Race, class, and street harassment

So, I have to admit – I was a little nervous when posting about street harassment the other day. I was really eager to open up the conversation, especially because it was focused on a queer/gender non-conforming/trans experience and perspective that I’m not used to hearing. But I was also worried about certain dynamics that tend to surface during these conversations, namely dynamics of race and class.

While women and other gender underprivileged folks of all races, ethnicities, and classes can and often do experience street harassment, the voices that I usually hear in these discussions are most often of women with either race or class privilege. This is not unique to conversations about street harassment: most larger conversations are dominated by the voices with the most privilege. In conversations about street harassment, though, this has an interesting and profound effect, as you’ll often have some very complex and conflicting power dynamics going on: men exerting their gender privilege and sexism over women who have class and/or race privilege over them.

Power and privilege are complex things. Sometimes, you’ll have instances when the power differentials clearly go in one person’s favor – an upper-class white man harassing a poor woman of color is a nice, neat situation in which you don’t have to hurt your brain to understand what’s going on. But what about when it’s a poor man of color harassing an upper-class white woman? There are weird and complex things going on with power in that situation. And again, let me stress – street harassment is never justifiable. Victims of street harassment, on the other hand, are fully justified in their rage and hurt and other feelings around it, and are also justified in standing up to their harassers and speaking out against it. However, I don’t think we should pay attention to one power dynamic – gender – while disregarding others, like race and class. Yeah, it might be harder than simply writing off the men as sexist assholes and leaving it at that, but that’s the thing: if we ignore the complexities of different forms of power and privilege, we often wind up perpetuating discrimination and oppression in the process.

When I was writing my last post, I looked at the HollaBack NYC and Boston for the first time. I think there’s a lot of worth in the tactics and the message behind the website – turning a critical lens on harassers, quite literally. And yet, I found myself cringing every once in a while. Both the NYC and the Boston sites have anti-racist statements (here and here; the Boston site also includes class in theirs, saying that “replacing sexism with racism or classism is not a proper Holla Back” and that they ask that “contributors do not discuss the race or class of harassers or include other stigmatizing commentary.” They also acknowledge right out that “initiatives combating various forms of sexual harassment and assault have continually struggled against the perpetuation of racist and classist stereotypes.” I appreciate that acknowledgment and the site creators’ commitment to avoid perpetuating that dynamic.

However, can it really be avoided? As soon as a picture of a person of color or a person whose class privilege you can read from looking at them is posted, race and class come into play. It’s unavoidable. Even when people don’t post pictures of their harassers, their are often clues in what they write, most often in the language and grammar and accent cues used when describing what the guy said.

Even outside of the posts themselves, class and race come into play. Right from jump, we have the name of the sites – “HollaBack.” Now, Gwen Stefani may have brought this into wider parlance, but I think that many people understand “holla back” as part of Black urban vernacular. Whose image, then, is conjured up up immediately by the name of the sites, a name that frames the rest of the sites’ content? The header images on each site say something, too. On the Holla Back Boston site, the header image uses an urban alley backdrop with a tagged dumpster and a graffiti-style font for the words; these things are inflected with class and cultural references and send messages about them.

The header and sidebar images on the HollaBack NYC site are even more interesting. There are seven people in the image, all holding up camera phones – representative of the people “snapping back” against harassment. Now, we can only go with visuals here which aren’t always good indications of race, but when I see these images, I definitely see mostly white people (at least five out of seven.) The images in the sidebar that depict people wearing HollaBack NYC merchandise are both of apparently white people. People of color start to show up far more on the site when you’re looking at the pictures of the harassers. So this sets up a weird dichotomy: the people depicted as being behind the cameras, doing the snapping, wearing the merch and supporting the site are mostly white; the people depicted as doing the harassing are more mixed but (by my count of the first 36 images on the site) mostly people of color.

I also can’t help but wonder about how subjectivity works, both on what winds up being posted on the site and in the larger conversation about street harassment. Our society works damn hard trying to convince us that Black folks, Latinos, and other people of color, especially men, are really scary, scarier than white men. How much of that have we internalized? Hell, I’m a person of color and I know I’ve internalized enough to kind of hate myself for it sometimes. How does that affect how we experience street harassment? What comments seem most threatening, and from who? What’s going to just mildly annoy us and what’s going to make us feel angry, gross, or threatened enough to take a picture and post it up on a blog?

I’m not trying to say that these sites suck or are worthless or should be taken down or anything like that. What I am trying to communicate is what I take from the site as a woman of color – there’s parts I can say “right on” to, but there are other parts that really squick me out. Yeah, there’s something that makes me feel uncomfortable about the image of a white person snapping a picture of a man of color, even a sexist jerk of color, and posting it up on the web for all to see in a manner that sometimes reminds me of the mug shots of men of color that the media just loves to show us all the time. Am I less of a feminist, do I care less about women, am I less angry about street harassment and committed to ending it because I acknowledge that discomfort, put it out there, want to discuss it and interrogate it? Nah, I don’t think so, because I think we’ve learned many a lesson from the early years of feminism about asking women of color to put aside their race and their race politics for the sake of “all women.” It ain’t right, it don’t work, and it won’t get us anywhere.

So let’s get somewhere. This is the first time I write about this stuff, or even think so much about it. I’d like to hear people’s thoughts and reactions; I’m especially looking forward to hearing what other women and gender-oppressed people of color about this.

(Cross-posted at AngryBrownButch)


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64 comments for “Race, class, and street harassment

  1. Peggy Sue
    July 20, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    Thank you so much for putting into words a lot of thoughts I’ve been having for a long, long time.

    You hit it perfectly with:

    “…men exerting their gender privilege and sexism over women who have class and/or race privilege over them.”

    YES. It’s really important to say this out loud. Because it’s true and because we cannot abandon the fight against racism or classism in favor of defending a woman’s right to safely walk the streets.

    It’s ALL inescapably linked, and letting a white woman off the hook for racist behavior against a harasser of color is just as bad as looking the other way when a woman suffers street harassment, IMO.

    I remember when I came out as a big ole queer. I was excited and I thought wow, now I’m a part of this group, this group of people that understands oppression, so they’ll certainly be less sexist and racist. Yeah, uh, not so much. It was such a depressing and demoralizing thing to realize that oppressed people also buy into the “get ahead by stepping on others” mentality.

    So thank you for bringing this subject into the light so clearly. I don’t know the answers or where we all go from here but I do know that this is an incredibly important conversation to have. Thanks again.

  2. July 20, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    As a person of colour I can safely say that I have been sexually harassed by men of all races. There is an underlying racism at play with these sites mainly because of the fact that there are few men on the Hollaback NYC site that are ‘white’. However if you look at the Hollaback Canada site (I’m from Canada) it is slightly more even in the stories that are told. We’re taught to be fearful of those that are different from us and when we have that fear of the ‘other’ underlying the fear of being sexually harassed as well its a potent mix that is hard to overcome. I will admit that even though I am a person of colour I can almost always predict who will ‘holla’ at me and in which manner and sadly, as much as I’d like to ignore my personal experience, it has been predominately other men of colour.

