I’ve started taking a new route to work that puts me closer to my actual office building. It helps me avoid a ten minute walk. While the commute is shorter, when I step off of the train, there’s so much more to see than what I notice on the longer trek. Outside of this train stop there’s a farmer’s market every morning. There are vendors selling dresses and other, mostly women’s, goods.
For years, I’ve been trying to get my hands on one of those Jamaican mesh dresses. You know the ones that often feature the colors red, black, green and yellow. Something like what Rihanna wore in her “Work” video. When my boyfriend traveled to Jamaica earlier this year, I tasked him with procuring one of those dresses but, to make a very long story short, it was stolen.
Anyway, so when I saw the dress hanging there outside, I kind of started meandering, wondering if I should keep on my course toward the office or stop and inquire about the dress I’ve been tryna cop forever. In my stagnant indecision, a man, Black, steps and bends into my line of vision, making sure I heard him over the music coming from my headphones.
“Are you looking for the Statue of Liberty?” He asked.
I frowned a bit until I noticed he was wearing a shirt with the image of Lady Liberty embroidered on it. He worked for some tourist company.
“Oh no, I’m not.”
Since I had been further delayed, I decided to ask the man with the dress a few questions. I was touching the dress on the hanger, asking how much it cost and did he have one with the red color in it, when the Statue of Liberty man says, “You don’t want that cheap sh*t.” I looked over at him, waiting for him to tell me something I didn’t know or explain further why this wouldn’t be a good use of my money. But he didn’t have anything else to offer. He repeated himself, “You don’t want that cheap sh*t…Unless you’re into cheap sh*t.” Then, looking me up and down, he said, “Oh yeah you look like the type who like cheap sh*t.”
At that point, I’m just confused. The Statue of Liberty brotha was going out of his way to clown both this Black man and his products as well as me and my taste. It was childish and uncalled for. And so I did what I often do when I deal with children who are behaving poorly.
I asked him, “Why are you doing this?”
He started for a second, stuttering before saying, “I mean, just because you have dreads doesn’t mean that…”
That was the last I heard. This fool wasn’t saying anything.
I tuned back to the dress man and asked if he took cards. He did not. I thought there was a Chase bank nearby so I made my move in that direction.
The Statue of Liberty man chimed in once again, “See she’s not even gon’ buy it.”
I rolled my eyes. I went into the Duane Reade which typically has Chase ATMs, with the intention to withdrawal some money just to prove the Statue of Liberty man wrong. But it was a Citibank. I didn’t want to pay the extra fee and I took it as a sign that now, like the years prior, just wasn’t the right time for me to have the dress.
Instead, I went into work. But as I walked the rest of the way, I shook my head at the Statue of Liberty man. I thought for a second that maybe I should have said more. But not only was it clear that he was seeking attention, looking for ways to pass the hours which he would undoubtedly be standing in the heat, I didn’t know how far he was willing to take our exchange.
Someone who would go out of their way to be offensive might not hesitate to hit a woman either. And being that the dress man didn’t have any retorts or responses for the Statue of Liberty man’s comments, I probably couldn’t count on him to step in if things did indeed escalate.
By the time I got upstairs to my office, I told my friend and coworker Victoria about the incident. Victoria is the ’bout it friend. Not that she ever goes looking for a fight; but should one present itself, whether it directly involves her or not, she’s not afraid to confront the situation. I mean, I’ve literally watched her jump into a fight involving teenagers on a New York City subway from Brooklyn to Harlem at like 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. Bout it. Meanwhile, I was half sleep, curled up in the corner. I opened my eyes against the unnatural subway lighting and said, “Gurl, sit down!”
Anyway, when I told her what happened, she climbed a few levels of crunk as she talked about what she would have done and said to him. How she would have reminded him that even if my dress was cheap (And at $10 from H&M, it was.), I was still able to afford the $35 dollar one while his career, soliciting tourists outside, likely wasn’t as lucrative.
We talked about how we don’t want to have to go there but Black men and their belief that they can say whatever they want to you on the street is nothing new. Men literally break their necks to oogle your body as you pass by. They comment on what you should and shouldn’t be wearing. They touch your hair and then get loud and angry when you tell them to stop. They demand hugs, following you into your apartment building and trapping you in an elevator to take them. A Black man threw an empty bottle at Victoria. Brande has had men offer extremely hurtful opinions about her body. And our experiences are not unique.
A couple of weeks ago, Damon Young, of Very Smart Brothas, wrote a piece titled, Straight Black Men are the White People of Black People.
I saw the title and rejoiced. Because for years, decades even, Black women have been trying to tell the entire Black community that one of our biggest threats in the world is the very Black men we’ve birthed. In the same way that White men use their power and their gender to oppress virtually every one else, is the same way Black men oppress the only group they can, Black women.
It’s disappointing. Particularly when Black women have been Black men’s biggest and often, only supporters. And as much as fellow Black women argue that we should leave Black men alone to take care of themselves for a change, that will never happen. Not only are we too loyal, we’ll never turn our backs on our own. Not our own children, our own fathers, brothers and uncles and not our community.
And for better or worse, Black men know that sh*t, deep down in their souls. It’s the reason Black men from T.I. to Kevin Hart to Chris Rock to Jay Z and more than a handful of others can do everything from cheat on to publicly disrespect and degrade their wives. They know she’ll never leave. It’s the reason the Black men never have to attend a march or rally for Rekia Boyd or Sandra Bland. They know that even when they don’t show up for us, we’ll be there for them. It’s the reason my neighbors were bumping R Kelly’s greatest hits just yesterday, knowing damn well he has a long and storied history of preying on young girls and a current harem of young, Black women involved in a sexual cult.
In the words of Michael Jackson, “They don’t really care about us.”
When I was talking to my coworkers yesterday and was thinking about this piece, I thought to title it the ways Black men terrorize Black women. Then I thought the word terror might be too extreme. Then again, I wanted to use it because apparently, harass, disrespect, dismiss, ignore, diminish, and degrade don’t seem to be getting the brothas’ attention. In fact, when the conversation of street harassment started being discussed among Black men, many of them dismissed our very real concerns as women trying to emasculate them, take away the thrill of the hunt, push the gay agenda. Maybe the word and terrorist will solicit a reaction that makes the brothas pay attention to what the women around them have been saving.
Honestly, considering that the definitions of verb terrorize are:
I don’t see how it’s that far off. While I haven’t been the victim of violence at the hand of a Black man, I know more than enough women, including those in my family who have. And I certainly have experience with the first two.
When I was talking to Victoria, I mentioned the fact that I don’t like to use a phrase that has become so popular, “Men are trash.” I don’t want to proclaim that because I don’t need any more trash men to manifest in my life. Still, there is something to the statement. And Victoria said, “But there is a certain caliber of ain’t sh*t men that are trash.” Then she hit the nail on the head, “And ain’t sh*t Black men are dangerous.”
And that’s just the truth. No exaggeration, no hyperbole. Fully dangerous.
I happen to be one of those Black women who will never be done with Black men. I’m just impatiently waiting for the day when they start doing and being as good to us as we are to them.