(N.b. I posted this a while ago on my old blog. But thought I’d start the convo again)
‘Yo buff ting, ya looking nice today, still’. I walk past the bus stop, eyes focused on the crossing a few steps ahead. “Psst, psst – eh gorgeous, can I talk with you”, the thick West African accent cuts through my thoughts, and I glance to my side to be greeted with a smile, dry lips, halitosis, and a phone grasped by an expectant ashy hand. I smile back weakly – ‘no, thanks’, and continue to walk briskly, while an angry voice shouts ‘You’re not that nice anyway!’ in my direction. I roll my eyes, slightly embarrassed at the looks of vaguely amused passers-by. It’s nothing new – I’m just another black woman, walking another street, in another town that could be anywhere in the world.
I’ve been to Jamaica, America, Chad, Guadeloupe, and I happen live in England. They all have unique cultural habits, ethnic mixes, foods, outlooks and landscapes. One thing is for certain though – anywhere where there are black men, I can guarantee I will be approached by a random member of the male species who feels that it is his privilege- no, inalienable right, to have an awkward conversation with me that he hopes will inevitably end in the exchange of numbers and ensuing ‘hook up’ or date. Unfortunately for him, all he will receive is a polite ‘no thank you’, or depending on the manner he decides to approach me, a complete lack of response.
Why so harsh? you ask. How is a man supposed to find a good woman? Answer: Generally, not outside the big cat in front of Catford shopping centre. As a black woman, I feel embarrassed, violated and intimidated when someone aggressively follows me and then demands that they have my number. There have been cases where I’ve been approached in a manner that hasn’t been intimidating. I’ve had simple compliments -‘I like your hair’ or ‘Sis, you look beautiful’, that made me smile (usually in Brixton), and in no way offended me, but sadly, they don’t form the majority of my experiences. The majority of my experiences are formed by barely post-pubescent (either in body or mentality) men, mumbling some psuedo understandable chat up line in my vague direction, while looking over their shoulder almost as if to make sure another piece of fresh bait doesn’t walk past without them noticing. If I respond negatively they usually slink away, but then I think I give off a general air of ‘go away you silly boy’- still, I’ve definitely had the ‘you’re butters (ugly) anyway’ response, and I know many of my friends have too. I don’t get approached by men in the street as often as the majority of black women who I know, fortunately, so I’ve had less negative experiences.. My brother tells me it’s cos I dress weird *shrugs*.
I’ve travelled a fair amount in my short years, and no matter which country I’ve been to, I’ve noticed that white women don’t seem to have to face similar interactions with their male counterparts. Sure, in certain areas you’ll get the odd builder wolf whistling from a wall, or on a night out a short skirt will attract a fair amount of cat calls, but day to day, I rarely see white guys stopping white women at random on the street and then hurling abuse at them if they refuse to entertain conversation. (eta – this is not to say that white men are generally more polite or treat women better than black men. Men are men. When it comes to street harassment specifically though, these are just my observations). I refuse to believe that white women carry themselves in a way that commands so much more respect than I do, so what is it that makes (a significant number of) black men feel that their behaviour is acceptable, or even strangely attractive? More worryingly, what in the psyche of these men tells them that a respectable woman would give her details out to someone who has quite obviously been malingering on a random street corner in order to solicit numbers? Why do these men not have a job? And if they do have a job, why the mittens are they not focusing on travelling to and from their place of gainful employment instead of interrupting my train of thought? Or maybe these men are purposely looking for women who aren’t respectable, which makes me even more concerned. Do I have ‘Hi, Tyrone, looking for a good cheap time?’ written on my forehead? What is it about black women that makes men feel that it’s ok to treat us like this? Someone, help me out here.
My Grandfather’s generation had a completely different mode of interacting with females than this generation, so I’m not sure I would be honest in just blaming my experiences on the standard ‘psychological effects of slavery on black male – female interactions’. Maybe it’s a reflection of the general moral breakdown in society. Maybe the fact that the media portrays black woman as sexual playthings at every available opportunity also plays a role. It could be the fact that more black men grow up without a father at home now, than ever before, and so are at a loss as to how to interact with women on a meaningful level. Maybe it’s a combination of all these factors.
All I know is that I’m tired of having my daily routine interrupted by every Tyrone, Dick and Harry that wants some ‘digits’ from me. Ladies, what is your experience? Black men, why do some of y’all do this? I love you guys, but WHY?? WHY??