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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

115

"Trayvon Martin and I Ain't Shit"

If you haven't read Questlove's "Trayvon Martin and I Ain't Shit" piece at NYMag, you must; it's kind and honest and heartbreaking, a reminder of how strongly our bodies speak for us and how fraught this speech can be if you're big and black and male:

My friends know that I hate parking lots and elevators, not because they are places that danger could occur, but it's a prime place in which someone of my physical size can be seen as a dangerous element. I wait and wait in cars until I feel it's safe for me to make people feel safe. [....] But my feelings don't count. I don't know why it's that way. Mostly I've come to the conclusion that people over six feet and over weight regulation or as dark as me (or in my tax bracket) simply don't have feelings. Or it's assumed we don't have feelings.

Would this piece be widely read by white people if the writer hadn't been the universally appealing Questlove, who plays children's instruments on Jimmy Fallon and produced for Fiona Apple and Joss Stone? The answer to that question (a definite "no") adds a crucial dimension to his story.

115 Comments / Post A Comment

hallelujah

Ugh. Devastating. I'd also suggest Ta-Nehisi's response in the Atlantic to Richard Cohens steaming pile of racist fuckery in the Post yesterday. Ta-Nehisi Coates makes everything better.

themegnapkin

@hallelujah Fucking Richard Cohen.

packedsuitcase

@hallelujah I can't stop being grateful to the Pintariat for introducing me to Ta-Nehisi Coates. His articles about this have been amazing.

There is a line in Charles M. Blow's op-ed in the NYT that just...I don't know if "haunts" is the right word, but it's burrowed into my heart and is breaking it, bit by bit. "At what precise pace should a black man walk to avoid suspicion?" I've found a lot of underlying racial BS in myself lately, things I always believed were just me paying attention to my surroundings and being vigilant in high-risk areas, you know? Until I stopped and really thought about why I felt that way. And that line, it just killed me. How often have I fucked this up and made somebody else feel terrible? And how, in believing this was just "being safe" have I contributed to a society that makes the Trayvon Martin case possible?

TL;DrR - So yeah. Thank you, Pin, for raising my awareness.

iceberg

Oh my god, I just want to hug him so hard.

(while still acknowledging that I might not have said my floor number either? But if so, because he's a large man I don't know personally, not because he's black, and because any man, even (or especially) RICH men, could be a rapist. It'd be kind of silly to relax my personal safety rules for fear of hurting a complete stranger's feelings, when the stakes are so much higher on my side. DISCUSS!!!

iceberg

@iceberg I guess I should point out if I DID recognize him, obviously he could have my floor number (and maybe some other numbers as well hollaaaaaa)

RK Fire

@iceberg Yeah, a friend of mine posted something along those lines as well on facebook. I got into a tiff on FB as well (I know, I know) about how much race played a role in the incident, and Mansplaining Old Acquaintance High School was like "well, as a cop, I tend to size up people and anyone in a hoodie at night is going to seem threatening to me" and I replied "you know, hi, I'm a small woman who lives in a major city, I understand making judgement calls about people you pass on the street, all men are somewhat threatening to me." I don't know what the answer is, but I try to be really honest with myself and wonder "would I feel this way if this person was white? even lighter-skinned? smaller? older? etc."

It's just sad that so many of us have these reasons to guard ourselves as we move through the world, although being hyper-aware that you are probably constantly seen as a threat is soul-crushing.

iceberg

@RK Fire Oh yeah! I do that "check yourself" thing too. Quest wrote a really similar piece for Racialicious a long time ago that I don't remember as having as much of the same distraction of gender issues in it. And having looked at the comments over there I feel a bit bad for bringing up that angle, because Questlove seems like such a human teddy bear!

Li'l Sebastian

@iceberg I also had thoughts about that part of the essay, especially combined with Questlove's repeated comments about how cute she was.

I wonder, and I haven't discussed this with black men that I know -- in general, do black women and other women of color react with the same kinds of fear and protective behaviors against black men as white women do (in general)? I think that's an important piece of information in understanding whether white women's (our collective) reaction to black men as people who are unsafe is a reaction to *men* in general... but maybe I'm wrong? Anyway, I would very much appreciate anyone's thoughts on this.

Also, responding to Scandyhoovian's point below that everyone is focusing on just this one part of this story -- I want to emphasize that I felt a lot of sympathy for Questlove's overall point and completely believe him when he says that people respond to him because of his race.

Scandyhoovian

@iceberg I'm with you. Years and years of being a smallish single woman in a big city who relied on public transpo taught me all the ways that I worry about my own safety in spaces, public or less public (like an elevator), with strangers. I would likely not have given my floor number either. Alone in an elevator with a strange man twice my size, I'd be concerned about my safety in terms of sexual assault more than anything else. You can never tell by looking if someone is going to be a safe person or if they're going to be that creep that memorizes your floor number so they can come try and find you later, you know?

RK Fire

@Li'l Sebastian I can only speak for myself as an Asian woman, but I know that I tend to be protective around all men.. I think my perceptions are colored by class though. o_O In a really abstract-useless-on-an-indivdual-level, I would guess non-Black POC probably do react that way because we're all subject to the larger cultural messages of anti-Black racism and colorism as a whole. White people aren't the only ones susceptible to being afraid of Black people.

packedsuitcase

@Scandyhoovian Yeah. I have given the wrong floor number in hotels, turned the wrong way down streets when feeling like cars filled with guys that saw me at a stop light were following me, etc. I hate that I feel like I have to do it, but I often do it before I even think about it.

Li'l Sebastian

@RK Fire Oh geez that is a good point. Thanks for making it. Unfortunately it's pretty impossible to "control for racism" in this racist-ass society.

smartastic

@Li'l Sebastian Here's another, related thing. As a white woman living in a mostly black neighborhood, I would say that people in this context are way more friendly and chatty and helpful with each other than in any neighborhood I have ever lived in. While acknowledging racism (my own subconscious behavior included), I can also see situations in which my natural distance, whether of the 'no I will not tell you the floor I live on', or 'why would I say hello to someone I don't know on the street?' variety, could be seen as an affront. These are very muddied waters. BUT I also think that the onus is on the non-discriminated class to be self aware and, if anything, overcompensate.

