I was born and raised in the Bronx. I was checking out girls’ booties by the time I was five. I recall seeing my older brother do it. One instance, I remember vividly walking with my brother in my Oshkosh B’Gosh dungarees, and a girl who seemed to be the same age as me walking by, and me turning my head to look at the big butt and a smile. I remember constantly seeing it happen in the streets. I’m pretty sure I had no real understanding as to why men did it. It was almost like we were hypnotized by the booty.
Very early on in our boyhood, we, men, are taught in our communities to objectify Black women. We are taught to condone behavior which may be demeaning or inappropriate. There was a phase in music videos where ogling women was accepted because it felt like our right. Check the lyrical content of your favorite R&B vocalist on Hot 97 or favorite rapper on Power 105. Now, I’m all for appreciating a woman’s beauty; I get it. But, that’s not what we’re talking about here. This is about what I saw and continue to see in the Bronx, in Brooklyn and all over New York City, that continues to make me uncomfortable: street harassment.
I remember the stories of my former partner: her walks to the train station where men would shout and yell things. “Yo, ma. You looking real sexy!”; “Yo, you got a fatty!”; “Why ain’t you smiling?!” The list went on and on. But you “You can’t talk to a nigga?! F**K YOU THEN, BITCH!” takes the cake.
What in the world would make you think, as a man, using any sort of aggressive language would deem you attractive to any person? And let’s cut the “you walking around with that skirt/those shorts/that top/that shirt/those heels” excuse. I don’t care if a sister is walking around naked, it doesn’t give one person the right to make someone feel uncomfortable.
Here’s the rub: maybe there is some far off universe where there are actually women who like being talked to disrespectfully in the street like that. But, why take the chance? You’re not complimenting a woman by shouting “Yo, lemme smash.” There’s nothing remotely cute about it.
Why have we made it acceptable and okay for young boys and grown men to talk and treat Black women like objects and not like humans? Say what you will, but as men we need to do better. Listen, if you see a beautiful woman, and you just have to say something, I dunno, try saying something actually complimentary, such as “excuse me but I think you’re beautiful.” Or, say nothing at all—just shut up. And if you really can’t keep it in, just maybe, say something quietly amongst your homies and keep it moving.
Street harassment extends to a larger conversation. When over 200 Nigerian girls go missing without a whisper in our media until hashtags make it an important cause, it begs for me to ask, what value do we place on our young girls? Do we care enough to protect our women? To love them enough to not disrespect them in a way that is harmful to their spirits?
As men, maybe we start by telling our boys it’s never okay to make a woman uncomfortable by yelling or stepping to her in a way you wouldn’t let anyone else step to any other woman in your family. Maybe it’s by listening and respecting their opinions, and not looking for ways to simplify our relationships and relegate conversations to sex and our own personal pleasure.
So, instead of treating Black women like objects, let’s simply start treating them like human beings.