed to question me about marriage and when I politely answered that I had no interest and did not desire a husband I chose to do what I cam to do and walk off, which I assume he felt was disrespectful since I was not allowing him to continue to harass me and leer at me and that he has not “dismissed” me yet, he yelled at the top of his lungs at me which just fueled me to keep walking more. I can say that most of the people who live there are always polite, since I look like I can be anywhere from the age that I actually am to almost 30 people usually do not bother being lecherous. But in my life it usually is older men who have always been more harassing to me, and men my actual age are polite but still ogle. My mom was furious but I tend to be cautious since she can pass for white and has always been rather negative about the male populace in general. Thanks to having a older bother I grew up knowing not every black(old) man was a lecherous ass but for some reason in NOLA where I grew u it is very common place for older men to harass young black women.

  • BluMaterial

    When I was attending Columbia and living in Morningside Heights, I used to avoid walking 125th st in Harlem for exactly the same reasons.  

  • BluMaterial

    When I was attending Columbia and living in Morningside Heights, I used to avoid walking 125th st in Harlem for exactly the same reasons.  

  • Donielle Prince

    Such a great post, you’re writing and perspective are amazing. You need to keep writing; more specifically, you should write a book on this topic. 

  • Asada

    I remember being “felt-on” ( harrassed?)  when I was little,  going to sunday school.  The boy in question was my age and the cousin of a girl I was friends with. I told the sunday school teacher, and after awhile it stopped. I was loud and willing to kick back. I dunno if she spoke to him or he just lost interest, but it was plain to see I was NOT about to let the boy off the hook. 
    I live in a poor section of town, notorious on the U.S list of inner cities. A book has been written about this place. I usually feel stupid, like when older men ask me to ” come here” and  I  think they have something to say that merits my attention. Ugh.    How do I cope ? Ignoring.  I do not live in a section of town where harrassment is frequent, I rarely seem to get it, but it is here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=621955850 Carly Trautwein

    Having lived in/near Seattle only for a few months, I’m not sure if I’m qualified to make this statement, but from what I’ve noticed during my time here, a huge part of Seattle’s problem is that while there undoubtedly are some individuals or groups of individuals who are truly progressive, for the most part the people who are privileged are REALLY, REALLY PRIVILEGED and don’t tend to see any problem with that.  It can be incredibly disheartening.

    • Anonymous

      YES.  I’ve lived here three years, you could not have made it better.  And honestly, I have some amazing communities but I do not think the “progressive” reputation we have is particularly earned.

  • Anonymous

      I am a white woman in her 20′s living in Seattle and can also express a feeling of being unsafe in this city. I am eternally grateful for the student-budget rental I somehow found in my upper middle class, family-oriented neighborhood because I simply do not experience the harassment here for whatever reason. But frequent commutes downtown on public transportation are a very different experience. I’m no longer in a safe little bubble.
     
    You have voiced an observation of increased harassment from men of your own race, and it makes me wonder if there is a correlation as other comments have alluded to. I have had a few solicitations from members of other races, but the more blatantly vulgar and forward comments/actions towards me have come from white men- “You have a nice ass!”, a man approaching me from behind on the bus and leaning into my face to ask how I’m doing and where I’m going, one man saying to another loud enough for me to hear something about f***ing me, etc.
     
    Certainly this is a complex issue as race, gender, and income-level all appear to be at play. But I am confident we can make progress and gain safety and respect for *all* when we continue to discuss these issues. Don’t pretend it’s not a problem and don’t sweep it under the rug. Thank you for sharing your story and experience.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FIN6IQP2R5QWALHVUDALMTLXAM MST2010

    I’m not young anymore, but my daughter is and she is considered attractive by many.  She is also much lighter-skinned that me, and people don’t assume we are related.  On several occasions, when she was walking near or in front of me, men would make lewd comments.  I would tell them in no uncertain terms that she was my daughter, and that it was unacceptable for them to make such comments not only to my daughter, but ANY woman.  They usually would mumble some sort of apology and look embarrassed. 

    I know not all young women can take their mothers with them when walking around in town, but the looks in these mens’ faces was priceless!

    • Donielle Prince

      This is so interesting,  because their faces after you call them out show you that they know what they’re doing is wrong. So that claim many of these kinds of men make, like, lighten up, it’s a compliment, isn’t true. They intend to amuse themselves by humiliating the girl; when caught by someone who is strong and can speak up, they feel stupid and hopefully, shamed. But not shamed enough, because that should keep them from treating girls like that just because they seem helpless. 

  • Gym Diva, NYC

    “Being a black woman, my body is not my own, I am inviting attention by casual dress, I should be grateful for positive attention to my appearance, I am self-righteous [i.e., a bitch] to condemn “natural” male reaction to feminine wiles. ”

         I identify with that statement and with all else that you wrote about in this post.  As a black female living in New York City, I can tell you that while I have experienced harassment by all denominations of males, on a daily basis 98% of the men who catcall, harass and aggressively or violently approach me are of my own race, which is black.  And no, we’re not supposed to talk about it, because as a marginalized people, black men have taken the stance that you can’t blame or admonish them for any negative behaviors they commit in society.  You are black male bashing the moment you try to comment or discuss anything negative behaviors a black man commits, and waiting for them to be objective enough to actually examine and critique themselves and each other for said behaviors is a hopeless cause.  Finger pointing and blame shifting rule the day.  In other words, self reflection and self examination on their part is a long ways off…. don’t expect or wait on it.
         In the meantime, negative, violent, anti social behaviors are committed daily.   Don’t try to call it out, though.  The moment you mention the world “black”, you’re being racist.  Because they’ve been discriminated against for centuries, they get a pass.   Just shut up and go along with it.  And thus, the issues go unaddressed by the ones most able to change them…….

    Anyway, I digress…

         I have lived in many different neighborhoods in this city and my experience has been the same.  I feel for you and other women in poor or low income areas that are unable to move to safer environments.  I personally make sure that I generate enough of an income to live in a part of the city where harassment of women happens far less…. my neighborhood is mixed, but is mostly European white and Middle Eastern.  I always joke with people that I will work 3 jobs to stay here because  it’s the first place I’ve ever lived in my life where I can actually walk down the street with a smile… and no one takes that as an invitation to accost me or to assume that I’m ready or available for sex.  That, and the fact that I don’t have to hear “yo, shorty!”, “yo, ma!”, “psssst”, “eyy!!, “well, fuck you, bitch!” and/or be ready for a possible physical altercation with a dude just because I decided to go to the store to get some milk or bread.  It’s a relief to live somewhere where I am not harrassed daily.  I can sit at the bus stop waiting for the bus, and it’s a non event.  The men in this area just don’t act that way, and I know this from careful observation and from having lived here for 6 years now.   Women white, black and otherwise can walk down these streets in shorts, leggings, tank tops, and what have you on their way to the gym, and it’s not a problem.  At all.  Men may look, and yes, they do, but not in that vulgar, nasty, leering way we as females all know and have been subjected to on countless occasions.  You might get one of those creepy guys once in a while, but it’s so rare.  Yes, I will work 3 jobs if I have to in order to stay here.  It’s expensive, but worth it.  When I take the train into Manhattan, though, all bets are off.  Harassment then ensues in all colors, but is still primariliy black in its source.

         I know that street sexual harassment is a problem that spans all races, creeds, religions and also that it does not just happen to women.  There is, however, this racial element to it for many of us.  I think that perhaps some men of certain races do feel a sense of entitlement over the women of their own race.  A latina friend of mine says that the majority of her harassment comes from latino men, especially when she’s in predominantly spanish speaking neighborhoods/areas/events.  She gets it from all, but the majority of hers is from latin males.  That in itself is an interesting piece of this puzzle to air out and examine further.  All races and cultures experience it, but yeah, there are nuances here that some people will never be privy to unless an affected one  speaks of it. 

         In the meantime, Sonita, do what you must to stay safe.  I hear you and I get it.  100%.  And thank God we as a society are finally pinpointing it and beginning to work on it.  That fact alone gives me great hope.  Good luck to you.