RK Fire

@Li'l Sebastian No worries. I've been thinking about it a lot; for instance, the store owner in my anecdote below was also Asian, albeit older (and likely a different ethnicity), and I was a little bit like "wtf, lady??"

@smartastic I do that actually, especially when it comes to greeting people on the street.

klemay

@iceberg Yeah, my personal safety comes before any man's feelings. End of story. I'm protective around ALL men, because men do really violent/messed-up things to women ALL THE DAMN TIME. I understand why people are getting mad at those only focusing on this anecdote, but maybe this was not the anecdote for Questlove to use, y'know?

themegnapkin

@iceberg this is so hard, and I know I'm privileged for never having suffered from violent crime. The way I *choose* to look at it, and I know this response isn't available to many people, is that statistically I am very unlikely to be a victim of random crime, and the small risk of great harm to me is outweighed by the inevitable harm to black men that will result if I treat them with fear. I do my best to protect myself in any way that I don't think can be construed as discriminatory - I lock my car doors immediately (ask any black man in an urban area if he can recognize the sound of a car's doors locking as it passes him on the sidewalk), and I try not to walk alone at night (unless I'm walking my 14-pound dog, who I count on for protection), but if I do, I walk quickly and confidently. But I would have given Questlove my floor number.

iceberg

@themegnapkin OMG this is such a good pioint. I just realized that I do nod and smile and exchange "how you doin'?"s with my neighbors, who are mostly black and often male, and this woman would have to know Q was either a neighbor or a guest of a neighbor... I guess I'm not used to (door-securitied) apartment living ;) and a floor number is not an apartment number.

amuletum

@klemay

This is such a delicate issue but I really feel you on this one. I'm a scrawny young woman with severe PTSD. I've twice been yelled at by Black men for supposedly acting afraid of them on the street. I know I can't take it personally because they don't know me, but I honestly get startled by sparrows and falling leaves, never mind a strange man walking behind me. I cried really hard after both of those incidents, not just because I'd been screamed at for an anxiety disorder that I can't control, but because we live in a messed up world in which those men have been discriminated against enough times that they assumed it was happening again, whereas a white man might've just thought, "this weird girl sure is jumpy."

Sorry if I didn't word this in an eloquent way. I just wanted to let you know that I definitely see where you're coming from. In theory, I want to give all the so-called scary-looking men the benefit of the doubt so that I don't hurt their feelings, but reality is far more complicated. I would do anything to prevent being attacked again, and unfortunately that means some men will choose to interpret my fear as a personal offense against them. I'm sorry that it has to be like this but I don't know any other way.

Faintly Macabre

@RK Fire So much exactly this, and I'm glad I'm not the only one who wonders about every judgment call I make. It's indicative of how deeply racist our society is that even people who are mostly not racists and actively try to scrub themselves of prejudice still have racist thoughts or actions. (Not to call you a racist!) It's equally sad how most women have to regard every man as a potential threat in some situations. Ignoring other disadvantages/privileges of race and gender, I often wonder which has the heavier psychic toll--constantly being seen as a threat or constantly looking for them.

blushingflower

@iceberg
One of the most common "reasons" for lynchings was sexual assault (or just talking to) a white woman by a Black man. There is an idea that Black men (and women) are more sexual (including the stereotype that they are better-endowed) and while sometimes that is presented in a flattering light, it stems from an idea that Black Africans and their descendents are "closer to nature" or more "primitive". I think many women have unconsciously absorbed that idea and see Black men as more sexually threatening than a white man of equal proportion would be. It doesn't help that so many of our cultural images of Black men are imbued with a lot of physicality.

RK Fire

I read the article this morning. I think I've reached full on Trayvon-related essay saturation from all of the heart weariness that comes from reading the many, many excellent essays that have come out about race, notions of who is threatening, and bodies moving through public spaces.

Also, a few weeks ago was the first time my husband had been clearly eyeballed by a local liquor store owner/worker when he was with me (and said person implied that she thought we weren't together), and that was enraging/soul-destroying as well. While I'm grateful that I don't have to deal with this particular flavor of examination/scrutiny/vigilance, it's just so maddening..

Lily Rowan

Goddamn.

Also, don't read the comments.

Scandyhoovian

@Lily Rowan I was about to say the same thing. Everyone's fixating on the girl in the elevator story and missing the larger point -- that the story is just one example. *sigh*

iceberg

@Scandyhoovian yeahhhh guilty.

Lily Rowan

@Scandyhoovian I just saw one where a (white?) woman was like, "Yeah, me too." YEAH NO. You worry about your safety. He is worried about being seen as a threat! Those are opposites. OPPOSITES.

Scandyhoovian

@iceberg I mean, considering the woman's perspective there is worthwhile, I think. I joined in above! But I do think that the comments on the article are awful in that it seems to be the only thing they're discussing about the whole article, when Questlove is specifically discussing that it's a way of life for him. That he experiences this kind of thing every day, and that he and other people of color have to live with this kind of suspicion all the time.

iceberg

@iceberg which motivates me to share a different story of a (black, male) photographer friend of mine who was taking photos in a fancy shopping area of town, when it started to rain - he tucked his long lens under his coat to protect it and next thing he knew, he was surrounded by cops screaming at him to put his hands on his head. They were responding to a call from a shopkeeper terrified of the black man stalking her storefront with the sawed-off shotgun under his coat.

One officer suggested that he and his girlfriend find a new place to shop. No one ever offered an apology.

And he's not even a big dude, and he dresses kind of preppy! Kind of a more casual Andre 3000. (Which to me, clothing says more than skin color, but that's just me)

smartastic

@Scandyhoovian Oh, totally. But I did come back to The Hairpin to see people's response to the gender angle 'cause it is a feminist website and all.

klemay

@Lily Rowan As I said upthread, I understand why it's messed up to only focus on the elevator anecdote, but I don't think that was the one to go with, y'know? And he probably has no idea what it's like to live in a world where you're constantly at risk of sexual assault, so we have to give him the benefit of the doubt there... but that part of the post really did not sit well with me and I understand why it got under the skin of so many other women, too.

