Harassment Because My Boyfriend's White

There has been quite a lot of discussion on street/sexual harassment in urban and black communities in the U.S. lately. It wasn't until I went to Cairo that I began to fully understand what sexual harassment actually is and the damaging emotional, and sometimes physical, effects it can have on women. I am really grateful to the women who've spoken out about sexual harassment and spearheaded anti-harassment campaigns in their communities, refusing to remain silent victims. I've seen stories from women with children, teenage girls, and even my own younger sister about sexual harassment in the streets, i.e. "street harassment". I wanted to contribute my own experience to this dialogue because I think its a perspective that largely goes unnoticed:

Recently, I returned to DC for a few days to see my boyfriend. My recent unemployment has put us in an unexpected long distance relationship grey-area so I was very excited to spend time with him. Being in an interracial relationship in DC has brought some unexpected challenges, particularly in public places where black men or teenage boys are present. I've come to the realization that my boyfriend's presence provokes an inflamed, angry reaction from some black men without any provocation on his part.

On occasion, because he is with me, certain black men have felt the need to "put me in my place" or remind me about "where I belong". This has gone beyond a side-eye or "accidental" bump on the shoulder. The type of men who find sexual harassment to be appropriate behavior, become more venomous and rude in the presence of my boyfriend. In order to assert control over me, these men actively disrespect and debase me. For example, we've had incidents where a black guy spit at us and another when a car full of guys pulled up beside us and yelled inappropriate comments at me for being out with a white guy.

With that in mind, when we were waiting on the platform at the Chinatown Metro, I immediately took notice of the loud  and obnoxious behavior of the 2 black teenage boys that had stopped next to us. When the train arrived, we boarded and I intentionally sat us away from the young men. To relieve the tension I was feeling, I lay my head on my boyfriends' shoulder and tried to make light conversation for the short train ride. One of the 2 teens ignored my boyfriend and I for the remainder of the ride but the other tried to catch our attention by yelling provocations at us from across the train. After a few minutes of being ignored, he moved on to harassing another woman on the train.

When we arrived at our stop, my boyfriend and I got up with a few other people to exit the train and he let me walk out ahead of him. I stopped and turned around to see if he was still behind me only to realize that my boyfriend had paused at the trains door, body tensed, and staring down the obnoxious teen. Apparently, the kid had made a final disrespectful comment as I was getting off the train. Finally, winning the stare-down, my boyfriend, walked off the train before the doors closed. "You should have slapped him," another passenger said as he passed us.

Never-mind that my experience can be framed in an even larger discussion on perceptions of interracial dating in the African American community. I refuse to allow my relationship to become a political statement. I am far more concerned with the harassment we receive then what people think they know about our relationship based solely on skin color. I experience harassment often in DC, especially on public transportation or walking down the street. This harassment takes a darker and more heinous tone when my boyfriend is present solely because some black men feel as if I shouldn't be with him and they have every right to tell us so. As simplistic as that idea seems, the behavior of those who act on this belief is even more so. Harassment makes women feel simultaneously angry, dehumanized, bitter, and unsafe.

Therefore, as the conversations about harassment begin to take place in the black community, I want to contribute my own experience because it is the shared experience of manly black women in interracial relationships. I've found that people are often less willing to listen to stories like my own because there is an underlying belief that "you knew it was coming sooner or later" if you date outside your race. However, I reject this notion of blaming the victim. I am no more willing to accept  harassment from black men than I am from white supremacists and normalizing this harassment should be a cause for concern for everyone.

There is little difference between street harassment in Cairo and in urban areas like DC: these men are usually young, uneducated, disenfranchised, and disrespect for women is an inter-generational issue ignored or condoned by families and communities. The need to control women and constantly threaten their security is one only felt by men who feel weak in other facets of their lives. Black women, all women, should not have to negotiate public space to get from Point A to Point B. It's also time that interracial couples stop being the targets of harassment by black men. This harassment is reminiscent of the behavior of poor, southern whites in the pre-Civil Rights era  and has no place is any progressive society. More importantly, the conversations about street harassment shouldn't be between black women but between black men, between fathers and sons, uncles and nephews, mentors and mentees, and teachers and students.

Street harassment is a sign of larger social issues. We need to ask ourselves why it is that sons, fathers, nephews, or classmates have so much time to devote to making other people feel uncomfortable in a public space? Why haven't some teenage boys developed the skills needed to communicate with others, especially those of the opposite sex? Why do some people take the relationship of others so personally? With the recent spike in violence from teenagers on the DC metro, these conversations are timely and relevant. Black men need to have frank conversations amongst themselves to curtail this phenomenon of harassment in all its forms.
1 Response
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Well I found this site based on the google search of why black men street harassment. I searched because summer is coming and I would love to wear summer clothes. But with that comes harassment,groping, cat calls. Sadly I don't dress nice or in shorts or tanks because every other black man just has to come up to mr and average looking! It's scary and annoying