    I would like to emphasize that this is my own experience and although I generalized I recognize that it is offensive.The fact that it is a factor at all in my mind makes me incredibly uncomfortable because even for me a woman of colour there is some underlying racism at play. Overall its just shows how complex this issue is.

    Unfortunately in these situations it may be possible that that saying along the lines of ” the oppressed at some point becomes the oppressor” rings true. Could it be that since certain men who are disadvantaged (due to class or race) and oppressed use sexual harassment as a way to reassert their dominance in a society where they are not?

  3. AD
    July 20, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    Racism absolutely is not acceptable. Certain aspects of “classism”, just as much. Making prejudgements and denying opportunities on the basis of class are unjustifiable.

    On the other hand, class incorporates culture. And certain cultures are sick and need to be changed, because elements of those cultures have easily seen bad effects on those in the culture, and those interacting with it. If we can’t discuss class and culture and e.g. respect or lack for women, and how this is expressed differently in different classes, how can we effectively fight against it?

  4. July 20, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    Thank you. I read Hollaback – and in fact linked to it on the previous discussion – but there are things about it that make me feel uncomfortable, and this post captured many of them.

    What counts as harassment, and how we categorise it (harmless but annoying through to genuinely menacing), tends to depend on the context of how vulnerable we’re feeling when it happens. For example, the only woman in a subway car at two in the morning is different to with friends at four in the afternoon on a crowded street. And, therefore, while people may not want to admit it – or even know they’re doing it – I think there are situations where women may feel more vulnerable due to the harasser’s ethnicity, and this comes through on the website.

    Thank you again for raising the other dimensions and perspectives on street harassment – it’s an endlessly fascinating issue of power relations, be they on sexuality, gender, race, class, or whatever other axes you can think of…

  5. July 20, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    If we can’t discuss class and culture and e.g. respect or lack for women, and how this is expressed differently in different classes, how can we effectively fight against it?

    I think class and race and culture absolutely need to be discussed when trying to attack and dismantle different kinds of systematic oppression. The question is, how and by whom? There is a huge difference between people trying to address problems in their own cultures and communities (which I feel like I have heard about in some of these confronting-harassment stories?) and people from a very different cultural, economic, or racial background, especially more privileged ones, calling out harassers who are definitely men, but who are also target of racism and classism. I don’t think that the former category is always completely right and the latter is always wrong, but it’s the kind of thing that really has to be paid attention to and questioned, with racism and classism so totally pervasive in our society.

    Unfortunately in these situations it may be possible that that saying along the lines of ” the oppressed at some point becomes the oppressor” rings true. Could it be that since certain men who are disadvantaged (due to class or race) and oppressed use sexual harassment as a way to reassert their dominance in a society where they are not?

    This really rings true for me. Not like it’s an excuse, but it rings true. Racism is always operating in one way or another, it’s just it might seem more confusing when it intersects so strongly with sexism. I mean, here’s a quote from my journal last summer:

    Late last night, on the street, still 85 degrees out.

    First guy: (turning to look at me as I approach): “If I had a white girl, I’d treat her like a QUEEN! Not like a black…”

    Other guy: “Man, she ain’t white!”

    First guy: “What?” (looking at me, puzzled)

    Me: (just shaking my head and walking)

    First guy: “Aww, fuck you then, bitch!”

    See, if I was just a little better at pretending to be white, I could have been treated “like a queen.” But no.

    Are the races of the guys in this encounter relevant? Probably. It’s a big snarl of racism and sexist harassment and what it’s like to be visibly mixed-race. Awesome.

  6. July 20, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    Peggy Sue: Thanks for your comment. It’s always reassuring to start off a possibly difficult and fraught conversation with a positive response. :)

    Yeah, it’s somehow more disappointing when people who are oppressed in certain ways just don’t get the other ways in which they’re privileged and perpetuate the oppression of others, isn’t it? Sometimes I’ll find myself getting more pissed off at, say, queers than other folks, especially when they’re politicized around queer stuff – kinda like, “Shouldn’t you know better?” But nah, I think we’re all kind of attached to the power and privilege we do have, even if in other ways we don’t have it.

  7. July 20, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    I just re-read what I wrote :

    Unfortunately in these situations it may be possible that that saying along the lines of ” the oppressed at some point becomes the oppressor” rings true. Could it be that since certain men who are disadvantaged (due to class or race) and oppressed use sexual harassment as a way to reassert their dominance in a society where they are not?

    I don’t want it to come across as giving these men an excuse because I don’t think that it is. Just to make that clear.

    Also Holly, I totally relate to that added issue of being a mixed-race person as well. I’ve been approached in ways that are both racist and sexist at the same time for instance:
    “Hey mixed girl! You looking good today etc”. Its just mind-blowing.

  8. Peggy Sue
    July 20, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    Jack:

    You’re totally welcome. I completely understand getting more pissed off at queers than non-queers for being sexist or racist shitheads. Because I’m a woman and a ‘mo, dammit, and watching my own (oppressed) people refuse to acknowledge their privilege and/or do anything about it is, in a way, more maddening than those with all the power in the world.

    Because yes, you’re right: we should know better. And it’s really painful to watch when people in our own damn community don’t.

    Thanks again for this. This dialog is really important and I hope your words are getting people to take a fucking bite of the clueburger.

  9. July 20, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    Leigh: Thanks for what you wrote here. I understand where you’re coming from, and thought about writing it in my post, but it was getting a little lengthy and I figured it would come up in the comments anyhow. It’s tricky for me, as a woman of color, to recognize the racial dynamics that are at play in the harassment (both cat-calling and homophobic) that I’ve experienced and to negotiate my reactions and feelings around that.

    I do think that there’s probably an “oppressed becoming oppressor” thing at play; there usually is, because most people don’t completely lack power or privilege or completely possess it; most of us have some things that give us power and some things that take it away, so we’re bound to be fucked up on some levels.

    Sometimes, though, I wonder if a lot of this has to do with how race and class effect how men express their sexism. Maybe it seems like men of color or low-income men are more likely to indulge in street harassment, but does that mean they’re more sexist than white men? Hardly.

    I was talking to my girlfriend about this yesterday and she said something to this affect: “Rich white men don’t have to cat-call women, they can just be mean to their secretary when they get to the office.” This rings true, and not just in terms of sexism. I think that people with more power have different and sometimes more subtle and insidious ways to express the same underlying prejudice. Why cat-call a woman on the street or call someone a racist slur in public when you can run a company that profits off of the oppression of others or use your political clout to, say, strip women of their reproductive rights or chip away at affirmative action measures?