Scandyhoovian

@klemay It is interesting to me to see that the article has in itself a bit of a... I'm not sure how to describe it, but it's interesting that in an article about discussing the issues about perception of himself, he projects a different perception upon the woman in the elevator, assuming that her actions are based on one thing (race) when they may very well be based in another (safety).

Lily Rowan

@Scandyhoovian I think he's pretty explicit in saying that people's reactions to him are based on gender, size, and race. He knows they all come into play when strangers assess whether or not he is safe to be around.

Amphora

@iceberg I was on a date once with a Nigerian guy at a museum exhibit on Nazi RACIAL PROFILING and medical testing (I pick the MOST FUN DATES GUYS), and because I take forever he wanted to go sit on the bench outside the exhibit. When I got out I found a security guard standing over him ordering him to get up. Guy had been studying for the bar exam half the night and nodded off and this asshole thought he was some kind of loiterer. INDOORS. IN A PAID ENTRANCE BUILDING. IN FRONT OF THE NAZI EXHIBIT.

Scandyhoovian

@Lily Rowan Fair point. I didn't intend to water it down, apologies.

Judith Slutler

@Scandyhoovian For real, a white woman's sense of safety in a country like the US can't be separated from her perceptions of race. Both our perceptions of justifiable fear in public space and his feeling that he is unjustifiably treated as a threat, can be A Thing at the same time.

In fact this is one of the main problems with the standards of self-defense involving "justifiable fear for your life." If a lifetime of stereotyping has primed us to think of one group as more frightening than another, how much faster may we get into a confrontation with a member of that group?

Critical thinking can't necessarily do an end-run around what we've been taught, but we do need to keep all this in mind.

dontannoyme

@Lily Rowan I thought there was a lot about race and size and not so much about gender - to the point where he felt he needed to add the bit about her being hot. I get his general point about him needing to manage his public persona all the time so people are mentally disarmed around him but it would have been better if he hadn't made it using as an example someone who constantly has to manage her public persona all the time so that she doesn't get sexually assaulted and then blamed for it. Yes it's just an example of a wider situation so I get that but I don't think he showed much awareness of what it's like to carry that burden around with you in lifts and in carparks and in swanky restaurants.

ColdFinger

@Scandyhoovian I made a comment below, and I think this'll be my last one to avoid getting worked up(at least without someone entering into discussion directly with what I'm saying) - but the elevator thing seems pretty shocking if you live in New York. I considered googling where Questlove lives, but knowing that it's a building with Oscar winners and record producers is probably enough info: that building's gotta have security up the wazoo.

I wasn't thrilled with the fact that Questlove's description of the woman was all "boom chick-a-waawaa," and I'm not naive to the fact that gender's at play here, as well as race. But not telling someone your floor in a building in that situation can't be construed as anything *but* racist, I'm pretty sure. It's just... I don't know; part of life here, where we're constantly letting strangers into our buildings to bring us dinner or groceries, or to walk our pets. (Sorry if I'm doing a bit of New York'splaining here, but I think it might be why people got so hung on on NYMag's website.)

Diana

@Lily Rowan

"not telling someone your floor in a building in that situation can't be construed as anything *but* racist, I'm pretty sure"

Not trying to be sassy, but I don't feel like you've made your case. What, specifically, about this interaction makes it somehow more safe for the woman in that elevator than another elevator? The fact that rich people live there? Rich dudes can definitely be rapists, too.

gnar

i had a bad moment the other day. standing on the subway platform, reading on my iphone, when i saw a person walking quickly towards me out of the corner of my eye. the particular station i was at had experienced a "mentally unstable person throwing someone on the tracks" situation a few months ago, and something about the speed and direction of the person walking towards me made my whole body spasm in like a startle reflex. I looked up at this 30 something african american man looking completely baffled and sad. I don't know if I saw his skin color out of the corner of my eye (I tell myself I didn't). But I got on the train, put on my sunglasses, and started to weep because of the hurt in his eyes and me feeling like a jackass.

Tuna Surprise

@gnar
I was walking home after midnight one night (when I lived in Harlem) and the streets were really quiet. I was walking and talking with my sister and out of nowhere a guy was standing in front of me saying something quickly. I instinctively just mumbled 'no, sorry' and he started yelling at me about how racist we were because he wanted to borrow a pen. The whole thing made me feel terrible. I hadn't seen or heard him approach and he really startled me when he was standing right in front of me. But I actually didn't have a pen. I feel comfortable acquitting myself of the racism charges because...jeez, who pops up out of nowhere at 1 am and asks a stranger for a pen...but I can't discount his experiences. I'm just trying harder next time to balance my female fear of danger with other people's need to be treated with respect.

yeah-elle

Likewise, once I was outside a BART station waiting for a bus, and a girl about my age approached me, said she was stranded, and asked to borrow my phone. I declined, because there has been a huge rash of phone theft lately (even though my phone isn't even fancy, I'd still like to not lose it!), but I mumbled a bit about not lending my phone out, but then said there was a payphone upstairs and I could give her change for it, and she reacted with disgust and was clearly offended.

I felt bad and really ashamed, but then later I wondered, why the hell wouldn't she want the change? One time I was stranded without a phone and I was so relieved to have the change for a payphone. But still, the fault is with me—regardless of my totally honest offer of help, I almost definitely reacted with suspicion and hesitation. I wouldn't have given my phone to a white lady, but I might have stumbled less in my excuse, no doubt about it. That's my fault. My stumbling wasn't out of fear of her—it was out of fear of offending her...but in the end, isn't that almost the same?