    • Rae

      I wonder if a part of this is that many men just feel more comfortable harassing women of their own race. I’m a white woman,  and while I have been harassed by men of many races, by far the most frequent and most frightening incidents have come from white men. This was true even when I rode the city bus to work every morning and there were more men of color than white men around.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CIKQ7FT3GMI6TISVFY6PSC2MT4 stan

        I agree, Rae. I’ve talked about this with friends who are of a few different ethnic groups and it’s always (90% of the time) a man belonging to the same ethnic group doing the harassing. 

      • Mickey

         It’s definitely a sense of entitlement. We-are-of-the-same-race-therefore-my-treatment-of-you-as-property-is-acceptable is the message here from men. I said it before and I’ll say it again, nowhere on a woman’s body does it say, “Property of (insert race) men.”

      • Mickey

         It’s definitely a sense of entitlement. We-are-of-the-same-race-therefore-my-treatment-of-you-as-property-is-acceptable is the message here from men. I said it before and I’ll say it again, nowhere on a woman’s body does it say, “Property of (insert race) men.”

      • http://www.linkedin.com/in/cherissegardner Cherisse Gardner

        Consider legacy of of violence towards black men who have been accused of cat-calling white women.  I concede (hope & pray) that such incidents wouldn’t occur today but the potential for a heavier hand in prosecuting any complaint is probably weighted in the decision to let you pass.

        • Mickey

          Exactly! I read an excerpt from “Black Like Me” where white author John Howard Griffin shaved his head and darkened his skin to see what it was like to be a  Black man in the segregated south. He said that he couldn’t even look at an advertisement with a white woman’s picture on it. If he did, people would say, “Why are you looking at that White woman like that!?” in a very vicious tone. I thought to myself, “Damn, over a freaking picture! Really!?” Just that alone warranted that kind of response.

        • Mickey

          Exactly! I read an excerpt from “Black Like Me” where white author John Howard Griffin shaved his head and darkened his skin to see what it was like to be a  Black man in the segregated south. He said that he couldn’t even look at an advertisement with a white woman’s picture on it. If he did, people would say, “Why are you looking at that White woman like that!?” in a very vicious tone. I thought to myself, “Damn, over a freaking picture! Really!?” Just that alone warranted that kind of response.

      • Morenaclara

        In my experience most of the men who catcalled me were either White or Black. Very little men who catcalled me were Latino(I’m Mexican American but people think I’m Asian or Southern European) . I was only once cat called by a Asian man.  But I guess that depends of the demographics of were you live and personal experience.

    • Rae

      I wonder if a part of this is that many men just feel more comfortable harassing women of their own race. I’m a white woman,  and while I have been harassed by men of many races, by far the most frequent and most frightening incidents have come from white men. This was true even when I rode the city bus to work every morning and there were more men of color than white men around.

    • Anonymous

      ugh I feel this on SO MANY levels. I feel corners and ambivalent walking city streets here. On one hand if I am dressed in a way I personally find attractive, I’m ‘inviting’ all this unwanted attention. The cars reversing in my direction, the honking, the ‘yo’ from the passenger seat. And it’s so difficult to figure out what is safe and still, dignified to do. I remember just tuesday I told this guy to ‘eff off because I’m not in the mood’ but I didn’t feel safe saying it, I just felt so frustrated. They approach you in such ways that they condemn women for responding to. Ways that only ‘hoes’ would enjoy and then when you make up your mind to do the opposite they get so angry that you weren’t grateful that they threw you attention.
      It got bad enough that the people waiting for the same bus all offered to let me on the bus first because this group of guy were just being utterly ridiculous.  As far as the same-race entitlement.. I’m beginning to notice a bit of a shift.. it used to be just black men in my direction.. but as I move into my early twenties it’s any guy of any background. 

  • Eva

    I am always glad to read essays like this by young women.  This nonsense has been going on for years, it went on when I was in my teens and twenties (and that was 30, 40 years ago).  Today I am in my 50′s and men in their 70′s still try to talk to me, even my mother gets hit on by guys in their 80′s.  Today, I laugh at their sorry selves, because the truth is they don’t have anything else to do but stand on the corner and talk nonsense. 