    There’s also some classed standards of behavior that go into this. Rich white folks aren’t supposed to be going around calling people racial or sexist slurs, because that’s “unseemly.” Plus, they don’t have to – they can act out their racism, sexism, homophobia, whatever in much more quiet and damaging ways, ways that preserve their power and privilege way more than yelling at someone on the street would.

    In the end, the dude who harasses me in the street might upset me on a more individual and visceral level, but (provided he leaves it at words) the dude behind a nice big desk in a nice big office is going to harm me, and all women, way more. Not to excuse the harassment, just to put it in perspective.

  10. qgirl
    July 20, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    first off – thank you for both your posts on street harassment. i am queer, femme, white and often harassed, and really appreciate a complex discussion of harassment. on this issue at hand though – in my experience there are an awful lot of straight white middle and upper class men doing a fair amount of harassing and i can’t help but wonder when i see working class men and men of color disproportionately represented on sites like hollaback. ( or in these kinds of discussions in general) in addition to what this says about when women are more comfortable calling folks out and the role racial and class privilege is playing in that – i wonder what this says about the spaces harassment happens in? does the power and privilege of those white middle/upper class men afford them more private spaces – or what kind of ownership they have of spaces – in which to harass. because of their power, are there they more effective in silencing the women they harass, than the men that are have less privilege based on race and class?

  11. Tom
    July 20, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    It sometimes seems as though women don’t really figure into the equation at all. The minority/lower class men cat-call as a challenge to white/upper class men and the white/upper class men point out the cat-calling of the minorities/lower class men to justify their bigotry (while dismissing their own cat-calling as harmless). The racial/class dynamic is being played out with women only serving as a particular axe to be ground.

    So the problem becomes that if you criticize minorities or lower class men for harrassment, you feed into white bigotry, or at least minimize their racism, whether you want to or not. Angela Davis ran into this problem when commenting on the lynching of a young black man, by white men, for whistling at a white woman.

    If this is the context, then the power struggle is between white/minority with the male/female struggle essentially being ceeded to the men. That’s extremely dangerous.

    The only thing I can suggest is to not shy away from the class/race aspect, while at the same time being as alert as possible to the smugness of white men’s reaction to it.

    And I’m a white male, if that helps in parsing my comments better.

  12. July 20, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    I was talking to my girlfriend about this yesterday and she said something to this affect: “Rich white men don’t have to cat-call women, they can just be mean to their secretary when they get to the office.”

    Oh, but they do! That’s why I’ve always been baffled the lack of white men photos on Hollaback. I’m black and live in NYC and white businessmen aren’t any less sexist than non-white people of other classes. Granted, they might not use the exact same phrasing, but the sentiment is the same.

    I wonder if white men are being given a pass because their harrassment isn’t as loud and obvious, and/or because the women taking the photos are percieving differing threat levels according to the race and class of the harrasser.

  13. SarahMC
    July 20, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    I’ve seen plenty of white men represented on HollaBack. It seems like a pretty diverse group of creeps to me.
    I’ve been harassed by men of every color. They’re all entitled and disgusting. White men tell me to “smile” a lot. They also love honking their car/truck horns at me (and other women, obviously).
    The harassment is a bit different among men of different races, sometimes. In white guys the misogyny really comes out when alcohol is involved. I’m making generalizations, but I just thought I’d give my 2 cents.

  14. July 20, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    Angela Davis ran into this problem when commenting on the lynching of a young black man, by white men, for whistling at a white woman.

    Could you elaborate on what you mean here? I’m assuming you’re referring to the murder of Emmett Till, but what do you mean about the problem that Angela Davis ran into?

    The minority/lower class men cat-call as a challenge to white/upper class men and the white/upper class men point out the cat-calling of the minorities/lower class men to justify their bigotry (while dismissing their own cat-calling as harmless). The racial/class dynamic is being played out with women only serving as a particular axe to be ground.

    This analysis doesn’t ring true to me. I think that sexism, specifically, has more to do with cat-calling than some sort of conscious or unconscious battle between white/rich men and men of color/poor men. That tension might be there on some level, but I don’t think it’s a central motivation for street harassment. I do think that you might be right about white men calling out cat-calling to justify their own bigotry, though.

  15. July 20, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    qgirl: Oh, most definitely, white and upper class men do a lot of harassing, too. It’s just not my experience, which could have to do with a lot of things, including the neighborhoods in which I’ve lived (which don’t tend to be populated by rich white folks.)

    i wonder what this says about the spaces harassment happens in? does the power and privilege of those white middle/upper class men afford them more private spaces – or what kind of ownership they have of spaces – in which to harass. because of their power, are there they more effective in silencing the women they harass, than the men that are have less privilege based on race and class?

    Really good points, here.

    Nicole: Oh yeah, definitely didn’t mean to imply that these white men don’t engage in street harassment. I think my girlfriend’s comment was somewhat facetious and therefore generalized, but she was talking more about how class and race privilege effects how folks can and often will express their sexism.

    I wonder if white men are being given a pass because their harrassment isn’t as loud and obvious, and/or because the women taking the photos are percieving differing threat levels according to the race and class of the harrasser.

    I’d be willing to wager that you’re right on both counts.

  16. Tom
    July 20, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    Could you elaborate on what you mean here? I’m assuming you’re referring to the murder of Emmett Till, but what do you mean about the problem that Angela Davis ran into?

    Yes, that’s what I was referring to, but it looks like I remembered it exactly wrong. I was thinking of Susan Brownmiller’s reaction which Angela Davis then condemned.
    Brownmiller:

    The
    whistle was no small tweet of hubba-hubba or melodious
    approval for a wellturned ankle…. It was a deliberate
    insult just short of physical assault, a last reminder
    to Carolyn Bryant that this black boy, Till, had in
    mind to possess her.

    Davis:

    While Brownmiller deplores the sadistic punishment inflicted on
    Emmett Till, the Black youth emerges, nonetheless, as a guilty
    sexist-almost as guilty as his white racist murderers. After all,
    she argues, both Till and his murderers were exclusively
    concerned about their rights of possession over women.

    For some reason I had it reversed in my mind, that Davis had critcised Till and been attacked by another black civil rights leader. Sorry for the sloppiness, it’s been a while since I read about it.

    This analysis doesn’t ring true to me. I think that sexism, specifically, has more to do with cat-calling than some sort of conscious or unconscious battle between white/rich men and men of color/poor men. That tension might be there on some level, but I don’t think it’s a central motivation for street harassment.

    Well, to take Holly’s #5 comment as an example, the race of the woman being harrassed can play a part. I don’t think it’s a consciously “stick it to the man” mindset, but there’s still the idea of rich/white women being a status item. Basically, that their being women presumes an inferior role with the only question being of what race or class they are.

