When I first got wind of a video going around that chronicled the experience of a woman walking through New York City, I was intrigued and a little bit happy to see something like that get put together. I have a few female friends that live in the NYC and all have shared with me experiences with street harassment, even flipping the phrase "Ay Yo Ma" on it's head and branding it. So I decide to check out what all the fuss was about, legitimately eager to see the result. What I ended up watching really scared me. And not in a way that the creators of the video may or may not have intended.
Before I go any further, let me make something abundantly clear: None of the behavior by the men in this video is excusable. Every interaction was clearly motivated sexually, so comments that seemed innocent to the uninitiated are actually just as toxic. If you want more insight on that verbal coding, you can check out my brother Bambu's track "The Queen is Dead" for a more articulate breakdown.
Additionally, I have no doubts that the interactions were authentic and nothing was "staged" to provoke these catcalls. This looks like an honest and realistic portrayal of this particular woman's experience walking through the particular areas that this was filmed it. But there, hidden in that premise, lies the problem.
As I watched this video, I became more and more troubled. Not just by the behavior of the men, but what became more and more abundantly clear, from my perspective. This seemed like a deliberately selective presentation of all the interactions that may have occurred during this experiment. The lack of diversity among the offenders was obvious. And being born and partly raised in NYC, and maintaining strong ties to it, the neighborhood selections were obvious and seemed deliberate. Something that could have brought real perspective to a real issue facing all women came off to me as propaganda for an existing and ugly sentiment: these black and brown men just can't act right.
Maybe that's a leap for some of you, and that's fine if it is. Unfortunately for me, it really isn't. And it's something the creators Hollaback! themselves are aware of, having hedged the video's shortcomings with information vaguely noting that "the reality is that the harassment that people of color and LGBTQ individuals face is oftentimes more severe and more likely to escalate into violence." This is absolutely true, but none of that is addressed nor exists in this video. None of that is being championed along with the obvious topic during this viral spread of the video.
Do black and brown men need to do better? Yes. There's no argument there. But it's not just black and brown men that need to do better. It's ALL men. Period. No qualifiers. This video doesn't show me that, nor did it come off as even trying to attempt to. Instead, it played into the faulty societal perception that I see a lot: "It's them, not us."
A great deal of society likes to pretend that black and brown men invented misogyny, that black and brown men are the only ones abusing their significant others, and that black and brown men are the only ones that "holla". This is disgustingly untrue. Yes, the men in that video are a party to the problem, but they're far from alone. None of the men in that video are paying the women they harass less money for the same work. None of those men in that video are denying women access to birth control and contraception, and none of them are legislating against a woman's choice to decide what she does with her body.
On my last trip to New York City, my ex and I met with her friend from college who works on Wall Street and told us to come down to the area to meet for dinner. As the three of us walked to get food, both of them were consistently harassed by all men. This included men in button-ups, men working construction, men in suits, police officers, all of whom included a white man within each segment. None of that is present in this video, but it occurs with the same frequency. Why? (Rhetorical question.)
I'm not out to shift blame or to discredit the issue of how women are treated by society. Men have a lot of work to do in the behaviors we exhibit, myself included. I'm simply disappointed in the manner which this particular project was presented if only for the fact that whether it was intended or not, it's a tailor-made tool for those who wish to push very dangerous agendas and perceptions of black and brown men. And in the words of the song I linked earlier, "somebody check me if I'm wrong".
Just keep in mind, this happened in the name of supposedly defending a white woman from street harassment by a black teenager: