As a boy I grew up hearing that it has to be a man that saves the day, so it was only natural that I wanted to be that man. As an adult, I sometimes find it difficult to take a step back so that the voices of equally deserving women can be heard, but I do it because I understand that for years I have had the privilege of being listened to solely because of what I have between my legs. So everyday I try to check my privilege and play my role in advocating so that we have equality for all genders. But I do have power, and that power is in my privilege, a privilege that I am not afraid to admit has helped me a time or two. So it is with this little bit of power, that I would like to take a stand and speak to some of the people out there who might listen to me rather than the cries from our sisters about street harassment–a serious problem, and we absolutely have to put an end to it.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll give you a bit of background. Street harassment, as defined by the website stopstreetharassment.org, is:
“Unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons in public places which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.”
Think of any moment in which you have provided uninvited attention to someone you didn’t know, think back to those guys that would shout at women from across the street to grab their attention, and then become upset when she didn’t respond. Think about that thirsty friend who see’s a “shorty with a fat ass” and decides to follow her for a block or two just so he could enjoy that sight. And when you’re done thinking about all of those scenarios, ask yourself; have I ever participated in this kind of behavior?
As men, yes even black men, we have an unfair advantage to black women. We have the power to walk down a street, wait for a bus, sit on a train, go to the gym or just go on a casual walk without the risk of some strange person staring at our chest, grabbing our genitals, trying to masturbate on us or calling us “bitches” because we didn’t say “hi.” The same black women who started #BlackLivesMatter would be the first people at the protest if one of us were killed in cold blood, can’t walk down the street or reject a man’s advances without their life or safety being put at risk. This is something we should all be upset about. It is something that should keep each and every black man up at night, it should fill our spirits with anger and make us feel so compelled to make a difference that we will shout out at the top of our lungs until every single person in the world starts to listen.
Black women need our voices now more than ever in a country where the deaths of women of color are virtually ignored and rape victims are blamed and bashed. We have to take a stand and use our little bit of privilege for good. The road will be long and the path full of rubble, but change is tangible. It might take years to convince society, but we don’t have to fix the world over night, we can start with ourselves. If you want to make this a world where women of color can walk the streets and exist without the threat of violence or harassment, begin by letting go of childish lessons. For years we have blamed the victim when a woman say’s she was raped and when a guy harassed or followed them, we asked them to explain their actions. Those actions don’t matter, it shouldn’t matter what a woman wore, what she said, what neighborhood she was in or what time of night it was. The real question should be the following:
- What can I do to help?
- Who do I need to call?
- Do you need medical assistance?
- Should I contact the authorities?
The faster we remove blame from victims and instead find more ways to support them, the better off we will all be. One of the most important things that we can do as black men, in support of black women is to speak up. Call your friends out, let them know it’s not okay to behave that way. If you see a woman being harassed or threatened speak up, if you’re not comfortable putting yourself in that situation then inform the authorities. We shouldn’t be leaving our sisters out in the cold to fight battles they shouldn’t even have to deal with in the first place.
Finally, take a minute to say Black Lives Matter, and when you do, remind those around you that the phrase isn’t just for men, it’s for women, it’s for Lesbians, Gay Black Men, as well as African Americans in the Transgender community. They need our love, they need our help, they want our support, its about time we stepped up and became the hero.