  17. SarahMC
    July 20, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    One thing I’ve noticed, and find very alarming, is how young black boys harass adult women with great frequency. Maybe young boys of other races do it too, but the few times it’s happened to me (or women in my vicinity) the boys have been black. It’s so shocking to hear a little kid tell you to “slob on my knob.” Maybe it’s the influence of music they listen to? Though white kids listen to hip hop just as much as black kids, I thought. All I know is if they’re bold enough to harass grown women on the street, they must be treating girls their own age much worse.

  18. July 20, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    I think about street harassment a lot because I literally cannot go anywhere without experiencing it. I grew up working class but now am on the lower end of the middle class. I am somewhere between 25 and 50 percent Native American (we’re not sure because the only family members who knew recently took it to their graves because of the stigma attached), but am usually read as “white enough”. This post is interesting to me because I’ve actually been misread as racist on the street before. Whenever I’m passing a group of men or any man I don’t feel I could easily beat in a physical fight, I engage in certain defensive actions (clutching my bag closer to me, grabbing the pepper spray in my pocket, holding my knife open hidden inside my bag, opening my phone and have 911 on one-touch dialing). Often, men of color will notice these actions and make some comment about it. I always feel really bad when this happens; I’m not scared because they are of color, I am scared because they are men.

  19. Manju
    July 20, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    similar dynamics are at work in India, except there it is colour and caste. Now india is not racially diverse like NYC, but it is the most color conscious place on earth. Basically you have darker skinned men harassing lighter skinned women.

    But the women who really get hit hard are those from the west, as westerners are stereotyped as being sexually promiscuous.

  20. RachelPhilPa
    July 20, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    I’m a white, middle-class trans woman, queer and rather femme, and I’ve had plenty of harassment from white middle-class men.

    Like the guy who out of the blue commented on my sandels being “way too big for your feet”, then bragging about his crocs. I guess he didn’t like my wearing comfortable walking sandals rather than heels.

    Or the power-suit guy who sat next to me on the train, looked me up and down, made a sour face, and then pulled out his Maxim magazine with a flourish and turned immediately to the most salacious pages and pushed the magazine into my space.

    And the street harassment I get is often transphobic as well as sexist, and sometimes comes from women – such as the two women who had obviously just left the Pride parade here in Philadelphia (they had those colored plastic beads around their neck) who leered at me, then one said to me “you’re hot, babe” while looking at me like I was the most disgusting thing she’d seen in a month.

  21. July 20, 2007 at 8:08 pm

    I lived in Boston for a few years, and the street harassment I received had to do with being a punk (as in punk rocker, not like “You little punk”) on top of being sexual. And let me tell you, every race, creed, color, and class of man had something to say about it.

    Maybe this is a culture that exists mainly in big cities? I grew up in New Mexico, and it was a huge culture shock thing for me to have to deal with.

    As to oppression of others within different minority groups, its not that surprising to me. I’ve seen homophobia in the black community, sexism in the gay male community, racism in the punk community, etc. It’s the human condition to find an ‘other.’

    Slightly depressing, but I think true.

  22. M.
    July 20, 2007 at 9:21 pm

    straight white middle and upper class men doing a fair amount of harassing and i can’t help but wonder when i see working class men and men of color disproportionately represented on sites like hollaback.

    In what city? I’ve been keeping a street harassment diary since I moved to D.C., and I’ve only had four white male street harassers. (Which out of 533 incidents, is nothing.)

    That said, I get the distinct impression that white men harass women they know.

  23. occhiblu
    July 20, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    This holds slightly less true for NYC, where tons of people walk, but in many cases: You’re not going to have rich white men harassing women on the street because, for the most part, rich white men have cars. There’s less chance for interaction there. Rich white men will complain about women ignoring them in clubs and bars, not on the street. The street is where poorer people interact in American society. (Which is not to say I think that’s a good thing.)

  24. mali
    July 20, 2007 at 10:03 pm

    I am routinely harrassed on the street by men of all races. I don’t live in an area where men tend to be above middle-class in economic status, so I can’t really speak to that (I wouldn’t say they don’t do it, but rather that I don’t come into contact with many of them). I also come into contact with more black men than men of other races so I wouldn’t say that they harrass me more – I just see them on the street more. Guys yelling shit at me from cars represent all races pretty much equally.

    However, I would like to submit that by far the most threatening instances of street harrassment that I have experienced have been from middle-class, 30-something white men. They are the ones who, when I ignore them and don’t make eye contact and walk away faster, start following me and yelling at me and calling me a bitch and generally make me wonder if I should change my route or duck into a store that is on the way to where I’m really going. I have never had a nonwhite man do this to me. I’ve joked to friends that this behavior is due to an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, but who knows. My guess would also be that race has something to do with it.

    As for myself I am a white woman in my mid 20s.

  25. mali
    July 20, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    Reading these comments also made me think about something more basic than street harrassment, which is the composition of the street to begin with.

    I don’t want to sound like I’m generalizing about every place in the United States, because I’m not. I can speak only to the places I’ve lived and worked, which in general have been extremely segregated (I’m from the great lakes region, to give it a little specificity). In general, they’ve had the composition of black city and white suburbs.

    The people on the street tend to be of color and/or lower-income. The middle-class and rich white people tend not to be on the street at all. They’re in their cars, somewhere else. They’ve parked in the garage adjacent to their building downtown and don’t have to walk from their open-air lot on the street to get to work. They don’t take the bus. They don’t walk around through the city.

    I realize that cities like New York are not like this, but I also know that there are many mid-size and smaller cities in the US that are. I wonder if perhaps our sample size in terms of on-the-street hollering harrassment are skewed to begin with, which is why I included “guys who yell at me out of their cars” as another group in my example – because they seem to be at least partially a different demographic than the dudes who are trying to take my picture with their cell phone at the bus center (yeah, ugh).

  26. ks
    July 20, 2007 at 10:50 pm

    One thing I’ve noticed, and find very alarming, is how young black boys harass adult women with great frequency. Maybe young boys of other races do it too, but the few times it’s happened to me (or women in my vicinity) the boys have been black. It’s so shocking to hear a little kid tell you to “slob on my knob.” Maybe it’s the influence of music they listen to? Though white kids listen to hip hop just as much as black kids, I thought. All I know is if they’re bold enough to harass grown women on the street, they must be treating girls their own age much worse.

    I’ve definitely seen this a lot. In fact, most of the blatant harassment I get comes from teenage black/hispanic boys. The white kids do it too, but it’s much more subtle. I’m a substitute teacher and it happens regularly. I’ve never really experienced much street harassment before, from any race, and I remember being very shocked the first time I encountered it in a school.

    And the way the kids treat me, as an adult and authority figure, is nothing compared to what the teenage girls have to put up with. I can defend myself, but it’s positively disturbing the way they get treated.

  27. exholt
    July 21, 2007 at 12:33 am

    During college, I had witnessed catcalls directed at female classmates on campus located in a small midwestern town. While the town is usually peaceful and easygoing, such incidents along with two of my own encounters with passing cars whose drivers yelled racial slurs left me with a dismal impression of the town.