Judith Slutler

@yeah-elle @TunaSurprise

See, both of these situations - being asked for a pen at 1AM and being asked for a cell phone and subsequently having your change for a pay phone turned down - are sketchy. Tell that story to someone else, absent the races of the people involved, and they will probably tell you "That sounds sketchy." I don't think that credulousness, abandoning common sense or being artificially nice to people is what's called for in order to balance the scales, here.

yeah-elle

@Judith Slutler Word. These are a far cry from obviously stupid and racist actions like...holding your purse closer to your body, locking the doors at a stoplight, recoiling when someone sits next to you on the bus. But all of these potential situations and actions exist in the same context, so it's worth considering at least, I think.

I'm white, and so can't possibly know what the other side of the equation is like. But I can imagine how, eventually, all these situations arrange themselves on a spectrum and therefore start to blend into one another. If someone turns down your honest request to borrow their phone, it might seem a lot like someone moving to the other side of the traincar when you sit down, and you'd feel offended enough to turn down change, maybe. As a woman, the only parallel I can think of is how, after being cat-called repeatedly on the street, having your suggestions turned down glibly at work might feel like it's about gender, automatically. It's about how a hostile atmosphere can make you feel like everything is about that one thing, regardless of intent in reality. Because sometimes intent doesn't matter, of course.

These "sketchy" situations—they might actually be dubious, and they might be completely innocent and just accidental. All of us, I think, appear sketchy at one point or another. Just, people in positions of privilege tend to receive the benefit of the doubt, and "sketchiness" is erased, and those who rarely (or never) receive the benefit of the doubt eventually begin to be read as "sketchy" automatically.

I don't think artificial niceness is a solution, I actually have no fucking clue what a solution is. I'm just working out all my thoughts through typing, really.

Judith Slutler

@yeah-elle Yup. And as with gender, people have a right to react to our actions with suspicion. One of the very basic experiences of being white and female is to be told "ooooh if you make someone mad, you are definitely doing life wrong, don't you dare misstep or miscalculate or get on anyone's nerves!" We need to examine how we have been socialized to believe everyone must know our intentions are 100% pure and innocent at all times, and how that causes us to disproportionately react to discussions on race in a way that centers and audits our own behavior. I think.

Tuna Surprise

@Judith Slutler
I agree. I just think that it's always a good opportunity to think about how you make snap judgments and whether race is involved. I can rethink my actions using different variables of who approached me but I have a hard time determining whether or not I'm being honest if I say I would've treated a white guy the same as I treated this guy. Probably? Hopefully? It's so easy to get defensive about being accused of racism. But if the worst thing that happens to me in my life is being accused of racism when it isn't warranted - I will have lived an easy life. The guy I talked to that night suffers the real consequences of racism. Regardless of whether he misinterpreted my response.

I can't change what happened to Trayvon. But I can do my part to change the system that created the mess. I can stop contributing to the millions of indignities that happen on a daily basis due to the structurally racist system we live in. And one of the first ways I can do it is by listening to people who accuse me and others of racism and taking their concerns seriously rather than trying to rebut.

tangocharlie

I'm married to a very large(ex-football player)white man, and I see that fear that Questlove is talking about in some of my friend's eyes, and my husband is a cop.
Now, I realize it's different situation because of color, but the fear is absolutely absurd, and I know that my husband does have to think about his facial expressions and the clothing he wears before he goes anywhere in public, because some women and many men are incredibly intimidated by him.

klemay

@tangocharlie The thing is, the fear is NOT absolutely absurd. Men do violent, terrible things to women on a daily basis. I have no way of looking at your husband and knowing he's an upstanding member of society (and tbh him being a cop doesn't really help things anyway). I have to put my safety first and assume the worst. :(

tangocharlie

@klemay I can understand that you as a stranger have that feeling, it just stuns me that people who know him still are uncomfortable.

hexamaam

@tangocharlie Yeah, my dad is a big guy (and white), and has stories from his youth of seeing women cross to the other side of the street to avoid him.

He once terrified a woman who thought he was following her--he was going to visit my mom (then gf), she was going to visit my mom's sister. The woman burst into tears when he came up the stairs behind her.

Lily Rowan

@klemay My experience of knowing people is that the larger/scarier looking the guy, the more likely he is to be a sweetheart. Possibly because his size is enough for him to "prove" the "required" "masculinity" in our society, so he doesn't have to act it also.

ColdFinger

@klemay Oof, your comment really makes me want to respond, and I want to make sure it's clear I'm not discounting what you're saying. Yes, we have to be vigilant, and I neither want to be a naive suburbanite who wanders an unsafe neighborhood in the dead of night without her wits about her; nor someone who tries to *pretend* everything's fine and then calls the cops at the slightest unsightliness, like a homeless person just going about their business. But... isn't it true that *everyone* has to protect themselves, and that *anyone* can do harm, regardless their size, especially in a country where guns are as easy to buy as a vacuum cleaner?

We all size people up, and that's normal. We look at the look in their eyes, whether they're present or, say, mumbling to themselves, or whether they're sizing *you* up in a way that makes you uncomfortable. But just relying on somebody size and skin color is so, so troubling! I'm sorry, but I just don't think that violence against women, which *does* happen on a daily basis, but largely in their own home, can justify it. :(

(To this I will add that here in New York pressing elevator numbers for others is something we do every day, even in buildings without annoying card swipes - because it's polite. It's an inherent risk that other people will have some information about you in a city they wouldn't elsewhere. But there's also inherent protection in having people around should you electrocute yourself with a hair dryer. And in a doorman oscar winner-type building, it takes a very... special person to withhold her floor information. Ugh.)

klemay

@ColdFinger To be clear, I don't rely on skin color or size. I rely on sex. I'm suspect of any man I encounter alone on the street, in an elevator, etc. I also live in New York but I've never BEEN in a fancy doorman-type building, let alone lived in one. I imagine in a situation like the one described in the article I would probably just give my floor number (because, cameras and doormen!) OR if I really felt something was wrong, I'd just tell him a random floor and wait for the elevator to come again.

I think it's really, really unfair to tell women they can't be concerned for their safety "because most violence happens in the home." Violence happens on the subway, in the streets, everywhere! And even nonviolent behavior (stalking, groping, etc) can be unwanted and make someone feel unsafe.

