Last night, I decided to stop by my neighborhood bodega to get some tortilla chips because my sister was making guacamole. I did something unusual that evening by paying for it with cash. In a rush to get inside the house and not quite accustomed to dealing with change, I was still putting my wallet back into my purse when I stepped outside, turning the corner to come into my house.
Now, let me set the scene. I live in an area of Harlem where dudes never leave the block. Not to go to work, not to go to school, not for nothing. There was a whole lot of truth behind Dame Dash’s thoughts on Harlem n*ggas and their hatred toward 9-5s. Unlike Dame, they’re not building empires, they’re hustling on corners. And while I know that’s not true for everybody, for so many of the young men in my neighborhood, it most certainly is.
So, it’s standard for me to have to walk through a group of men standing on the corner before I get to my apartment. And last night was the same scenario. I walked through the group, and as they’ve been known to do, one of them stepped forward with a comment.
“Yo, I really like ya hair and your shoes. Everything you’re doing right now, is like…the essence of Black womanhood.”
It was so extreme, I chuckled.
“Oh, thank you.”
I kept walking toward my front door, literally steps away from the bodega. Dude followed me.
“So, what’s your name?”
I sighed, realizing the conversation wasn’t going to end with that outlandish compliment.
“Oh ok, Veronica let me get your number.”
At this point, I’m in what is best described as like an outdoor hallway, leading up to my building. And like a fool, I didn’t have my keys out. I’m standing steps away from my door, holding the bag of chips in one hand, while digging through my purse trying to find my keys.
“Naw, that’s ok. I have a boyfriend.”
“Aww that’s your personal business, what’s that got to do with me?”
Still digging, “I just don’t think it would be appropriate.”
“Alright then, just let me get a hug.”
“I don’t hug strangers.”
“Come on, Veronica. I’m having a really rough day. I’m from Massachusetts. I don’t even live here. I’m just visiting my cousin.”
“No, that’s ok.”
Just then, one of my neighbors is coming out of the building. Either seeing me or dude inspires him, my neighbor, to hold the door as he’s making his way out of the building. I dash to catch it.
“See, that’s my cousin right there. Y’all live in the same building. You gotta give me a hug.”
Now that I think about it, I don’t know if my neighbor was his cousin or not, I do know that the random dude took it upon himself to come inside my apartment building as my neighbor/his “cousin” held the door open.
I went to the elevator, stepped inside and pressed my floor.
Dude was right behind me and grabbed the door so it couldn’t close.
“I just need a hug Veronica.”
At this point, I’m standing inside the elevator, no one in my building is on the first floor and this dude has literally used his body as a barricade, effectively trapping me inside. And I’m frozen. In the moment, I don’t know what I was thinking. Just processing the scene. The smoking Black and Mild in his hand, his firm grip on the elevator door, the baseball cap. That’s it. I can’t even say I was looking at his face.
After I notice these irrelevant details, dude steps into the elevator, towards me and wraps and arm around my body. Then as he’s pulling away, gives me an air kiss.
I managed a pathetic:
“You have a goodnight now, Veronica.”
He lets the elevator go and I ride up to my floor, finally shaken by the reality of the situation as it was and what it could have been.
It wasn’t until I got inside and started telling the story to my sister that the foulness of the whole encounter really hit me.
This man felt so entitled to touch my body that he was going to force a hug when I very kindly and very politely told him that I didn’t want one. And what’s worse is that I was so unsure about what he might do to me, inside my own building, inside the elevator I use to take to my apartment that I didn’t even feel comfortable telling him to get out of my face, for fear that the “cigar” he was holding would find its way to the side of my cheek. Or that he would take more than a hug once he stepped on the elevator.
The whole thing really just made me feel powerless, saddened and sick to my stomach.
Sharing this story with others, I thought to myself this is why women don’t feel comfortable returning a “Hello” to strange men on the street or thanking them for what appears to be an innocent compliment. Look what it could lead to? And though I was clearly violated, I got off “lucky” considering what happens to some women who refuse or attempt to refuse a man’s advances.
What happened to me yesterday is just another clear reminder that it’s high time men stop regarding street harassment as “normal,” “part of the hunt,” “men being men” or “boys being boys.” I’m so tired of hearing that we should “take it as a compliment” or respond in kind. Men who have no clue what it means to be a woman, fearing for your life as you walk down the street or into your own damn apartment building should absolutely hush and listen to what the people who live it have to say about how it makes us feel threatened and unsafe.