    One instance took place when I was conversing with two classmates. One was a White male and one of was an Asian-American woman who caught the attention of a driver in a car passing by. The White driver of that car yelled “Hey babe!” and rapidly drove off. We were stunned at this catcall. However, as we felt it was random, we didn’t pay too much attention and returned to our prior topic of conversation. About fifteen minutes later, the same car came by again with the same driver yelling a string of obscenities toward our female classmate before speeding off. Though we tried to get the license plate, the darkening skies and the car’s speed prevented obstructed our efforts. In the midst of this, she turned to us and said “WTF was that about?!!”

    The second occasion a few months later happened a few blocks from campus when I spotted another speeding car filled with a couple of White teens yelling a horrid mix of cat-calls and racial slurs towards an interacial couple who happened to be out on a saturday afternoon stroll.

  28. Morgan
    July 21, 2007 at 10:16 am

    I think race obviously plays out in the cliched but often real situations described above (the middle class white woman v. poor men of color), but I think it just further illustrates issues of gender and social conditioning. If the going theory is that poor men of color catcall white women in the street to express their rage at their lower racial/class status, they are still manifesting the power to vent their anger. The women (this is just based on the experiences of women I know, including myself) deal with their rage by becoming afraid of certain groups, feeling unsafe to walk around at night, often trying to downplay those fears to not seem racist, stuffing feelings with food, etc. All the “good girl” ways of dealing with anger. What I like about HollaBack is that it at least gives women the space to vent that anger and fight back without risking their personal safety.
    However, social theories aside, I tend more towards the idea that all men harass women. The middle class white guys may be socialized not to say it to your face on the street, but they can just bro down at Scores or institute a glass ceiling on the job.

  29. July 21, 2007 at 10:47 am

    SarahMC and ks: I really didn’t intend this post to be a chance for people to talk about how bad Black and “hispanic” (Latino) boys can be. In fact, you’re kind of exemplifying the problematic things that I talked about in my post. Can we declare this a “no going on about how bad you think men of color are, especially if done in a completely un-self-aware, uncritical way?” zone? Thanks.

    I’d also like to try to refocus the conversation a little bit. I’m really less concerned with talking about how people of different races and class levels harass women, since that seems to inevitably lead to problems. I’m more interested in talking about our discourse around it, and how race/racism and class/classism affects how we respond to harassment, how we talk about harassment, and what we do about it.

    I will say that I do think that occhiblu and Mali have a good point about the dynamics about who spends more time in the street and who has the luxury of spending more time indoors.

  30. SarahMC
    July 21, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    Did I say anything about how bad I think men of color are? Can I not point out a trend without being accused of racism & derailment?

  31. SarahMC
    July 21, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    Sorry, Jack; I didn’t mean to get defensive. I’ve just noticed something specific about a certain type of harassment and thought it might add to the discussion.

  32. Bq
    July 22, 2007 at 2:13 am

    I’ve heard total horror stories from other women of color about white men in the street. People like SarahMC disregard the horrifying history of how white supremacy and misogyny have played out in combination in this country. Believe it or not, it’s not all about the poor delicate white women vs. scary moc.

    Anyhow, wasn’t this post supposed to be about how discourses around street harassment are racialized?

  33. Bq
    July 22, 2007 at 2:22 am

    To clarify my comment, all street harassment is alarming and awful, but I take issue with the implication that white men don’t say threatening and vulgar things to women of color and try to take advantage of women who seem to have fewer resources/protections.

    Sarah MC would do well to read Ida b. Wells, who wrote about how rape charges against men of color came into popularity to justify the increased lynchings of black men post-enslavement while scores of black women simultaneously were being assaulted by white men.

  34. ks
    July 22, 2007 at 11:22 am

    I’m sorry if my comment seemed like that, I certainly didn’t mean it to be. I was just replying to SarahMC and noted that I have observed the same sort of behavior. I absolutely didn’t mean to come off as a ‘poor delicate white woman’ and I’m sorry if I did.

  35. SarahMC
    July 22, 2007 at 11:27 am

    Give me a break, Bq. I disregard white supremacy and misogyny? You’ve got to be kidding. When did I say or imply that white men don’t say threatning, vulgar things to WOC or ANY women? Did my first post in this thread not mention white men who harass? Now you’re going to get all bent out of shape because I also mentioned that I’m frequently harassed by little boys who happen to be black? Quit the witch hunt.

  36. Melissa
    July 22, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    It is kind of silly to watch the contortions people will go through to make sure the blame rests with white men. Is there some specific reason all blame has to be equally shared between the races? Do we also ignore that certain parts of cities have higher crimes than others just because it is an inconvenient truth?

  37. exholt
    July 22, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    To clarify my comment, all street harassment is alarming and awful, but I take issue with the implication that white men don’t say threatening and vulgar things to women of color and try to take advantage of women who seem to have fewer resources/protections.

    I would second this as many WOC at college and at work have related accounts of upper-class/upper-middle class White men who would catcall using a horrid mix of misogynistic, racist, and socio-economic elitist remarks. Heck, I knew of a few male White managers at my past jobs who’d proudly bragged about this with little sense of shame or fear of potential repercussions.

    What was more ironic was how many of these same men would turn around and hypocritically decry all men of color as “backward” patriarchal oppressors compared with their “enlightened” selves when they are no better. Several Asian/Asian-American women I’ve conversed with witnessed this “Orientalist despotism” discourse firsthand when upper-class/upper-middle class White male students or professionals would attempt to “pick them up” in class, on campus, and/or on the streets by presenting themselves as “saviors” coming to “save” those women from patriarchal oppression of their Asian/Asian-American brothers.

    This is not to imply that there aren’t some men of color who are guilty of catcalling or other forms of misogynistic behavior. However, the popular discourse which implies men of working class/color are more guilty of this practice compared to their upper/upper middle class counterparts underscores Jack’s point about how the dynamics of race and socio-economic class can shape many conversations on street harassment and other forms of misogynistic behavior.

  38. Lee
    July 22, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    Jack, how precisely should we talk about how race/racism and class/classism affects how we react to harassment without mentioning race or class? Without describing our feelings about these issues, it’s impossible to determine why we may react differently to different instances of harassment. If SarahMC feels more threatened by a particular type of harassment, surely it is helpful to realize that her feelings are based on her personal experiences rather than some pre-conceived notion of who harasses people. While it’s important to acknowledge that there are men of all races and income levels that harass people, it’s not terribly helpful to discount one person’s account of their own struggles with it.

    And Bq, no, it’s not all about the “poor delicate white women vs. scary moc”. All sorts of women are harassed, and they should all have equal voices to speak out against it and the culture that promotes it. But shame on you for trivializing any woman’s encounters with this behavior, regardless of color.

  39. Bitter Scribe
    July 22, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    Oh hell. Posts like this are exactly why “liberal guilt” has become such an unfunny joke.

