black women breathe
we are taught to grow them in the lining of our
quiet (our grandmothers secret).
does not mean
we do not swelter with
we soft swim.
we scent limbs.
we just have been too
long a garden for sharp
and deadly teeth.
-Greenhouses by Nayyirah Waheed from salt.
Last night I went out with a good friend of mine I have known since middle school. We decided to dress up and hit up the town, which for us is our not-so-large city of Indianapolis. The night was going really well, and I was in a great mood coming off of a good basketball game, great conversation, and a pint of my favorite beer. We were enjoying ourselves at Revel, this nice lounge spot, dancing and meeting new people, when we decided to check out a few spots before we settled in for the night at one place. We headed down the road to Bartini, which ended up being a great choice for a better DJ, and we quickly found ourselves covering the dance floor to some of our favorite jams. As we were dancing, I noticed a white man (colloquially speaking he would be deemed as “white trash” where we are from) leering at us, but I naively believed that if I just paid him zero attention he would go away. This was untrue. After a few minutes he came right up against my back and cupped then slapped my ass.
For me, the fun immediately stopped and even though the music was still playing, all I could hear as I turned around to face this man was my own anger, loud in my head. I walked right into his space and pointed my finger at him and told him if he ever laid his hand on me again I would break his hand with my index finger. While some might thing that was a violent threat, I have to pause and say something:
I have tried it all.
All of it.
The reactions have been the same which is why I so often opt now to say something in the moment–especially if there is sufficient crowd around. I have done the ‘Oh, I have a boyfriend. He’s in the bathroom’ to the fake engagement rings, to the polite smile and no, as if I was apologizing for luring them in with my potent powers, the same kind men will actually talk about when they claim that a woman was begging to be raped. I won’t apologize for being; for existence. I have never been here for any of those types of men.
And this man just shrugged and smiled at his friends who also smiled at the situation, with mirth in their eyes, amused at this girl who had dared to say something. My friend and I moved away from the location, ceding the space as women of do, as they know the consequence of not doing so is to be punished as the perpetrator themselves. This man then followed us to the back of the bar and tried to approach me once more, and again I stepped up to him and told him to not even look in my direction. He walked out the door. At this point, I wanted to be far from this location, and we decided to leave and return to Revel. As we walked down the street, we saw the same man standing on a railing outside another bar as if he was waiting on us to pass. We quickened our steps to pass without any type of engagement, but as we passed the man loudly declared that i was “that black bitch.” I was not even surprised by this introduction of race, as I knew it was coming, and had always been at the back of his mind. I told him that if he was going to harrass me so much, that he could meet me at the end of the railing to face me (my mother would certainly admonish me for this, as she did when I went after a man who stole my phone). He started laughing and said he would tell the cops, an element he must know would not make me feel safe.
But #IfIDieInPatriarchalCustody I want you to know that ‘black women breathe flowers, too.’ That the trope of the strong black woman eclipses the truth that she is looking for water too.
We continued to walk on. I was never going to fight him. Not when the ring would have been the public spaces that are his stomping grounds. As my mother reminds me, ‘Do not enter the ring prematurely.’
Last week I wrote a piece with my friend Jesika Laster about silence when it comes to the negative treatment of black women, especially in regard to our bodies. Tonight I am reflecting on that piece once more, and what I have often written about in my pieces: the objectification of women’s bodies in public spaces (which can often run into their private spaces as well). It goes like this: a woman puts her clothes on and she walks out into the street or walks around in a public building, and suddenly becomes the property of everyone else around, especially when that relationship is so rooted in history that has been manufactured to repeat itself.
There was a post I saw several weeks ago about how when women want to get away from men who they do not like, they move away from them, create their own spaces without them. However, when men encounter women who they ‘dislike’ they often do everything to be around them, coming into the spaces they create, harrassing them, and threatening them. When I read such words, I vividly remember and am transported back to my year living in Ghana when one of my co-workers stalked and threatened me to the point that I had to move so he would no longer know my location. He would text my phone and say that I was no longer in America and no one would come help me, and he would come into my room at night and have his way with me. He would text me with threats on my life, and he had verbally assaulted me on more than one occasion. All this because I had rebuked his advances. And my boss would not fire him, even after I showed him these pieces of evidence. He was afraid that this co-worker would go hurt himself if he did. (My boss eventually felt deep regret for his inaction.) So I alone stood (with one close girl friend) at the police station filing my reports. I went to work and prayed that I had timed myself going to the office in a way that would avoid us being left alone or running into each other. My life was the one that had to be disrupted for committing no crime.
One year after I had left Ghana, that same co-worker wrote me to say that he forgave me for the lies I told about him, and hoped one day I would be able to confess what I had done so I could go to heaven. It is a wonder that these type of men do not choke on their own egregious views of the world. But then again, so much of it is upheld in daily practices and systems and institutions. My encounters in which I expose or confront this…those are viewed as the infractions.