    However, I do acknowledge that the harassment has been getting worse for young women and that is a shame. 

  • Eva

    I am always glad to read essays like this by young women.  This nonsense has been going on for years, it went on when I was in my teens and twenties (and that was 30, 40 years ago).  Today I am in my 50′s and men in their 70′s still try to talk to me, even my mother gets hit on by guys in their 80′s.  Today, I laugh at their sorry selves, because the truth is they don’t have anything else to do but stand on the corner and talk nonsense. 

    However, I do acknowledge that the harassment has been getting worse for young women and that is a shame. 

  • Alex

    As an Asian woman who spent most of her life in majority-white neighborhoods, it was a huge adjustment to hear comments the minute I stepped into the street after I moved to NYC. Just the other day, a middle-aged guy stopped his bike and started to walk alongside me. I was wearing my headphones and a pause between songs let me hear just enough that he was telling me how hot I was. I shook my head, sped up, and hoped he would leave me alone based on my body language. Nope! Instead, he followed me down the entire block. 

    In my experience, comments range from general “Psssst – you look good,” to comments on my clothes/hair/body/the way I walk, to lewd suggestions, or just extra-loud comments to their friends as I walk by (“YEAH SHE LOOKS REAL FINE, RIGHT?”).  Even the “nice” propositions turn into extended encounters that become uncomfortable: “Can I just tell you how beautiful you are?” turns into an invasive line of questioning about where I’m going, what I’m doing, where I’m living, and so forth. Is it so crazy to think that I don’t want all that information being given out to a random person on the street?! I’ve had men follow me to my apartment building and it’s terrifying. 

    It’s also amazing how often race is included: “I’ve never fucked a chink before,” “Fucking Chinese bitch,” “Me love you long time.”  It’s humiliating, degrading, and a constant reminder that I’m under scrutiny whenever I leave the house. Ignoring the comments doesn’t stop them, and when you finally snap and tell someone to go fuck themselves, there’s the danger that they will retaliate. I can’t tell what’s worse: having an engaging conversation at a party with a guy until it’s clear he has an Asian women fetish or hearing “Hey, I want to fuck you” when I’m on my way to work.

    These are men who don’t take the hint: not from body language, not from polite rejections (“No thanks”) or profanity. I get comments from younger teens through senior citizens. It’s relentless, itnever ends and I don’t know how to end it. I don’t have a coping mechanism – at least, not one that makes me feel empowered or safer. I’ve learned to never leave my apartment without my headphones and to walk fast as hell. Just talking about how shitty street harassment would be a hell of a lot easier if, when complaining about street harassment, people would stop telling you to lighten up because it’s a compliment, or that someday when I’m older I’ll miss those comments, or think that I’m somehow bragging about the male attraction I get. 

  • Alex

    As an Asian woman who spent most of her life in majority-white neighborhoods, it was a huge adjustment to hear comments the minute I stepped into the street after I moved to NYC. Just the other day, a middle-aged guy stopped his bike and started to walk alongside me. I was wearing my headphones and a pause between songs let me hear just enough that he was telling me how hot I was. I shook my head, sped up, and hoped he would leave me alone based on my body language. Nope! Instead, he followed me down the entire block. 

    In my experience, comments range from general “Psssst – you look good,” to comments on my clothes/hair/body/the way I walk, to lewd suggestions, or just extra-loud comments to their friends as I walk by (“YEAH SHE LOOKS REAL FINE, RIGHT?”).  Even the “nice” propositions turn into extended encounters that become uncomfortable: “Can I just tell you how beautiful you are?” turns into an invasive line of questioning about where I’m going, what I’m doing, where I’m living, and so forth. Is it so crazy to think that I don’t want all that information being given out to a random person on the street?! I’ve had men follow me to my apartment building and it’s terrifying. 

