On White Women, Their Refusal To Say “Excuse Me” & Other Shared Reminders Of Black Womanhood

September 17, 2019  |  

African woman standing pensive in front of a mirror

Source: Vladimir Vladimirov / Getty

The first time I can remember being co-opted out of my space by a white woman was on an airplane. I was about 15 or 16 at the time and I was on my way from California to North Carolina to visit my Dad for a few weeks in the summer.

I walked to my window seat and found that another white girl around my age was sitting there. When I politely told her that she was in my seat, she responded with, “Oh it doesn’t matter, we’re in the same row.” After reminding her again that that’s not how this works, a flight attendant came over to see what was happening because I of course was still standing in aisle, which caused a sort of backlog. All I remember is the flight attendant being flustered and telling me to take the middle seat.

I knew it was wrong then and it still stays with me sometimes that I didn’t fight hard enough to take back my claimed space. And this is something that happens on a regular basis to many Black women. A walk down the street becomes entailed in a dodging game of who will move to the left or right first. And when you stand firmly in your place, a shoulder brush, being hit with a bag, or a hard shove can oftentimes jolt you to anger.

A recent encounter at a Target in Brooklyn, New York, showed the frustration that Black women are rarely allowed to expressed. A Black mother was in the store with her daughter, when she observed that a fellow Jewish female customer had reached over her daughter without saying excuse me, in order to retrieve an item. Needless to say, the woman went off like a lioness would to protect her cub, and reminded the woman of the value of manners. As the Jewish woman films the encounter, she labels the Black woman as angry, violent and an unfit mother who wrecks havoc on her “terrified” child at home.

According to a Jewish outlet named VozIzNeais.com, the NYPD initially refused to press charges against the Black mom and instead helped her file a harassment complaint against the other woman.

While I don’t condone violence for a layered amount of reasons, the main one being that even if the Black woman hadn’t hit first but was fighting to defend herself, when police become involved, Black women are never handled with delicate gloves. Miracalously this situation went a different route. But the video speaks to the years of build up that Black women have accumulated in the lack of owness over their bodies. Seeing her daughter experience it most definitely triggered a reaction, knowing that this would be one of many microagressions to come.

The thread opened up another conversation on Black women’s lack of visibility which was thoughtfully covered in an August article by gal-dem, titled, “Have you noticed white people never move out of your way? The politics of pavement.”

In it, the author Haja Marie Kanu who lives in the United Kingdom, journaled these types of experiences over the course of one year. Through her account, we can decipher and confirm that the belief that Black women should and often do, make accommodations for white bodies is a learned global narrative. And this behavior is not only regulated to white women. White men and Black men do this as well. As we know, most of this subconscious and conscious acting out stems from slavery and how Black women were, and still are viewed as objects for use.

It’s important to note that In both Kanu’s account and in the viral video, Black women were the ones to offer any sense of visibility and safe space. As a Black woman there have been so many times that another Black woman has stepped in to make me feel safe in the face of danger, or when I am being mistreated and/or unheard.

In response, many Black women have evoked their own personal “hold your space challenge,” to take back their visibility in a world which often refuses to see them. In doing this, like the mother in Target we are stripping ourselves of the quiet reserve we feel when our bodies are neutralized. In doing this, especially in America, we are reaffirming the spirits of the Black women who came before us, who were not allowed to be wholly actualized human beings.

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