    If a black man, a Hispanic man, or any other man of any shade skin collar doesn’t want to be posted on Hollaback.com, let him learn to behave himself around women.

  40. Bitter Scribe
    July 22, 2007 at 6:23 pm

    That was supposed to be “skin color,” of course.

  41. July 22, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    Jack, how precisely should we talk about how race/racism and class/classism affects how we react to harassment without mentioning race or class?

    I’m not Jack, but I would suggest doing exactly what Jack suggested earlier in the thread:

    I’m really less concerned with talking about how people of different races and class levels harass women, since that seems to inevitably lead to problems. I’m more interested in talking about our discourse around it, and how race/racism and class/classism affects how we respond to harassment, how we talk about harassment, and what we do about it.

    So I would suggest that comments like “Black men harass me more often than white men” aren’t really all that helpful or new, and aren’t what Jack is looking for. Comments about how race and class influence how we discuss and respond to harassment, and how race and class influence our experiences and interpretations of harassment, are more pertinent to Jack’s post.

  42. SarahMC
    July 22, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    I would suggest that comments like “Black men harass me more often than white men” aren’t really all that helpful or new, and aren’t what Jack is looking for.

    Well luckilly nobody, including me, said anything like that.

    I haven’t denied or minimized the experiences of WOC who deal with harassment from white men. As I’ve already said, I deal with harassment from men of ALL races. I never said I feel more threatened by men or boys of a certain race. People are turning this into something it’s not.

  43. Bq
    July 22, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    Lee, I was referring to a discourse that is out there, one that gets played into with comments like Sarah MC’s. You are deliberately misunderstanding me.

  44. SarahMC
    July 22, 2007 at 11:46 pm

    You are deliberately misunderstanding me.

    Doesn’t feel so good, does it?

  45. K.A.
    July 23, 2007 at 8:25 am

    There might be two things skewing the demographic toward an unrealistic population sample.

    1. I think because white women are more likely on average to be economically privileged, they’re more likely to know about internet phenomena like the Hollaback site and more likely to have a camera phone! I’m not a WoC, so I can’t speak for them, but I’m willing to bet they are getting degraded by white men a lot more than white women are getting harassed by white men on the street. So white harassers are out there obviously, but the opportunity to shame the misogynists aren’t coming to fruition.

    2. I think men of all races who harass women in this particular manner are more likely to be uneducated with dysfunctional families. If that demographic in NYC tends more often to be black, they’re going to be overrepresented on the HollabackNY site. The midwest and south is chock-full of uneducated, white, misogynist men with exceptionally dysfunctional upbringings, but that’s not where we’re taking this population sample.

  46. July 23, 2007 at 8:30 am

    One of the most unpleasant incidents of street harrassment I have experienced was a white guy insisting that he was going to protect me from all those “niggers” (just about the only person I have ever met who actually used that dreadful word openly) who were lurking in every doorway waiting to rape nice white girls like me. If he wasn’t actually upper class he was doing quite a good job of presenting as such. Oh, and he made it quite clear he was expecting his reward for his noble efforts in refusing to let me walk to my destination on my own.

    So if I had ever been tempted to believe that turning a blind eye to racism was a fair price to pay for protecting women (or maybe only white women, I’m never sure when people put that kind of argument) from street harassment, that experience would certainly have cured me of the temptation. I don’t even want to imagine how someone like that creep would behave towards WOC. But I can say for sure that racist assumptions do not work to the advantage of white women.

  47. K.A.
    July 23, 2007 at 10:03 am

    Continuing with my premise that this brand of misogynist harassment has nothing to do with race, but is highly correlated with being uneducated and/or raised in a dysfunctional family:

    I think the victims want to find ways to make fun of the undereducated harasser’s obvious stupidity. If a white trash redneck harassed me, I’d relish caricaturing his accent and poor grammar to make him even more powerless while packaging the memory for long-term storage. As a white woman, the possibility of racist intent couldn’t be considered in that case. But the same can’t be as easily assumed if I mock a MoC. I have a feeling the majority of the victims are mocking their being undereducated twits, which can inadvertently be construed as classist, and being classist can then inadvertently be construed as racist.

  48. Morgan
    July 23, 2007 at 10:42 am

    not to be a douche, but mocking a white trash redneck’s accent and poor grammar is still classist even if you are both white.

    it’s still mean to make fun of poor people even if you are the same color.

  49. July 23, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    Well luckilly nobody, including me, said anything like that.

    I haven’t denied or minimized the experiences of WOC who deal with harassment from white men. As I’ve already said, I deal with harassment from men of ALL races. I never said I feel more threatened by men or boys of a certain race. People are turning this into something it’s not.

    Sarah, I wasn’t addressing or criticizing. you. I was responding to Lee’s question.

  50. Hector B.
    July 23, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    Caution, crude catcalls ahead: From my experience, middle class whites catcall just like anyone else. At different times in white, white suburbia, I worked with two young white guys, college graduates who boasted of catcalling young women from their cars (presumably the women were white because of geography). Their calls stick in my mind because they were surrealistic yet the guys were so proud of their “wit”. One, to a female cyclist: “Hey, it’s illegal to peddle ass in the street.” The other, to women walking in the same direction, “Do you have fries to go with that shake?”

  51. exholt
    July 23, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    2. I think men of all races who harass women in this particular manner are more likely to be uneducated with dysfunctional families. If that demographic in NYC tends more often to be black, they’re going to be overrepresented on the HollabackNY site. The midwest and south is chock-full of uneducated, white, misogynist men with exceptionally dysfunctional upbringings, but that’s not where we’re taking this population sample.

    K.A.,

    Out of curiosity, what do you mean by undereducated?

    I am not so sure if being poor, undereducated, and from a dysfunctional family necessarily makes one more predisposed to harassing behaviors. Such assumptions facilitates our buying into the societal stereotypes of harassers being socially marginal through their being poor, undereducated, and/or from a dysfunctional family. It also makes it easier for those with race, class, or gender privileges to assume such behaviors could only come from these “othered” folk and thus, make it easier to dismiss the possibility that such behaviors could come from more “normal” men (White, upper/upper-middle class, and/or from “normal families”). .

    While they may be the most visible harassers due to asymmetric privilege disparities within this society, there are many shameless harassers existing among White upper/upper-middle class and well-educated men as well. From my past working experience, the White managers bragging about their catcalling behavior nearly all had MBA/Masters degrees and were well-established in their careers. Moreover, nearly all of the harassment accounts I’ve heard from WOC were perpetuated mostly by upper/upper-middle class White students and young professionals in fields requiring a decent level of education such as law, medicine, i-banking,etc.

  52. K.A.
    July 23, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Making fun of poor people is mean, but in the hypothetical situation, I wasn’t making fun of him being poor, I was making fun of him being stupid. I shouldn’t have to decide whether the stupidity was solely caused by his poverty (I think the non-misogynist men of equivalent means might have something to say about using that as a pass) before I allow myself to fight back in some half-assed way that still cannot rectify what he takes away from me and all women.