    It’s also amazing how often race is included: “I’ve never fucked a chink before,” “Fucking Chinese bitch,” “Me love you long time.”  It’s humiliating, degrading, and a constant reminder that I’m under scrutiny whenever I leave the house. Ignoring the comments doesn’t stop them, and when you finally snap and tell someone to go fuck themselves, there’s the danger that they will retaliate. I can’t tell what’s worse: having an engaging conversation at a party with a guy until it’s clear he has an Asian women fetish or hearing “Hey, I want to fuck you” when I’m on my way to work.

    These are men who don’t take the hint: not from body language, not from polite rejections (“No thanks”) or profanity. I get comments from younger teens through senior citizens. It’s relentless, itnever ends and I don’t know how to end it. I don’t have a coping mechanism – at least, not one that makes me feel empowered or safer. I’ve learned to never leave my apartment without my headphones and to walk fast as hell. Just talking about how shitty street harassment would be a hell of a lot easier if, when complaining about street harassment, people would stop telling you to lighten up because it’s a compliment, or that someday when I’m older I’ll miss those comments, or think that I’m somehow bragging about the male attraction I get. 

    • Eva

      @69b86c0c6d8ac32a16ed110251de9c55:disqus :  I like your comment because your last few sentences said it all.  People tell you to lighten up because THEY aren’t offended or upset by it.

      I used to be very vain when I was younger and I liked the attention and missed it when I turned 45.  However, I realize that everybody isn’t the same.  What’s okay to me can be frightening to another person and hence lies the problem.  Some women don’t mind the catcalls, like I said, I liked the attention when I was younger, others are terrified by it.  I think what we have to do as women is listen without judgement if another woman is terrified by it, let her know that it’s okay to be offended and scared even if we don’t feel the same way. 

      • Brandon

        And what we have to do as men is tell each other to STOP THIS.

        Whatever tiny percentage of women there are who might tolerate or enjoy this does not justify the behavior.  But I seriously worry that whenever men hear about that tiny percentage, they think it speaks for all women.

    • Ebony Harding

      I’ve learned to never leave my apartment without my headphones and to walk fast as hell.
      Ditto. I never leave my apartment without my ipod plugged into my ears. When I would complain to some of my female friends who I would think would be supportive I get blamed. I’ve had men touch me when I’m just minding my own business walking down the street. One friend in a  few words or less told me that it was my fault for provoking the aggressive behavior from these men because I chose to ignore or walk by them. WTF? 

      • k.eli

        So true about the iPod thing. A thousand salutations to the late Steve Jobs for that one. Goodness knows my iPod spared me from hearing some of the nasty comments.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_POZN7DB2VG25LOOXENCUWHGR4Q Ellington

        WTF indeed Ebony.
        You and every and any woman should not have to put up with this harassement and catcalls nonsense.
        It makes me angry when it happens to me and when I see it happening to other women, and the fact that some of these men actually think it a compliment to say these things to you.
        Also the double standard that some men of colour throw at women of colour, is just insane reasoning.
        They can date with impunity whom ever they wish, but if you are seen with a man who does not have the same melanin skin count as you, does not matter if he be a lover, a co-worker, or a friend, you are betraying the race.
        I will never forget one time I was walking down the street with my boyfriend, who happened to be white, and I had the snide remark of “Jungle Fever” shouted at us. We we simply walking side by side, not holding hands, just chatting about our day, and a young black man who was surrounded by three white women, one of which was hanging off of him, said that to us. I just looked at him and laughed, because he did not get the hypocrisy of his remark, but he was angry at me.
        I hope that someday men of all shades will get it into their heads that being sexually hooted at, objectified, or having a “claim” of ownership on women is just not on.

  • k.eli

    I grew up in a predominately Caucasian area where (in addition to me being quiet and nerdy) I never really got hit on by guys. So when I started college at a very diverse university with a rather large population of black men (we’re an FBS school) I was entirely unprepared for how to react once it started happening. And it certainly wasn’t something I felt comfortable talking to people about because all of my roommates and most of the people in my dorm building were white and part of me was afraid that if I mentioned it that I would invariably be painting all black men as being sexual deviants which I know isn’t true.
     
