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leslie nikole
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IT'S NEVER JUST "HI".
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It's never just "Hi".

There's a Bajan folk song about what we've now coined "street harassment". As soon as I start humming it, I can picture my mother swaying in the kitchen, cutting up plantain and dropping it into a pan quarter-filled with oil, her voice as clear as day. We don't speak of it extensively, but the shape we've inherited links us to that song as an oral history.

« Every time I pass they pull at me.
Every time I pass they pull at me.
I’m gonna to tell me mama don't send me down there. »

On the road I am breast, slim waist, backside, and thighs. I belong to my father, I belong to a fictional boyfriend, I belong to the man next to me. I am not a human being and I definitely do not belong to myself.

« Every day she come down here.
She lookin so good, good.
And every time she pass by here
I like to touch-a she bamsie. » 

The recent video released by Hollaback! has brought a bit of light to the same problem that puts women, especially women of colour, under a spotlight on the street. However, editing out the gaze and vulgarity of white men is something I can't do. I'm stuck in this place of wanting to stick besides men of colour, even though many of them treat women of colour like this as well. As much as I want to support Hollaback! for putting this video out, I can't support the demonization and blatant racism it is drenched in and served on a platter ironically using AAVE, as the ladies at Black Girls Talking pointed out.

No matter their colour, it's never just "hi". I'm expected to reply. I'm expected to smile. I'm expected to answer to every "advance", and favourably at that. I am not supposed to ignore passing remarks. I am not supposed to refuse to smile on demand. I am not supposed to keep walking instead of stopping to talk. I am not supposed to refuse to give my name and/or phone number. I am not supposed to feel safe; I am on display, up for grabs, and I should like it.

« Every time she pass you trouble she.
Every time she pass you trouble she. »

But I don't. I hate it actually. I can't even go to the corner store for milk without it being a problem. I can't reroute my entire life around the potential of harassment in the street. I cannot spend every moment on the sidewalk worried I'm going to pass a group of men at a construction site, a barbershop or corner store with stragglers hanging around outside, or walk towards a man. I ignore. I keep moving. I fake phone calls. I fake boyfriends and husbands. I cross the street. I scowl.

Then I become a bitch. I am ugly. I am yelled at. Sometimes I'm grabbed. Other times I'm spit at. If it's late at night I'm threatened. If it's broad daylight a glass bottle will come crashing down on the pavement surrounding me. I could join the countless number of women murdered for not negotiating with terrorists.

There. I said it. Terrorists. That's how it feels. To walk outside, doing your own thing, and then boom, off goes a bomb. You're ambushed with vulgarities. You're just trying to make it down the block, just trying to get to where you're going, but you've got to hunker down and brace yourself against this first. There's nothing you can do about it.


Instead of taking a better look at what's going on around them from their side of the battlefield they've created, in general the complaint from men is that they're being vilified. "If they can't speak to women in the street, how are they going to get the chance to know them better?" and countless other questions that make it so very obvious that they missed the breeze when the point flew right over their heads. Instead of questioning the authenticity of the complaint, why are we not looking at the cause of the complaint? Since when has it been justifiable to speak, to anyone for that manner, in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable and unsafe in order to pursue them? Why are your feelings more important than mine?

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