ColdFinger

@klemay I guess "cameras and doormen" was sort of my point, even though it may seem like a tangential one to the debate at hand. Into that, throw in "other people around," "stricter gun laws," "faster police response times" and other things we enjoy in the city...

These aren't things I'm saying to hijack the conversation to talk about what a panacea we live in here - we don't, especially with regard to the class differences you allude to with not having been in a doorman building. But something in your comments isn't sitting right with me, and I guess it's precisely the way of looking at things entirely through a gender/threat lense. There is more to it, both in the sense of the dynamic, which is rooted in race and class, as well as gender; and in the sense of the context where all of this is happening: they aren't just in an elevator in a corn field (haha), and that matters. And that's a good thing: we are talking about daily dynamics, we are not at war.

I thought about how I would react to the same situation in a Section VIII building, and I don't know if it would be different than in Questlove's. I also don't know whether I should be ashamed, if so. But I think down below some people are talking about how to build social dynamics that don't require as much compromise/set up so much tension, and so I think it's worth it to think all these things through considering context.

klemay

@ColdFinger Yeah, I definitely see what you are saying! I just get prickly because women are already socialized to be accommodating to others without regarding their own needs/safety and that has some really ugly implications. But we should also consider that men of color need to be able to walk down the street without being treated as criminals just because of their skin color. And I want to repeat that the woman in Questlove's story could have ABSOLUTELY handled that better. First of all, like you said, cameras and doormen! Not to mention, she could have given him 1 floor up and walked down, etc etc... there are a lot of different ways to watch out for your own safety while remaining sensitive to others. But sometimes you have to make a choice, and in my case, I choose on the side of my safety. I'm not saying that's 100% always right, just a viewpoint I can understand and empathize with, you know?

klemay

@ColdFinger Oh wow I just saw your other comment saying that you're becoming worked up and don't want to reply to these threads anymore. I'm sorry, I don't mean to instigate further! Totally understand if you're not interested in continuing this conversation.

ColdFinger

@klemay Nonono, no worries. I feel like I totally overthought my comment, and I would still be in the middle of writing a follow-up if my boss hadn't come to interrupt me.

I TOTALLY agree that you should watch out for your own safety. Honestly, I think this whole conversation just makes me feel super thankful that this is something we're good at here in the city: living with wits about us, living with tension, but also not escalating unnecessarily.

Just. I don't know. I think I'm getting worked up because I haven't talked much about the verdict, because I wasn't expecting a different one. Which is another reason I want to look at big-picture stuff, not just personal behavior.

klemay

@ColdFinger Oh I totally hear you on the verdict. I unfortunately thought it would turn out this way, but I was hoping to be surprised. :( Lots of hugs to you.

ColdFinger

@klemay Thanks! So much to think about with this stuff!

catfoodandhairnets

I do this thing, when I'm alone and feeling uncomfortable about a dude (like "is this guy sizing me up to mug/otherwise attack me" uncomfortable). Because of where I live, such dudes are mostly, but not always black or hispanic. I smile and say something, like "Damn it's hot/cold/rainy" or "What is with this train tonight?". I do this because I want them to think I'm not judging them and because I don't want them to feel like I'm not comfortable in their presence because of their race and/or gender, even though that is indeed partly why I am doing it. Which makes me a hypocrite I think. It also makes me look a bit crazy for violating the NYC don't talk or make eye contact social contract and also sometimes they think I'm hitting on them, and I am a happily married lady so, I don't know. This stuff is hard.

smartastic

@catfoodandhairnets I think that's great and a totally accurate response. As I said above I live in a mostly black neighborhood, and I've noticed that people greet each other as they pass on the street. I think there are two parts to this: I think it's honestly friendly, but I also think it's a way of saying 'look, I'm just a person, not a threat, just saying hello'. When I realized that second part it made me sad, and it also made me way more aware of acknowledging those hellos and initiating my own as I walk around.

catfoodandhairnets

Yeah, It's sad all round really.

klemay

@catgoodandhairnets @smartastic Yeah, I do kind of the same thing. Though instead of trying to start conversation, I will smile and say hello. It's not inviting them into my space in case they ARE a creep (because, let's face it: UGH, men), but it's also acknowledging their humanity.

Better to Eat You With

@catfoodandhairnets I do this too, and then get pissed at myself later. I live in a historic but transitional neighborhood that's very racially mixed (mostly white, lots of black and hispanic) and surrounded by less safe areas. The other day when I was walking the dog, a black guy in a van passed us twice, then backed up and asked for directions. From the form the question took, I could tell he really was lost. And as I'm explaining, dude checks out my ass and says "daaayyyum," while I'm talking. I've been wondering ever since if I'd have told him off if he was white.

RK Fire

@catfoodandhairnets But at least you're trying? I know that sounds weaksauce but that's what I try to do too... make small talk, try to say Hi, anything that kind of says "I'm not curling into my shell out of unspeakable and unjustified fear."

On a more self-serving note, this is also a good reason to look at people clearly in the face so they know you see them, they see you, etc.

But anyway, since as someone else pointed out, this is a feminist site: what can we do to find ways of making everyone feel more comfortable in public spaces?

klemay

@RK Fire re: your final question: my personal safety will ALWAYS come before a man's feelings. ALWAYS. I would say looking someone in the eye and smiling is a good way to do this, but in the past this has invited men to sidle up next to me and harass me for my phone number, so I don't really want to sugges that women do this. I don't think there *is* a good answer, unfortunately.

smartastic

@klemay Yeah, but I think a firm 'have a nice day' can end that too. It's polite, but it's like 'look, I said hello, that doesn't mean I want to engage in a conversation with you'.

klemay

@smartastic If only that were true. Most of the time, even a "I just want to read my book" or "I don't feel like talking right now" won't cause a man to back off.

testingwithfire

@catfoodandhairnets I think Gavin DeBecker lends some support to this approach (i.e. speaking to the person) in defusing a would-be attacker in "The Gift of Fear," which I highly recommend. And if you're using that approach with the majority of guys out there, some of whom might be feeling like Questlove, so much the better. As you say, this stuff is very difficult.

I know I will always put my own safety over anyone else's feelings, but it makes sense for me to make myself aware of how other people feel so that if there's a situation where I truly sense no threat, I'll respond kindly.

smartastic

@klemay Yeah, it's true, it depends on the situation. I am a woman, by the way, so I get this. I've been working on sort of friendly dissuasions that don't assume someone's going to be a jerk, and sometimes they work. Sometimes definitely not.

yeah-elle

I do this a lot on public transportation, albeit in a more neutral way? Some men take smiling/small talk as encouragement, an open invitation, etc. If someone is walking down the aisle of the bus or train towards me, I tend to just make eye-contact and then look away, reacquaint myself with my book, remain confident in my body language, etc. I'm careful to keep my face neutral (or what reads as neutral, at least, since apparently I have resting-terrified/sad-face). It's about as close as I can get to a non-verbal statement of, "I see you. Hello. You are not a threat. But I would like to be alone." I've found that a lot of the time, if I do this, men will sit near me (which I'm fine with, cause they can sit wherever they want) but won't try to engage me in conversation (which is what I prefer). It helps me be aware of my surroundings and I also feel like it's important to acknowledge the people around you? Sometimes I feel like I think way too much about this junk, instead of, you know, just riding the goddamn bus without thinking about it at all. Unfortunately it hasn't stopped me from being harassed or even groped but ughhhh

raspberry

Okay, women live under fear of sexual assault, but aren't we misdirecting our vigilance and fear if so much of it is focused on strangers that we might pass on the street or ride in an elevator with? We know something like 85% of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. So doesn't that mean the odds of a stranger on an elevator assaulting you are in fact quite low? Is it really a significant enough risk for us to be altering our behavior around it, as many have said they would do? Especially when there are significant costs to altering our behavior in that way?

RK Fire

@raspberry We are, but I think we're also surrounded by a morass of information that either ticks through stranger rape on what seems like a fairly regular basis as well as the follow up responses of "well she shouldn't have been walking at night/during the day/wearing that skirt/existing" that I can't blame people for acting on that fear to a certain extent. (Staying indoors for the rest of your life while holding on to a taser is not a good way to react, for instance.)

But yeah, there are significant costs to acting that way in general.. and I don't know. I don't know what the answer is.

klemay

@raspberry I don't think rape is the only thing we have to fear. I've been harassed on the subway for my phone number, I've had men grope me or put their arm around me even though I clearly don't want physical contact with them, and I've had men try to follow me home. And, honestly, if the men we know do messed-up violent shit to us all the time, that doesn't mean we should start trusting those we don't know.

catfoodandhairnets

@raspberry Yes! But we are socialized to alter our behaviour in this way. "Let me walk you home, no really, I'll feel better", "you're not taking the subway at this time of night, are you?", "What was she doing out at that time of the night on her own anyway?"

So even though I know it's illogical, I have a gut response. I ride the subway at night on my own and have acted similarly all over the world. I'm trying to train myself out of the snap judgements and fear, or at least to act in ways where it's not obvious to people, but it's still there.

Scandyhoovian

@raspberry I would argue that it's not just the far end of sexual assault that we are worried about, but the full gamut of unwanted attention, harrassment, and possible assault. I figure it's better to be on your guard with strangers than to just assume the best of everyone, as much as I would love to have it be the other way around.

franceschances

On a related note, this Onion article made me straight up cry.

And perhaps this is not the time/place to discuss the difficulties of being a white woman. Not that there aren't any, but we can discuss that any day.

hallelujah

@franceschances DING DING DING

Judith Slutler

@franceschances Thank you. I understand that it's hard for any of us to just sit with the information in essays like this, without our brains immediately throwing up all the pros and cons of but how can I react to this??? and getting in the way. People, the idea of "scary black man" has been used to keep both black men AND white women in check under white male supremacy for CENTURIES in this country. Concerns about the safety and purity of people who look like us, were routinely used to justify the extrajudicial killing of people who look like Mr. Thompson, for centuries.

Let's just take a moment to ponder and have empathy with the person in the "girl in elevator with black male neighbor" story who doesn't look the most like us, shall we? This story isn't about our white guilt.

iceberg

@franceschances UGH you're quite right. I guess the solution is to keep one's wits about one, while outwardly giving everyone the benefit of the doubt?

ETA @Judith Slutler ohh you just reminded me of another thing, when I first met my boss, later he told me that he noticed I didn't have the same uptight body language around him as most white people do. and I was like, but, I knew you were a cool, professional person due to our previous email correspondence? Kinda broke my heart a little.

catfoodandhairnets

@franceschances Yes. The Onion article is spot on. I do think that as a group of (predominantly)women (many of whom are white), it's worth honestly analyzing why some of us may tend to act this way and what we can do to stop it.

themegnapkin

@franceschances OMG, that isn't even parody, is it? It's just good advice for surviving in our screwed up society.

Lucienne

George Yancy calls Questlove's story "the elevator effect" and he was giving a talk about it (and invited lecture! at a university!) and told the anecdote he gives to illustrate it, and a white woman student in the audience stood up and said "Bullshit!"

So, yeah.

Amphora

@Lucienne It's like that senator who yelled "You Lie!" at Obama mid-speech. As my friend said the other day, a whole lotta white people think their voices deserve to be heard over everyone else's.

franceschances

@Judith Slutler Yes - I hope stories like this prompt us to use our empathetic imaginations in radical ways. Two people in that elevator were afraid, even though no one meant anyone harm, and the reasons are deeply culturally rooted and we should be angry about them.

RK Fire

@franceschances @JudithSlutler Thank you both for these comments, and you're both awesome.

iceberg

@franceschances Yes, this is a wise comment.

Li'l Sebastian

@franceschances Boom, yes, that's it. Thank you.