    However, I must admit that the experiences I’ve had being harassed have certainly scarred me. I have often found myself going out of my way to avoid walking near black man who dress or carry themselves in a similar manner to the ones who have harassed me. I feel bad for doing this because it makes me feel like the old lady who clutches her pearls when a black man walks by but at the same time my safety is of the upmost importance to me and I don’t want to put myself in a potentially dangerous situation all for the sake of not wanting to offend anyone. It’s just so uncomfortable and humiliating for me to be so openly sexually objectified, especially when it’s by men old enough to be my father.

  • Anonymous

    I’m going to approve this comment, but with a warning – this feels awfully close to accusing the author of having an issue with black men, particularly the last two sentences. If you have a question, ask it, but do not assume.

    Neighborhoods and safety overlap in very interesting ways.

    Renina has explored this multiple times:

    http://www.racialicious.com/2010/06/10/black-women-x-the-streets-x-harassment/
    http://www.racialicious.com/2011/04/04/kill-me-or-leave-me-alone-street-harassment-as-a-public-health-issue/

    Particularly this idea of ownership over black female bodies; being *obligated* to speak to someone.

    Now, Renina and I live in the same city; some of her incidents have occurred in my neighborhood, a space where I generally feel safe, despite the heavy numbers of men hanging out in the summertime. I know my neighborhood well, and while I hear lots of reports of white outsiders being robbed and worse while here (apparently, the police were out warning people to put away their cell phones due to high numbers of snatch-and-grabs, something that I’ve never seen happen) I still feel safe here.

    However, every woman’s experience is different. If she doesn’t respond to hollering, which is something culturally/regionally influenced, she has that right to not want to participate and to not receive negative blowback for it. And, while I cannot speak for Sonita, I’ll answer your last, somewhat leading question. Context makes it different. Campus normally has campus police, school authorities, and a variety of people who you can go to with complaints about inappropriate or out of pocket behavior. This doesn’t mean that campuses are safe, but there is a better mechanism in place for reporting incidents and stopping incidents before they happen.

    In the streets, you are on your own. The person that zooms up to you offering a ride could be a kind hearted person or a psychopath, and you have no idea. And, what’s further, is there is no context for this person – no indication of associations, of who they are, of who else may know them. You can appeal from help from passer-by but who knows if that will be given? And if you are assaulted on the streets (a public place) as opposed to a university, the way in which those scenarios will be approached and evaluated are completely different.

    All environments are not equal, and women have different experiences which cannot be discounted. For me *physical* threats are problematic. Verbal stuff I’m not too concerned about, particularly since my experiences are generally men trying to get my attention in fairly respectful ways. But the overall point is that women need to feel as though they can walk around freely, without repercussions. Which clearly is not happening in Sonita’s neighborhood.

  • Anonymous

    I’m going to approve this comment, but with a warning – this feels awfully close to accusing the author of having an issue with black men, particularly the last two sentences. If you have a question, ask it, but do not assume.

    Neighborhoods and safety overlap in very interesting ways.

    Renina has explored this multiple times:

    http://www.racialicious.com/2010/06/10/black-women-x-the-streets-x-harassment/
    http://www.racialicious.com/2011/04/04/kill-me-or-leave-me-alone-street-harassment-as-a-public-health-issue/

    Particularly this idea of ownership over black female bodies; being *obligated* to speak to someone.

    Now, Renina and I live in the same city; some of her incidents have occurred in my neighborhood, a space where I generally feel safe, despite the heavy numbers of men hanging out in the summertime. I know my neighborhood well, and while I hear lots of reports of white outsiders being robbed and worse while here (apparently, the police were out warning people to put away their cell phones due to high numbers of snatch-and-grabs, something that I’ve never seen happen) I still feel safe here.

    However, every woman’s experience is different. If she doesn’t respond to hollering, which is something culturally/regionally influenced, she has that right to not want to participate and to not receive negative blowback for it. And, while I cannot speak for Sonita, I’ll answer your last, somewhat leading question. Context makes it different. Campus normally has campus police, school authorities, and a variety of people who you can go to with complaints about inappropriate or out of pocket behavior. This doesn’t mean that campuses are safe, but there is a better mechanism in place for reporting incidents and stopping incidents before they happen.

    In the streets, you are on your own. The person that zooms up to you offering a ride could be a kind hearted person or a psychopath, and you have no idea. And, what’s further, is there is no context for this person – no indication of associations, of who they are, of who else may know them. You can appeal from help from passer-by but who knows if that will be given? And if you are assaulted on the streets (a public place) as opposed to a university, the way in which those scenarios will be approached and evaluated are completely different.

    All environments are not equal, and women have different experiences which cannot be discounted. For me *physical* threats are problematic. Verbal stuff I’m not too concerned about, particularly since my experiences are generally men trying to get my attention in fairly respectful ways. But the overall point is that women need to feel as though they can walk around freely, without repercussions. Which clearly is not happening in Sonita’s neighborhood.

  • Stayfreshiceland

    Great article. I’m sortof godsmacked with a certani realiziation whilst reading your words. I think alot of your experience my be chalked up to immaturity. Sheer immaturity of the men involved feeling they have the right to heavy handedly interact with the world the way they do. There is a very real sense of entitlement. Men seem to feel they have an innate right to the world. This isn’t inherent in all, but you might see it in some of the immature types who aren’t willing to actually act civil, as society dictates. Society is a choice that not everyone participates in. Ultimately the abrasive nature of these people will come to haunt them, either in their lifetime, or in their legacy [im someone who lightly entertains the notion of karma].

    In order to successfully interact with society, you have to be willing to allow yoruself to in a way be a bit more open and disarming. Otherwise if you aren’t then you are essentially rigidly being abrasive to every person you meet. You shouldn’t be an obstacle for other people to overcome, human interaction should be a smooth process. Not everyone learns this growing up, Not everyone’s taught this. But I feel when everyone tries to operate on this level less laws are broken, less feelings are hurt.

  • Anonymous

    This is going to be very stream of consciousness because a) black female/male relationships, interactions was on my mind this morning for some reason, so I had some thoughts on this before reading your piece and b) I’m still trying to figure some of this out.

    As a former black girl, now black woman, this so resonates with me.  My experience was opposite from yours in that I had the curves of a woman long before I was a woman.  I dealt with an intense amount of scrutiny of my body, my hair and my manner for such a long time.  Being a tomboy who didn’t really care about fru fru and frills, most of it was negative.  I got dogged out on the regular.  I remember walking somewhere with my sisters and some friends, and coming up to a group of boys, and one of  them said something about me, I don’t remember what.   But I remember giving them the finger, not face high, cause although I was hurt/pissed/scared, I wasn’t stupid, but hand down by my side.  One of them saw, and I remember being so scared, but cooler heads prevailed and they just walked on.  Time has faded a lot of these incidents, but I see the effects of them to this day in my interactions with people.  Can you imagine trying to navigate this hyperattention beginning at 11-12 going on?  I remember trying to talk to my father about it, but I don’t think he got it, mostly due to my inability to tell him what was going on.  I was able to tell him what I felt (that everything I did was being scrutinized) but I never told him what was happening.  

    As an adult, people who don’t know me say I have a stone face, cause they can never tell what I’m feeling.  This is an armor that I have up, a blank face that hides fear, anger, resentment, but over the years has begun to convey, “don’t even begin to f with me, man”.  I’ve learned how to turn that look on someone, to stop them in their tracks.

    Anyway, that’s a slice of how it affected me.

  • http://DeadAmericanDream.blogspot.com AngryBroomstick

    I’m very sorry to hear about the sexual harassment you’ve been experiencing in Seattle. It’s frustrating because on one hand, it seems like a good idea to stand up for yourself and tell the guys to fuck off and then continue on your way, but then there’s no knowing how these guys could react – for all we know, they could be psychopaths who might become violent. On another hand, ignoring guys can provoke an aggressive reaction from them.