    Yeah, you’re right that it could be construed as classist, as I just used the redneck example to show how it may not necessarily be racism. However, it’s not classist necessarily, because I’m likely as poor as he is (you’re assuming every white woman using hollaback is financially privileged), but in spite of our economic similarities and my absence of male privilege, I somehow managed to not be an aggressive bigoted fuckwit whose feeble brain cells can’t string a sentence together. I’m not going to apologize for every possible life path that I can imagine may or may not have gotten the misogynist to wear he is.

    I’ll modify my position a bit; maybe when I say “undereducated,” I really mean genetically dumb. If retardo black men cluster in NYC whereas retardo white men are clustered in virtually every other non-Northeastern state, this one group is going to be overrepresented. If they can barely string a sentence together, it has less to do with eubonics than the way they are saying it. It calls for mockery. I can understand why Jack wouldn’t automatically extend the benefit of the doubt, though.

    Misogynists are ignorant, and every element of their ignorance is fair game for being lampooned to minimize the power differential he has pathetically tried to create by victimizing her. I think if there is any -ism at work here, it’s cognitive elitism.

  53. K.A.
    July 23, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    *where he is.

    Exholt- I wrote my response for Morgan before I saw your question.

    I guess all I can conclude is that smarter misogynists are less likely to express it the way we’re discussing, which is a variation of what other people already said.

  54. exholt
    July 23, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    I guess all I can conclude is that smarter misogynists are less likely to express it the way we’re discussing, which is a variation of what other people already said.

    K.A.,

    I may not have been clear in my writing, but when I mention harassment, I am including cat-calling on the streets. From the experiences of many friends, acquaintances, and witnessing some incidents firsthand, upper/upper-middle class White males are just as likely to behave in such a manner. One difference is that it seems many people on the streets do not call them out on it as much due to the race, class, and social privileges they hold in this society. It also does not help that most of those friends or acquaintances had their calling-outs/complaints minimized or dismissed by clueless folks who said things like “They are such upstanding young men. You must be mistaken.”

  55. SarahMC
    July 23, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    Hector B., my boyfriend were riding our bikes on Saturday (around 2 pm) when some dude yelled, “Douchebag!” out the window of his SUV (to my boyfriend, presumably). I was flabbergasted. Guess it didn’t occur to him that if he’s the one harassing bikers for no good reason, HE might be the douchebag. Anyway, apparently some spectacular assholes verbally attack men minding their own business, too. I told my boyfriend he’d just tasted a bit of what most women go through while living their day-to-day lives.

  56. July 23, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    Back from being out of town for the weekend – sorry to be so absent from this discussion.

    K.A. – wow, a lot of the stuff you’ve written has been really problematic, starting with your assumption that street harassment of certain types is a result of being “uneducated with dysfunctional families.” Where are you coming up with that hypothesis? It sounds really judgmental and unfounded. Also, intelligence and education are not the same things. You can be extremely intelligent and woefully undereducated, and vice versa. “Stupidity,” as you put it, is not caused by poverty, as you suggest. Lack of education, yes, that has a whole lot to do with class, but that’s not the same thing as intelligence.

    I have a feeling the majority of the victims are mocking their being undereducated twits, which can inadvertently be construed as classist, and being classist can then inadvertently be construed as racist.

    When is mocking someone for being undereducated ever not classist? Why should anyone have the right to mock someone for their lack of education?

    However, it’s not classist necessarily, because I’m likely as poor as he is (you’re assuming every white woman using hollaback is financially privileged)

    I don’t think that being poor means that you can’t think or say anything that’s classist, even if it’s internalized classism.

    I’ll modify my position a bit; maybe when I say “undereducated,” I really mean genetically dumb. If retardo black men cluster in NYC whereas retardo white men are clustered in virtually every other non-Northeastern state, this one group is going to be overrepresented. If they can barely string a sentence together, it has less to do with eubonics than the way they are saying it. It calls for mockery.

    This whole paragraph nearly made my head spin. Genetically dumb? I don’t even know what you’re trying to talk about here. Your use of the word “retardo” is thoroughly offensive and ableist. I think you mean “Ebonics” when you say “eubonics,” but either way, what does how someone speaks or their English grammatical perfection have to do with whether or not they’re a street harasser? I don’t think it’s ever all right to judge or mock someone for their lack of mastery of the English language. That’s just wrong, through and through.

    Mock a street harasser for their sexism. That’s totally fair game – it’s mocking someone for their abuse of their privilege. Mocking them for other attributes, like their education level or their English grammar – that’s mocking someone for their lack of privilege. It’s classist. No way around it. No way to justify it.

  57. July 23, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    It is kind of silly to watch the contortions people will go through to make sure the blame rests with white men.

    Who’s trying to do that, Melissa? What I asked for in my post is a discussion that takes into account the many power dynamics at work in these discussions – issues of race, class, and gender, and how privilege impacts both the incidents of street harassment and the discourse around them. Would you rather that we completely ignore the racism and classism that often comes up in these conversations? (Just read through all the comments on this thread for a glimpse of that very thing.)

    SarahMC: No one’s deliberately misunderstanding you. Maybe you didn’t mean to come off in a particular way. But you did decide to come into a conversation about the ways racism and classism inflect conversations about street harassment and state your personal conclusion that Black boys harass adult women with great frequency, more than white boys, maybe because of hip-hop music’s influence. You announced that without any context, any analysis, any examination of what might be going on in your reaction. How can you expect that people might not have a problem with that, especially within a discussion about that very thing?

  58. July 23, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    You claim to want people to talk about “how race/racism and class/classism affects how we respond to harassment, how we talk about harassment, and what we do about it.” But that doesn’t really seem to be true, because you appear unwilling to talk about the possibility that the root cause of how race/racism and class/classism affects harassment is that harassers act in different ways depending on, say, class.

    In that vein, a personal experience of harassment that is put forth to possibly justify a conclusion is 100% relevant. One way that class affects it is that the harassEE makes judgments based on class. Another way that class may affect it is that the harassER acts differently based on class.

    To get a better idea of why your approach is problematic, think of a different example:

    Would you ask women in the business world to discuss “how gender/gender bias and class/classism affect how they talk about harassment” without letting them discuss the reality that they are harassed disproportionally by certain genders and classes? Would you expect them to dispassionately discuss their differing feelings towards harassment by men and women, without letting them note that the vast, vast, majority of workplace harassment directed at women comes from men?

    Obviously, it would be OK for a woman working in a big firm to note that the people who harass her are, if it’s a normal firm, disproportionately rich, and male. Similarly, (if it is true) she should be able to note that the majority of people who catcall her are poor, or whatever.