Judith Slutler

@franceschances Yeah, exactly, that is beautifully put. It's good that the elevator anecdote is in there, you guys. It shows us how two subjective realities can exist in one place. If Questlove had wanted to write "Ten Practical Tips For How White People Can Make Me Feel More Comfortable In Life" that's probably what he would have written. This piece is not that piece. It's something to sit with for awhile.

E
E

@franceschances- when I read the Questlove thing I was thinking how its crazy terrible for them both in that situation. Women and black men are coming at it from the opposite side but it results in the same aspect of being really really careful and constrained with how you are in public.

bocadelperro

@franceschances That onion article put tears in my eyes (actually most of the stuff I read about this case makes me weepy and hopeless). Also relevant is Jessica Valenti's article in the Nation about white womanhood and internalized racism.

RoxxieRae

@smartastic Hey, that shit is why we wave, right? To show we're not armed? Dude, this is all so hard. I live in a similar community and it's like every interaction is fraught with this weird tug-o-war between caring about my neighbors, establishing that I belong in my neighborhood, ignoring all the stupid racist rhetoric in my head that suggests I should just not engage at all, as well as listening to that little voice that sometimes says "hey lady, you're not safe!" The decision to say "Hi" and make eye contact/small talk is often accompanied with quite the racket in my brain. It fucking sucks and makes me feel like a terrible person.

Reading this article makes me doubly sad about those thoughts and attitudes so deeply ingrained in me... I hate the idea that the message "you ain't shit" resonates with ANYONE. I hate the idea that I have the capacity to make someone feel that way, even if it's unconsciously. Fucking society.

RoxxieRae

@RoxxieRae I should clarify, when i say "That's why we wave" I am referring to all humans... it's an old tradition. :)

smartastic

@RoxxieRae Ok, I hear what you're saying. It's not a tradition in my part of the world; ie if a man I don't know says hello to me, I would generally duck my head and try to avoid further conversation because usually it will lead to them hitting on me and me having to be bitchy to dissuade them. But, it turns out that where I live now it's honestly friendly, which is awesome. There have been other times when it feels like it is something slightly beyond or outside of being friendly, which I tried to define. But I see how what I said is offensive, and I'll take your criticism.

smartastic

@RoxxieRae Take your criticism and, I should add, apologize for my interpretation of the situation and for the comment.

RoxxieRae

@smartastic Oh no, there was no criticism at all here, I was just saying I totally get where you're coming from and have similar experiences- my neighborhood is the same way! I meant more than anything to not let it depress you that the friendly interactions have an undercurrent of "I'm not a threat," because I think that behavior may not specifically be because we're white ladies... I think it's something that people do, particularly in communities where mistrust of outsiders might be a thing. Srsly, tho... no criticism, just kind of chiming in about how hard all this bullshit is to unpack when you want to be a kind and conscientious person. Nothing about your post suggested to me that you are anything but!

RoxxieRae

@smartastic...to try and over-explain this even further.... in the context of those interactions we're discussing, I think I am also showing that I'm not a threat either by replying/engaging. This may be completely naive, but I always kind of think it's people saying to one another "Hi, I live here" and "Hey, me too!" But if reading too much has taught me anything, it's that I don't actually know shit about fuck.

smartastic

@RoxxieRae This is super belated, so you probably won't see it, but just in case: I clearly totally misread the tone of your first post! Thanks for following up. And yeah, I know nothing.

blushingflower

@RoxxieRae I have the problem that I am from a place in upstate NY where mostly we are in cars all the time and don't pass people on the street. And then I moved to DC where people say "how you doin'" as a "hi" (it has happened to me on the phone where someone says "hi howyoudoin' I'm calling because" without a pause to let it be a question) and random strangers would say hi to me on the street. And I don't like to talk to strangers. But then I would worry that the middle-aged Black man who lived down the street thought I was being rude because I was white and he wasn't, and not because I just don't like to engage with anyone on the street.

Barracuda

About two months ago, I had a nice conversation with a guy on night shift at work. I work the evening shift and generally leave right as the night crew comes in (11pm). I happened to stay a little late that night and dang, it was a nice conversation with a guy. I'll take that and one more, please.

Over the next few days, he walks me to my car a few times. There is smooching. It is exciting. We're making plans for lunch the next week.

I stay late again one evening as I didn't eat much during the shift. As I sit in the break room, eating veggie wraps, he walks in and we chit-chat. He asks if maybe he can come to my place that night! Internally, I balk!! "We haven't had lunch and you wanna invite yourself over to my place?," I think to myself.

"IF you come over, we'd be out on the deck, having some tea," I reply.

We set it up that when I'm ready to walk to my car, I'll text him. He heads back to his section. I finish wraps and visit another friend in another work section.

At some point that night, while still visiting with friend, the text arrives.

"I'm out at your car."

!!!!!!!

"Um, why are you at my car when I did not text you that I was on my way out?" My reply.

No response.......

I request an escort to my car and thankfully, no one is waiting.

Heat Signature

This just about broke my heart in two. As a white woman living in one of the whitest states in the Union, this sort of thing doesn't really occur to me much at all (I am aware that this is called privilege). Not to say that I live an entirely unexamined life, of course, but these particular issues have not occurred to me in reference to African-American men. I'm thankful that Questlove was able to put his feelings out there for people like me.

JessicaLovejoy

@hallelujah *confetti shower* Look, someone found the point!

Judith Slutler

@JessicaLovejoy :(

AmandaElsewhere

This isn't the first time Questlove has gotten vocal about a racially driven crime: http://www.citypaper.net/blogs/criticalmass/uestlove_on_donte_johnson.html
Three years ago in Philadelphia, a young woman was raped and killed on her way home from work, stripped naked and left for dead in an abandoned lot in a trendy neighborhood. As a young woman also living in Philly, I can attest it was a VERY SCARY time, and really the only thing anyone would talk about. I remember reading Questlove's (he is also from Philly) response (linked above) and feeling floored.
But this kind of think also begs so many questions. It's almost self-referential to the Trayvon murder.

gnar

@AmandaElsewhere I lived on the block where that crime took place, and unknowingly walked past her body that morning on the way to work, before it was discovered. It was a very scary time for that area (the crime was committed in old kensington, not nolibs) and everyone around there was really shaken up by it.

I appreciate Questlove's motivation to create dialogue. I think it's important to realize that he's discussing his perspective - as a black male, as a Philadelphian, as a celebrity. There are important things we can learn from him, but he's not a sociologist, and won't have all the "right" things to say. I enjoy reading what he writes because he has a voice, and it's important to hear from voices that speak of a background different than mine. But - especially after the Donte Johnson situation - I tend to read them with a bit of distance because I feel like he's trying to create dialogue, not trying to distill and bring the truth to the surface. His voice is important, but not the whole picture.

Judith Slutler

@AmandaElsewhere @gnar Thanks so much for adding this.

AmandaElsewhere

@gnar I just think it's so interesting that he identifies as both the murderer and in the NY Mag piece as the victim. I just don't understand why no one has stuck their neck out to say "hey let's talk about why this culture of fear exists."

baby crow

errr yes, I have thoughts about this. the scary black man stereotype exists to widely varying extents in EVERYONE'S minds (in america), which is why the important thing here is not whether or not the elevator woman was acting justifiably in that particular scenario, but the fact that an entire group of people has been classified as suspicious, in general, by everyone. it's not even about "am I a shitty individual for holding these stereotypes in my mind" it's about the fact that the stereotypes are so widespread, they're internalized by some of the people they affect most directly, including black men and those who love them. I think quest's essay speaks to that really well.

think about what we're really talking about here. the elevator incident is one example that shows how these things seep into the everyday lives of black men, even doing simple things like going home in the elevator in their own building. but quest was prompted to talk about this because a 17 year old child was shot at point blank range and his death was deemed justifiable by law. this is not the first time this has happened. it is so hilariously, tragically far from the first time, as @Judith Slutler says so eloquently above. there is a long history here. I think that's enough reason to think twice about the specific ways in which looking out for safety can manifest in problematic ways, because those ways can be and often are deadly (not to mention psychologically damaging). it's not just white women in elevators who stereotype against black men. it's pretty much everyone, including self-righteous dudes with guns.

(making streets feel safer for women is a Thing I am passionate about and usually more than happy to angrily rant about. not allowing my brothers, nephews, uncles, future sons etc to be constantly racially profiled and possibly killed for wearing the wrong thing or moving in the wrong way is also a Thing I am passionate about. I do not think these two interests are irreconcilable. but in light of recent events, I think the latter is more relevant right here right now.)

iceberg

@baby crow excellent comment. "the elevator incident is one example that shows how these things seep into the everyday lives of black men, even doing simple things like going home in the elevator in their own building." you're so right, and I feel extra bad for jumping into the elevator lady's shoes because guess what, not about that.

Diana

I will admit that I'm having a very hard time processing all of my feelings and reactions to this piece. On the one hand, I understand on a cerebral level that white people do not need to take over this conversation and make it all about them. On the other hand, this is a piece specifically talking about putting yourself in another's shoes and looking at situations through the eyes of another, and Questlove hasn't taken the time to do that for this woman either. I also know that I am taking this very personally because I was assaulted twice in the last month by two different strange men of color, and it's been very difficult for me to figure out how my subsequent judgments have been informed by trauma. To what degree is my risk assessment filtered through racism and to what degree is it filtered through circumstances? Did I find one of the men sketchy because he was Hispanic, or because he was walking behind me on a lonely street late at night? Was I so concerned with not offending the 2nd man when I sat next to him on the bus that I let down my guard and that's why he took the opportunity to attack me? That's why I had to laugh bitterly when I read the line, "Seriously, imagine a life in which you think of other people's safety and comfort first, before your own." No shit, Questlove. Women do that all the time, and sometimes it gets them killed.

I will also say that I find it pretty fucking obnoxious to get told to shut up, again, because this discussion isn't about me even though I'm the white woman in this elevator. "You're missing the point!" says everybody in yet another discussion of those silly white women and their hysterical fears. There are a lot of white women this week talking about their concern for young black men and their concern for the safety of boys like Trayvon Martin, and what can they do to change their behavior and not be complicit in this system. A lot of women like myself are aware of the ways the specter of white women's rape has been used to oppress black men (Danielle L. Maguire's At the Dark End of the Street is a great primer on this). But attempting to dissipate fears of "the young black thug" by conjuring stories of "the hysterical white woman" isn't fucking progress.

At the same time, I'm trying to think about this in a different way. He knows how it feels to have others assume you are a predator, and I know how it feels to have others assume you are prey. Our lives are not the same. I am not Trayvon Martin. My assumption is that my personal safety trumps men's comfort, but my assumptions may indirectly create a world which does threaten his personal safety. I will try to explore that idea and take it into consideration when I made judgments about my environment.

Diana

@Diana

I wish I could take back the beginning of the 2nd paragraph, because I do understand that *right now* it is more important *to the country and society as a whole* for us to focus on the feelings of the frightened black man instead of the frightened white woman. Again, I think the reason I am focusing on her half of the equation even during a week like this is only because my own assault is still very fresh in my mind. It is more important to me, individually, but that doesn't mean it is true for the country. I promise I'm not suggesting that white women can't ever take the backseat in a national discussion! It's just hard for me personally to hear that right now, and I accept that it's something I need to deal with, and not project my own issues onto the national stage. Sorry y'all.

iceberg

@Diana darlin' I'm so sorry that happened to you. internet hugs and cups of your favorite hot beverage.

amuletum

@Diana

Thank you for sharing your story. I would encourage anyone reading this far down to check out Harvard's implicit bias tests. They have tests for many categories including race. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/user/featuredtasks/race4/featuredtask.html

mama15

Oh yeah! I do that "check yourself" thing too. Quest wrote a really similar piece for Racialicious a long time ago that I don't remember as having as much of the same distraction of gender issues in it. And having looked at the comments over there I feel a bit bad for bringing up that angle, because Questlove seems like such a human teddy bear!

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