  • http://DeadAmericanDream.blogspot.com AngryBroomstick

    I’m very sorry to hear about the sexual harassment you’ve been experiencing in Seattle. It’s frustrating because on one hand, it seems like a good idea to stand up for yourself and tell the guys to fuck off and then continue on your way, but then there’s no knowing how these guys could react – for all we know, they could be psychopaths who might become violent. On another hand, ignoring guys can provoke an aggressive reaction from them.

  • http://DeadAmericanDream.blogspot.com AngryBroomstick

    I’m very sorry to hear about the sexual harassment you’ve been experiencing in Seattle. It’s frustrating because on one hand, it seems like a good idea to stand up for yourself and tell the guys to fuck off and then continue on your way, but then there’s no knowing how these guys could react – for all we know, they could be psychopaths who might become violent. On another hand, ignoring guys can provoke an aggressive reaction from them.

  • skwishmeej

    Thank you for sharing this story. I’m a Seattle native, used to live in Skyway a little bit south of Rainier Beach, but worked for awhile in that area in addition to commuting downtown for a 2nd job. As a young female-presenting queer Asian American woman, I have many shared experiences about the cat-calling, being followed and propositioned, and learning to ignore the unwanted attention. 

    I now live in New York City, and recently found an organization called Safe Outside the System (SOS) through the Audre Lord Project (ALP). In a recent meeting, we talked about strategies we employ to make ourselves feel safe. For example, I have identified 3 neighbors and 2 businesses open late whom I could call or enter if I were ever to feel unsafe walking through my neighborhood. I do not have those neighbors’ phone numbers, but they are people whom I plan to ask for phone numbers and explain my safety plan to. For folks who are unable or unwilling to move from their neighborhoods, these are positive strategies. Even more important for me was finding a group of folks who I could talk about my experiences with and share/learn personal strategies about how to deal with the sexual harrassment.

  • skwishmeej

    Thank you for sharing this story. I’m a Seattle native, used to live in Skyway a little bit south of Rainier Beach, but worked for awhile in that area in addition to commuting downtown for a 2nd job. As a young female-presenting queer Asian American woman, I have many shared experiences about the cat-calling, being followed and propositioned, and learning to ignore the unwanted attention. 

    I now live in New York City, and recently found an organization called Safe Outside the System (SOS) through the Audre Lord Project (ALP). In a recent meeting, we talked about strategies we employ to make ourselves feel safe. For example, I have identified 3 neighbors and 2 businesses open late whom I could call or enter if I were ever to feel unsafe walking through my neighborhood. I do not have those neighbors’ phone numbers, but they are people whom I plan to ask for phone numbers and explain my safety plan to. For folks who are unable or unwilling to move from their neighborhoods, these are positive strategies. Even more important for me was finding a group of folks who I could talk about my experiences with and share/learn personal strategies about how to deal with the sexual harrassment.

  • skwishmeej

    Thank you for sharing this story. I’m a Seattle native, used to live in Skyway a little bit south of Rainier Beach, but worked for awhile in that area in addition to commuting downtown for a 2nd job. As a young female-presenting queer Asian American woman, I have many shared experiences about the cat-calling, being followed and propositioned, and learning to ignore the unwanted attention. 

    I now live in New York City, and recently found an organization called Safe Outside the System (SOS) through the Audre Lord Project (ALP). In a recent meeting, we talked about strategies we employ to make ourselves feel safe. For example, I have identified 3 neighbors and 2 businesses open late whom I could call or enter if I were ever to feel unsafe walking through my neighborhood. I do not have those neighbors’ phone numbers, but they are people whom I plan to ask for phone numbers and explain my safety plan to. For folks who are unable or unwilling to move from their neighborhoods, these are positive strategies. Even more important for me was finding a group of folks who I could talk about my experiences with and share/learn personal strategies about how to deal with the sexual harrassment.

  • http://madyoga.wordpress.com/ Madeleine

    Beautiful, thoughtful, and incisive. As a former Seattle-ite turned Californian, I love the Northwest, and it was a great place to grow up. But a lot of things like this went undiscussed, pushed down under a layer of niceness. Thank you for drawing back the veil and looking at what it would really mean to be “progressive”