    Different people with different backgrounds manifest in different ways. I’d bet my hat that rich, educated, folks are more likely to drop veiled hints, threats, and references to upcoming employee reviews that “convince” their underlings to sleep with then “willingly,” for example.

    And in that vein, it seems possible (not likely but certainly possible) that there are other behaviors which are primarily the domain of a certain class. Street harassment in the form of yelling obscenities at women may, possibly, be in that category.

    I have to say, this is sort of your fault. You could have talked about harassment generally. Then you could have easily included harassment by CEOs, that took place at work.

  59. July 23, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    Jack, I’m sorry for posting something not necessarily related to your post when I commented earlier. As others have mentioned I think that this has a lot more to do with the demographics of “the street” (as well as the demographics of the user base of Hollaback sites) than with women feeling more threatened by MOC. I don’t doubt that race definitely plays a part in the actual incident (ie who harassment is directed at). However, perhaps I’m in the minority, when I’m walking around by myself and someone harasses me I don’t even notice race a lot of the time. I’m just scared in general.

  60. Katie
    July 23, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    I think this post is amazing. I want to throw my experience out there in the ring for everyone to chew on…

    I moved to a major city from a nearly all-White town in the suburbs and began to get street harassed, and it nearly drove me out of my mind. The thing was, that initially, I perceived all of my harassers as men of color. As I learned more about the way racism and classism operate, and began to work on my own issues around both, the observed racial demographic of my harassers changed. I think that women – especially White women – are trained not to interpret much inappropriate behavior by middle and upper-class White men as harassment. Following the logic of my argument, harassers of color are disproportionately represented on sites like HollaBack, at least partly because their harassment is perceived as such at the expense of equally harassing behavior by White harassers that goes unchallenged.

    Once I started working on my classism and racism, I started noticing a HELL of alot more harassment that I was experiencing from White men. (Yay doing work on yourself, I guess…)

    Oh, and it may read from this post that I’m White, but I’m a mixed-race Asian woman.

  61. Akisi
    February 19, 2008 at 12:46 am

    As a Black woman and a longtime anti-violence activist, I very much appreciate this important discussion. That said, I definitely notice here the common tendency to deal with the “discomfort” of the race/class/gender intersection by downplaying the fact that men of color who sexually harass (or engage in other forms of violence) must be held accountable.

    I understand, of course, the anxiety driving this, but I think it is quite dangerous to question/”complicate” fighting patriarchy in our own communities in the name of fighting white racism. Some of the comments come close to suggesting that women of color must somehow choose between their race and their gender (and, in speaking out about the sexism of men of color, risk being “race traitors”), a predicament we have been put in far too often. This is a false binary, as demonstrated by the work of feminists of color time and time again.

    It is, as the post and many of the comments point out, of course highly important not to perpetuate racist stereotypes while fighting sexism, which is rampant in communities of color as well as other communities. Downplaying that such sexism exists is not an effective tactic, and in fact subverts both our struggles and those of our sisters before us. Rather, we should be thinking about developing new strategies and building alliances that join anti-patriarchal and anti-racist struggles.

  62. Sandra
    February 20, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    Thanks, Akisi, for your post — I think that’s a really important point. I’ve been at several organizing meetings around Puerto Rican issues (I’m puerto Rican) where women’s concerns about sexism were played down and the reasons given were about “making Puerto Ricans look bad” as a community. The people saying this included Puerto Rican men, but also white people who didn’t want to come off as racist (but in the process silenced the voices of Puerto Rican women).

    Anyway, I was interested in how representation issues play out on these anti-harassment sites. I actually posted a photo on the Holla Back NYC site a long time ago, and was concerned about men of color being overrepresented and made to seem worse than white men. So I counted them all, starting with the latest post (Jan. 27, 2008) back through the first one (Oct. 4th, 2005). I counted at total of 140 men (some photos are of more than one man). Of these, 48 were totally unidentifiable, because the photo was either blurry or from really far away. There is obviously a problem with putting people in racial categories based on a photo. Nevertheless, of the other ones, I think that 47 were clearly white (one is a staged YouTube clip, but the guy playing the harasser is white). 46 were men of color from a range of diverse backgrounds.

    This obviously isn’t definitive because race is a cultural category and maybe other people would differ about how to categorize some of these guys. There is also the issue of racial markers being used in posts with no pictures, like the slang thing. But it’s a pretty diverse group of harassers all around anyhow. I actually think they’re doing a good job with these thorny issues, and some of the readings/resources on the “Anti-Racism” link are really useful and informative.

  63. Akisi
    February 23, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    Interesting figures!
    I should also say that I did not mean to imply that problematizing these issues is somehow negative or should not be done and apologize if that’s how it sounded. We must always engage in critical analysis with respect to our struggles, especially when it proves messy and difficult. I meant to emphasize the interrelation of theory and struggle and that we ought to work to translate our analyses into material realities – I actually think this is a great place for these conversations, and am hoping to have a bit of a discussion about what to do with the critiques laid out here. So:

    The point about the difference between work coming from within communities of color and other subordinated communities versus work outside of these spaces is key. Clearly there is a long history of profoundly distrubing initatives, some well-intentioned, some not, of privileged groups telling other people what’s what. In particular, white bourgeois feminism has frequently been guilty of this. Our collective problem, as I see it, is how to build alliances necessary for effective struggle in light of that history and suspicion.

    People, of course, have different views on this. Some think that alliances with, for instance, progressive and radical predominantly-white groups are inherently problematic and we must act autonomously. I do not think that is politically or strategically sound. There is a time and place for women-only spaces, queer-only spaces, spaces for people of color, etc. I am in no way suggesting otherwise. However, I think we must think very carefully about rejecting alliences with groups doing good work because they are white alone.

    I’m speaking generally here and know little about this particular case of the websites. It seems it is a good case study for this discussion broadly, though, in that it is not the classic, clear-cut case of a privileged group coming into a specific oppressed community and arrogantly regulating – I am in no way interested in working with people in that tradition. But the streets are everybody’s. So you have a white group, presuming that’s what it is, targetting a practice that is a problem for women generally (harassment by men), but the issue is that many of the culpable men are not white. Who, then, has the authority and legitimacy to call these men out?

    The issue of membership composition aside, I don’t see anything on these sites that is disturbing on its face – in fact, the project seems to me quite sound politically. It is also evidently quite successful in terms of getting the word out about this issue without relying on explicit demonization of men of color, looking at the press coverage. They certainly seem to be quite aware of the dangers we’ve been talking about here. However, the issue of who the members are–and how they are represented–is not nothing.

    -Would this be fixed if half the group were meaningfully-involved people of color also represented on the site itself?
    -If they are all white, would it have been better if they put up photos of people of color holding phones on the site to tactically prevent generalizations (lighter-skinned women doing the photographing of, in many cases, darker-skinned men), or would that in fact be worse and disingenuous?
    -If they are white, should they recruit a diverse membership actively?
    -And if they did, would we join?

    Just some thoughts.

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