Street Harassment and race

I first heard about the Hollaback video on Monday morning when I caught the tail end of an NPR piece about it. I vowed not to watch it because I just felt like I couldn’t handle seeing any more misogyny than I already do. But then I heard that many women of color were calling the video out for its exclusivity and I decided I needed to see it. Here’s the original video, in case you want to watch it – though understandable if you don’t (personally, I didn’t have as averse a reaction to it as I’d expected, however, I was also critiquing it for white privilege/supremacy).

Then I watched the response, which was put together by Collier Meyerson of Jezebel. It was an amazing response and just from reading a summary of it, I could see what was problematic about the hollaback video, which features only one white woman being harassed by men of color, particularly black and Latino men. Women of color, rightly so, take offense to not having been included in the video and for the omission of the fact that they are often harassed by white men.

I was not at all surprised to hear that harassment against women of color is often done by white men. I’ve been harassed and humiliated by men of color but also by white men. I don’t know if white men harass me more or not, though I would not be shocked to find out that they do. And I think that women of color are harassed largely by white men illuminates an important, perhaps the key component of harassment/oppression and that is entitlement. To me, it’s just like of course white men harass women of color often. There’s a huge power divide there and white men have so much more privilege. To me, there is a direct correlation between privilege and entitlement. This doesn’t mean that everyone with privilege is abusively entitled. But. Privilege goes hand in hand with entitlement so if someone has abusive, entitled beliefs and is highly privileged then they may very well harass members of oppressed groups.

Though I’m talking about white men and how their white and male privilege gets played out on women of color, this isn’t just about men. Due to the sheer and deliberate societal ignorance of privilege, people with privilege often don’t recognize the way it benefits and thus, entitles them. So, white ladies, I’m looking at us too. While the original video is about misogyny, the response video is about misogyny and white supremacy within the feminist movement. And all white women need to be mindful and accountable to their privilege, even, perhaps especially, when talking about misogyny. I mean, I regret to say it but I doubt I would have picked up on some of the disparities in this film if Collier Meyerson hadn’t put together such a powerful and well-articulated response – one she shouldn’t have to make in the first place because the film really should not have dismissed women of color in the first place. But I’m white and so I have to remember I see the world through a lens of white privilege and that means I may have been ignorant to many, maybe all, of the problematic elements of the original video. And this is an example of how I need to be more accountable.

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